A rocket around the future of long form

It’s time for our annual orbit around the future of long form. In last year’s post, The Future of Long Form: An Odyssey we visited seven virtual space stations in the new media galaxy. This year we’ll fly past each one in a rocket travelling at 475 kilometres a minute. We’re cleared for launch and counting down; five, four, three, two….  

Station 1: Traditional Print

If you look through the porthole to the right of the rocket you’ll see this, the oldest station in the long form galaxy – coming out of the Guttenberg inspired revolution: publishing your words in print.

The view from a rocket. Thanks to NASA for use of this image.
The view from a rocket. Thanks to NASA for use of this image.

Despite its so-called retro look, I still love to see my byline printed at this station. In fact, I think I have more faith in traditional print than I did before I started using my e-reader. (I don’t like e-reading as much as print-reading).

Yet, despite my enthusiasm, the print world continues to be challenged by the disruption new media has brought. I’m not aware of any newcoming Australian or international print-based publications of long form (please enlighten me if you know of any). However, I am aware of print publications moving to entirely digital delivery.

Station 2: Traditional Online

This station is surrounded by a constellation of newly documented stars marking the increase in opportunities to pitch your long form work to online publications. This year saw the introduction of high-profile sites The Big Round Table (US) and Matter (UK). Both were seeded by crowd sourcing campaigns and both are using paywalls (Matter has since sold to Medium). The Big Round Table is donation based (which means that you may not be paid if you are published or you may be paid a lot). Matter uses a subscription/pay-per-read model.

Locally, Tincture Journal has appeared as a venue for long form non-fiction. In contrast to The Big Round Table and Matter (which publish individual articles), Tincture provides an editorial package. It sells in E-pub and Kindle formats. The package includes fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Tincture will consider up to 15,000 words of creative non-fiction (and recently tweeted that they find it difficult to source non-fiction work – so pitch!)

There are also opportunities to submit your long form work for e-publishing by some of the leading publishing houses. (Certainly before their merger both Penguin and Random House were keen on more long form, no doubt Penguin Random House will be too).

Station 3: Enterprise Journalism / Community Funded Reporting / Crowd sourcing

Slightly behind the rocket here you may catch a few falling stars. These are the international and local initiatives that provided platforms to crowd fund articles. Our local version youcommnews.com has disappeared offline altogether (perhaps one day it will reappear) and the US version Spot.us might sadly be fading (at time of publishing, the most recent funding requests date back to 2012).

Some journalists (not just writers) have succeeded in using generic crowd sourcing sites to fund their stories (like pozible.com, kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com). However this model is yet to be proven for long form writing.

While the community funded reporting model may be dimming, there is a little sparkle when it comes to crowd sourcing long form publishing houses. Both The Big Round Table and Matter were seeded in this way.

Station 4: Publishers Funded by Philanthropists

Thanks to the generosity of Wotif founder Graeme Wood, Australia still has The Global Mail (funded by a grant from Wood) and now our own masthead of the UK’s Guardian (an investment rather than a donation). In the past 12 months Wood has also donated $1.5 million to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He’s certainly committed to the idea of  ‘Philanthrojournalism’.

Shimmering brightly in this cluster of stars is the long-standing Centre for Public Integrity – more substantive proof of the viability of this model.*

Station 5: Writers funding philanthropy

There are initiatives such as Write for Life that are compiling articles into books which are then sold to raise funds for charity. It’s a nice idea but no doubt suffers from the same challenges all small publishing does – namely finding enough readers.

Incidentally, in the past year I’ve tried to raise funds by selling my long form article online. I got a lot of exposure, but didn’t raise a lot money. You can read all about that in my post Goodwill Hunting.

Station 6: Writing for free / Self Publishing

As always, if you don’t want or need to get paid for your work, you can publish your long form article on your own site or blog.

Be aware however (to reformat the old adage) if you publish it, they may not necessarily come. Readers can be as elusive as those stars you only see from the corner of your eye.

Station 7: Entrepreneurial Journalism / Self Publishing

It’s vast – but despite this, station seven is the most crowded in our orbit. Literary-astronauts are lured by the ease of access and the promise of 70% royalties. But setting a long form piece into the new media galaxy alone is not enough. It has to be heavily marketed, and even then may not find readers. Most of the work published from this station just drifts aimlessly into space.

