Media

Can This Woman Save Journalism?

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 9:00 AM EST

If reporting can be saved by a slogan, it might just be this: "Radiohead journalism."

That's the phrase on the website of Paige Williams, an award-winning journalist who—like the In Rainbows rock band—is asking the public to pay directly, and as they please, for her work.

Beside her engaging 6,000 word piece on author Dolly Freed, Williams has inserted this:

Click on the button, and pony up via PayPal.

It's straightforward, yet risky and original—which in an era of journalistic desperation (Government intervention is the answer to journalism's problems! No, crowdfunding! No, the non-profit model!) makes it very buzz-worthy. "Williams’ strategy has a distinctly pudding-proofy sensibility to it," said The Columbia Journalism Review. Asked Reason's Tim Cavanaugh, "Can this experiment work?" (The plan may portend the future in another way too: Williams says she got the word out by relying entirely on her 400 Facebook friends and 120 Twitter followers.)

But while everyone seems to think the plan has groundbreaking potential, Williams herself is more cautious. She acknowledges she might not recoup her costs, let alone pocket a small paycheck. So far, 35 people have contributed $420 toward her $2000 goal. She doesn't even know if she's going to do it again.

In fact, the motivation for her effort wasn't prognosticating so much as old-school journalistic doggedness. After her story pitch was rejected by numerous publications, Williams says, "I just wanted the story to live in the world." All she did was get creative—the best we can hope for in the fight to save quality journalism.

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