Does 'Radiohead Journalism' Make Sense?

from the give-it-away-and-pray dept

Wired has a story written by journalist Paige Williams about her experience putting up a long form feature story about the pseudonymously named Dolly Freed, who had written a rather successful book as a teenager called Possum Living: How to Live Well Without A Job and (Almost) No Money -- but following the publication, Dolly decided to effectively disappear. Williams tracked her down and wrote a feature article about her, but couldn't find anyone willing to publish it. The NY Times was going to, but backed out when Williams refused to reveal Freed's real name. So, instead, she put the article on her own site and put up a Paypal donation button, hoping to recover her expenses. She calls it "Radiohead journalism" after Radiohead's famed "name your own price" experiment.

Then, with little direct publicity -- beyond mentioning it on Facebook and Twitter -- the story got a bit of attention. Not a ton, mind you, but a few thousand views, which resulted in about 160 people donating a bit over $1,500. Combined with the kill fee from the NY Times for backing out on publishing the feature, her expenses were covered.

There are some interesting things here, but I'm afraid that the catchy name "Radiohead journalism" is not really accurate or a very good way of thinking about this particular experiment. Radiohead had a variety of other income streams, and from the very beginning, the band admitted that the "name your own price" offering for digital files was part of a way to get more attention for the fancy "discbox" tangible version of the album. In other words, Radiohead always had an additional reason to buy, which Williams didn't really have. Her model was more of a "give it away and pray" for donations, which can work in some cases, but isn't really sustainable.

Still, it does show that there are some creative ways (and this is but one of many) to fund longer form journalism -- and, contrary to the opinion of some, if there's real demand for such things, business models will begin to develop. Williams, for her part, seems interested in further experimenting and improving on the model, and I'm hopeful that she'll look at some more involved business models that go beyond a straight donation model.

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  • identicon
    :), 19 Feb 2010 @ 4:50am

    Bounty Hunter Style

    The Radiohead approach can work for collecting extra-money, but maybe could also use the "bounty hunter" approach.

    Put the topics that she/he/it can go after and when it reaches the funding necessary start work on it.

    Last year article that have more examples of crowdfunding

    I almost think that journalism will morph into a lot of local community funded jornals that will create some super star journalists maybe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Clark Kent, 19 Feb 2010 @ 4:59am

    kill fee?

    Interesting story ... but what caught my attention was the NYT kill fee.

    I assume that the demand to reveal the subjects name was made after the agreement was signed or possibly the contract was not reviewed thoroughly. In either case, the NYT makes money by not publishing stories.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Suzanne Lainson (profile), 19 Feb 2010 @ 6:07am

      Re: kill fee?

      Generally a kill fee is paid to the writer if a contracted story is not run. So the writer, not the NYTimes, would have earned the kill fee. I don't see how the "NYT makes money by not publishing stories."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Danny, 19 Feb 2010 @ 7:32am

    Catchy name indeed

    More than likely she only used the term "Radiohead Journalism" because it was catchy and would get some attention. One of the best ways to make a name for yourself these days is to associate yourself or your product/service with an existing big name.

    But all in all I think its a good idea to make extra money but I really don't see how someone could turn the payout of such an idea into something they could actually live off of (but that doesn't mean it could not be done).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2010 @ 8:44am

    This isn't really new. Indie journalists provide insight that you won't get on the cable news channels or big city papers. They do generally pursue more than one income resource. But asking for donations for journalism isn't that far out. Bloggers do it and so do these indie journalists: Check out or

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paige Williams, 20 Feb 2010 @ 6:08pm

    Radiohead journalism

    It wasn't a memo. It was a mission statement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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