That’s our 2013 rocket trip on the future of long form in the new media galaxy concluded! I’ll be most interested to see what the journey will show in another year’s time. Keep checking the Venues and Resources page of this blog to learn of new publishing opportunities.

* If you’re interested in a good overview of journalism funded by philanthropy read this recent post by Matthew Knott on Crikey.

'Community' or 'Crowd'?

As a writer and adorer of our motley English language I do like to amuse myself with the origin of words. For example, in English we have many lexical twins and triplets. Like ‘guts’ and ‘courage’, or ‘ask’, ‘question’ and ‘interrogate’. Their meanings are similar but their origins differ. I like to know these facts and to respect them, to geek out on the details and nuances. Hence I’m curious that in my post ‘The future of long form: an odyssey’, I cavalierly paired ‘Crowd-funding’ and ‘Community-funded reporting’ with a simple forward slash. I didn’t once consider they weren’t one and the same. But after talking to award-winning journalist, Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and coordinator of Masters in Journalism at the University of Melbourne, Margret Simons, I realise they are different.

When she was at Swinburne University, Simons was involved in a crowd-funding initiative, youcommnews.com. It was among the first of its kind in Australia, and based on the existing website, it seems to have lost its mojo. There was a flurry of activity in 2010/11 and not much since. I asked Simons, what happened. ‘We did prove the model worked. We funded two pieces of journalism on [it]. But certainly levels of activity on the site were a long way short of what we would want to see in order to call it a success. So we won some and lost some.’ Simons says.

The two pieces that were funded were well funded. One was by Simons herself about ABCNews24, and another by Toula Mantis about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As one of Australia’s first forays into crowd-funding of journalism, youcommnews.com is still ultimately experimenting (and though it is dormant, Simons says it’s not dead). But with only two projects successfully funded, I wonder, are Australian readers ready for these kinds of entrepreneurial initiatives?

‘If you ask the question in the broad, “Will people fund journalism?” the answer may well be, “Well it depends,”’ Simons says. The two funded pieces were very focused, and already had well organised online communities. According to Simons, those communities ultimately provided the funding. She notes it’s early days, but says, ‘My suspicion is that if the reporting or the topic of the reporting is intensely relevant to the community that is funding it, [that project could succeed].’

Thus, ‘crowd-funding’ is the mechanism but ‘community-funded reporting’ is the appropriate label.

Simon’s states her insights are ‘tentative’ because they are ‘based on a very small sample’. But to me they ring true. The community is what gets word out, and those within it will not only read your work, but care enough to help you fund it. Elmo Keep’s successful campaign to fund a ticket for a KISS Cruise (research for her book on the band) is very much in keeping with this idea. It's a very specific subject, with a lot of fans.

So thinking of it as Community-funded reporting could bear fruit for those considering crowd-funding of their long form non-fiction. I like to parallel this way of thinking to that of a pitch. Before you pitch your idea to a publication you qualify it. You make sure that it’s a match, and (technically) you don’t pursue the idea until you have a venue for it.

Community-funded reporting is not so different. You just choose your community, rather than your venue.

I’ll be keeping you posted on more Community-funded reporting initiatives (and the progress of youcommnews.com).

If you’re in Melbourne and interested in funding models for news, head to the ‘What Cost News’ session.

Margaret Simons will be contributing to a range of sessions at the festival. I think she has great insights for those who haven’t trained in a newsroom. See this page of the MWF site for details.

See also:

Did you feel that?

In Melbourne last week we experienced three tremblers. One took me by complete surprise. It was a 5.3 magnitude earthquake that made me wonder if I was back in Japan (I was there for the big one in 2011) and had me promptly enacting my Japanese evacuation plan. The other two sent waves of aftershocks across our media. Sitting at my desk however, I didn’t feel a thing. Two of our biggest print media players (Fairfax and News Ltd) announced last week that they must finally change their publishing models, to reduce their print circulations, to pay wall their online content and to restructure their organisations. All, of course, are responses to the new media landscape: an undeniable transformation of the way we consume content. Yet the wider Australian media was filled with stories of shock and awe. This surprised me.

