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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Filed Under: business models, dolly freed, journalism, paige williams, radiohead

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  1. 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.

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