Can This Woman Save Journalism?

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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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