Just days before the announcements I’d passed by the print-complex of Fairfax’s Victorian masthead at Tullamarine, The Age. My eye traveled up their bold, signature sculpture toothed with shards of glass. The shape was ablaze with inner florescent lights, and stamped with a logo that tilts its hat to newspapers past. The building was opened just nine years ago, but the shape of the signature sculpture – that of a rolled up newspaper – now seems positively twee. When it was finished in 2003 this homage to print media was already on shaky ground. New media was undermining the paper’s gold-leaved classified sections. Portals like seek.com.au and realestate.com.au were well underway.

Which is why I’m surprised by the surprise. We talk constantly about new media and how it is a change as significant to our societies as Gutenberg’s printing press was. Of course, job cuts are a part of the shock, and these are always terrible. I don’t question the shock and anger of people losing their jobs. But surely it was clear that the numbers couldn’t add up. These monoliths were now without classified incomes and yet were somehow providing news for free online. Did we really think it was financially viable for this to occur forever? That’s like expecting to pay only when you eat in at a restaurant, but feeling fine about getting home-delivery for free.

But what does it all mean to writers of long form non-fiction? Clearly, the chances of a job writing for such a masthead are unlikely. But we knew that already. Ultimately the shake-ups at these institutions are good news because they open the field up. Without these habitual mastheads readers may begin to explore new ways of accessing our work. Writers with more clout might now step out from behind the old monoliths and join us in the new media galaxy. These combined may bring more readers to our new publishing channels.

Though current reading habits are shaped around accessing free content, introducing pay walls changes this. Once asked to pay, some readers will look elsewhere for the kind of writing they prefer. And if it’s long form non-fiction, they might just look at options such as self-published articles, community funded reporting or crowd funding pieces that they want to read. It’s still a challenge for newer writers to get their work to readers, but the breakdown of institutions does chip away a little at the barriers to entry that have developed as organisations like Fairfax and News have tightened their belts over the past decade.

The loss of jobs for workers at both organisations aside, these changes do provide other benefits for emerging writers. Some of the expertise that is currently siloed in these institutions will now be out in the free market. A higher calibre of free-ranging journalist can only lift our game. Plus, they might avail their writing and publishing talent to help new publishing initiatives succeed (a good example of this is long form non-fiction writer, Dan Baum, who has signed on to help edit on crowd-funded and soon-to-be-launched long form masthead Matter.com).

The changes at Fairfax and News are the kinds of seismic shifts needed in the Australian media landscape to rattle writers and readers into the new media galaxy. Shifting these centuries-old tectonic plates may well mean good news for us.

Crowd-funding is the new black

Life is peppered with turning points - those ‘ah-ha’ moments, or forks in the road. In my first post I wrote about a turning point I’d had at the Wheeler Centre last year. It was when I finally realised that the traditional publishing models were floundering, and that I would need to find new ways to get my work to readers. I had sat amongst the crowd with my focus on the speakers – stalwarts from the old publishing institutions. I looked to them for direction. Now I wonder if I was looking the wrong way. Should I have been looking at the crowd instead?

Crowd-funding is what its name implies. Anyone can make a pledge (from a few dollars upwards) towards a project they’re interested in. Just about anything can constitute a project. Most of us are aware that Barak Obama used crowd funding to help fund his 2008 US presidential campaign. Some of us have performer-friends who have used crowd-funding to finance performances and CDs.

It wasn’t until I saw a presentation by Kate Toon and Rick Chen at the Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival that I realised writers could use crowd-funding too. Duh!

In trying to find markets for my article I had looked at community-funded reporting like spot.us and youcommnews.com (which are essentially crowd-funding initiatives). But though established writers have had success with this, I questioned the viability of Communit-funded reporting for an emerging writer. The stakes are high (often tens of thousands of dollars). Who would pledge that kind of money to an emerging writer?

Yet asking for a smaller amount through a general crowd-funding site is an idea that has legs. Toon used crowd-funding to raise money for her book of poetry, ‘Gone Dotty’. Elmo Keep successfully funded a spot on a Kiss cruise. New Matilda stayed afloat with the help of crowd-funding. More recently a campaign was undertaken to fund an online magazine-to-be matter.com that will focus on long form journalism (Crowd-funding and long form journalism = double points for this post!).

