March 10, 2014

Beacon | The Muckraker

Irish journalist Lyra McKee is using Beacon, a crowdfunding service for writers, to raise money to finish a book in which she investigates the last weeks of a local politician in Belfast named Robert Bradford, who was killed in 1981. Her campaign promises backers a chapter of her book every month until it’s published.

“Very few news outlets are funding investigative reporting right now,” McKee tells Poynter in an email. “I feel like investigative journalism has been driven out of the newsroom because editors want quick results. The economic turmoil of the industry means they’re answering to accountants now rather than their readers.”

Why not try for a grant? I asked. “The problem with grants is that everyone’s chasing them,” McKee replied. “This is the thing that really bugs me about our industry: everyone’s looking for the handout but very few are thinking about business models and how we’re going to make the craft sustainable.” Through crowdfunding, she writes, “I can offer people something in return.”

McKee working the phones.

She’s hoping to raise $2,000 in monthly subscriptions, which helps offset Beacon’s 30 percent cut and the exchange rate. I asked McKee how she knew the story would proceed in a linear fashion amenable to serialization — investigations don’t always unwind cleanly. She has several chapters ready now, she said, and “while I’m publishing a short chapter each month, it’s in the style of a ‘dispatch from the trail’ and I think people get that.”

McKee says she “may not find the answers” she’s looking for in this story, and “that’s part of the risk in doing this.” She continues:

But so far, I have found some. I’ll take the story as far as I can and give it everything I have. I’m taking a leap of faith. I guess I’m asking readers to take that leap with me and believe that I can pull it off.

The biggest risk is not finishing the story because I can’t find the funds to keep reporting. If this works, other investigative reporters will be able to copy the process.

Related: Like Netflix For Journalism: Beacon Reader Aims To Fund Writers (The New York Observer)

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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