After putting two decades into journalism, it was hard for Steven Jones to walk away from newspapers. But the former editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian found himself out of a job in October after the paper was abruptly closed by its parent company, which cited financial troubles.
In the aftermath, the staff kicked off a crowdfunding campaign to produce one last issue, which was published in January. Shortly after, Jones landed a job doing media outreach at the Center for Biological Diversity. And once Jones was back on his feet, he began a new foray into journalism.
In April, Jones began publishing on Byline, a crowdfunding website that aims to connect journalists directly with their supporters. So far, he’s used the site to publish an installment of a serialized memoir chronicling San Francisco’s progressive movement, a story about the displacement of the city’s residents and an article about the decline of the Bay Guardian.
Jones said the turbulence that has disrupted the newspaper industry made him willing to experiment with new funding models. When Byline founder Daniel Tudor got in touch with the newspaper staff after the paper folded, he realized it was worth a shot.
“I think the way the Guardian ended, and the struggles with the media world the last couple of years, I was open to trying something new,” Jones said.
So far, 13 of Jones’ supporters on Byline have combined to provide him with $466 every month. As the support grows, Jones hopes to feature weekly stories from other Bay Guardian alums, including founder Bruce Brugmann and sex columnist Krissy Eliot. For now, he’s shooting for at least one post every Wednesday, the day the Guardian used to hit newsstands.
Byline is a new addition to a field that has already seen several entrants. Spot.us, an early experiment in crowdfunding journalism, got its start in 2008 and was retired after being acquired by American Public Media. Since then, several platforms have joined the fray, including Beacon, Uncoverage, Contributoria and CrowdNews.
Byline differs from some other crowdfunding platforms because it allows two different kinds of supporter funding. Journalists who publish on the site can either choose to raise cash for one-off projects — as they would on Kickstarter — or opt to receive monthly contributions.
“So whether you’re an investigative journalist in need of a few grand up front to dig into something, or a local news website looking for regular money to operate on a continuing basis, we can help you meet your needs,” Tudor told Poynter in an email.
So far, Byline has lined up 20 or so journalists since its April debut, but only a few have been launched, Tudor said. The site does not have a paywall or sell advertising and relies on journalists to provide so-called “freemium” rewards that can be purchased by readers willing to pay a little extra. The site does not currently claim a portion of the donations but will eventually keep 15 percent of the contributions, some of which will go to a separate fund for investigative projects.