The popular crowd-funding sites include:




Also check out www.crowdfunding.org to help get your head around it (including this video about crowd sourcing).

For now I’m going to be staring at strangers wondering what non-fiction topics they might like to fund. Meanwhile, have you had any experience with crowd-funding your long form non-fiction projects?

The future of long form: an odyssey

There are times when I know I am sitting at my desk – grounded (in a very gravitationally fulfilling sense). Magpies warble and school kids occasionally wander outside. I can smell the echoes of tea and toast that started my day. I am well and truly here.

And then I start to work, and to think about the future of long form. The magpies are silenced, the school kids unnoticed. I might still be here, but the state of my mind has inversed. I’ve gone head-first into the screen of my computer - like in some cheesy BBC sci-fi show for kids. I’m not grounded in any sense, but floating within the interwebs in the most peculiar way. And then I am unmoored.

Thus, in this terrain-less place of zero gravity I have had to set up some space-stations of sorts; categories that that we can work within. They’re in constant flux, but necessary moors for efficient travels into the possibilities of long form. No doubt the opportunities will grow, but here is a list of the types of ways we can publish long form non-fiction as I see them now:


Station 1: Traditional print

If you’re a bit old fashioned like me, you get a kick from seeing your byline in print. (And it also involves the validation of an editor). But it’s a slow process and depending on who publishes you, your audience is limited. I won’t elaborate here, as we all know the basics of this model (and if you don’t, just get online to learn more).


Station 2: Traditional online

These publications are modelled on print (there’s an editor, and a regular publishing schedule), with the main difference being that the work is published online. There are generally shorter lead times, and bigger audiences (particularly if it’s not a user-pays site). But there are few online venues that publish long form produced by emerging writers. And also, many online publications don’t pay.

I’ll presume you all know how to pitch your work to editors (and if you don’t know, just google it). In this blog we won’t cover the practicalities of traditional print and online approaches. But getting your work to readers is getting your work to readers. So together we’ll combine a list of potential venues for long form non-fiction.


Station 3: Enterprise Journalism / Community funded reporting / Crowd sourcing

In this model you pitch your idea to a community of potential readers, and if they like it, they’ll commit an amount of money to fund it. When I say ‘readers’, I mean anyone. They can commit a few dollars or thousands.

As far as Community Funded Reporting; in the USA, spot.us is making tracks with this idea. It seems less popular in Australia however. (Last time I checked the Aussie equivalent youcommnews.com had stalled. Most activity is date stamped 2011. Not to mention that the only funded projects were pitched by established journalists Margaret Simons and Toula Mantus.)

Crowd funding (ie via sites not specifically focused on journalism) is certainly gaining some momentum. (See post Crowd funding is the new black) Using sites like pozible.com, kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com you can try to get anyone to fund a small portion of your writing project.


Station 4: Publishers funded by philanthropists

In Australia, The Global Mail was recently launched, funded by Wotif.com founder Graeme Wood. It’s early days for the concept of philanthropic publishing, which may mean the opportunities for emerging writers are limited. But we’ll certainly take a look, and report back what we find.


Station 5: Writers funding philanthropy

This model is not unlike enterprise journalism / community funded journalism with the main difference being that the funding goes to a charity (not you).  You pitch a story and pick a charity. When the readers fund it you write it, and when you publish it, your charity gets paid.


Station 6: Writing for free / Self Publishing

If you don’t want or need to get paid for your work, you can publish your long form article on your own site or blog. Once you have done this you can ask networks like www.longreads.com and www.longform.com to promote your piece.


Station 7: Entrepreneurial journalism / Self Publishing

For some, entrepreneurial journalism includes or is interchangeable with what I have described as community funded reporting (and vice versa). But to me the difference is that the ‘entrepreneurial’ aspect involves more business functions – like sales and marketing. Self-publishing your article as an e-book is a form of Entrepreneurial journalism.


I’ll be exploring all of these options (and more) on this blog. In the meantime, have any of you had any experience with some of the newer avenues of publishing non-fiction long form?