In My Opinion: Tim Dawson: How journalists can help themselves

Tim Dawson

I DOUBT there is a journalist alive today who has not, at some point, wished that they could be free of editors, and of newsrooms; who has not fantasised that they could pursue their craft, and make a living, free of the needless stresses of employed life.

The happy news, is that an increasing number of our profession are finding a way to do just that.

Spare me the a groan when I mention my new book, Help Yourself (New ways to make copyright pay, a guide for writers), because if you are a member of the National Union of Journalists, or of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, the books is free.

There are details below of how to obtain a copy.

My colleague, Alex Klaushofer, and I have been researching and writing on this subject for the past three years – much of our work can be found at newmodeljournlism.com.

Last year, however, we were fortunate enough to be given a grant by ALCS to write a case-study based book that would serve as an ideas database and how-to manual for our colleagues.

The range of activity is extraordinary.

There is the speciality reporter, John Prig, who produced a daily news feed for charity websites, and Justin Chisholm who set up the first iPad sailing magazine with less than £10,000 capital.

There are some well-known characters, such as Guido Fawkes, the scurrilous blogger, whose annual earnings are estimated to have now hit the six figures. Less high-profile is Paul Wolfe, whose magazine for aspirant players of the bass guitar makes him an estimated £70,000 a year.

Of course, if you want to know more, the book is the best place to start. But that is not the only reason why the time taken to download a copy will be well spent.

My interest in finding new ways to make journalism pay was sparked by my own rising panic as our industry entered melt-down in 2007-2008. Even if I personally was not hit as hard as many, I couldn’t stand by and watch friends that I had worked alongside for years, in some cases decades, forced out of doing what they loved.

Since then, I have realised that there are far more profound reasons why journalists finding ways to make their own work pay is important.

The economic downturn threw the media into an economic crisis. Phone hacking and the resulting Leveson inquiry into Press standards has catapulted us into a moral crisis. In all of this, the voices of journalists have been largely absent.

But I can’t help buy thinking that our economic and moral problems have at least some of their roots in the growing disconnect between actual journalists and management of the companies for which they work; and from the readers for whom they write.

Almost all the models showcased in Help Yourself have three characteristics: they place journalists in charge of the means of production; and they involve a direct relationships between journalists and both advertisers and consumers.

In some cases this is funding work at the lighter end of journalism. But it is also sustaining reporters like Marc Herman, whose ‘The Shores of Tripoli’ (on Kindle) is an account of his time in Libya during the ‘Arab Spring’. It is the kind of journalism to inspire even the most idealistic.

Don’t get me wrong, none of the models that I have looked at make for an easy life. Big returns require imagination, guile and extraordinary hard work. But the the results can be profound. Not only regaining control of your working life and the way that you carry out your craft, but a renewal of journalism itself.

NUJ members can download a PDF copy of Help Yourself, here.

A Kindle version of the book will be available soon. If you want notification when it is, please drop me an email at tim@timdawsn.demon.co.uk

Tim Dawson edits Home Scotland for The Sunday Times, and with, Alex Klaushofer, is the author of Help Yourself. He also runs the NUJ’s training course, Making Internet Journalism Pay.

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