This guy wants to revolutionize freelance journalism

Scott Carney in San Pedro, Calif.

Scott Carney wants to completely change freelance journalism and writing, but before we talk about how, let’s look at why he decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign.

It’s not about the money. He doesn’t even think crowdfunding is the best way to raise money for his idea.

“Crowdfunding is not about the money. It’s about the audience, and knowing that the audience is invested in it, to some degree,” he said. “I wanted to have that inbuilt community first so that I know that I have active participants so that going into building it I know it’s going to be a success.”

Well, they appear to be invested in his idea.

With four days to go, more than 200 people have given more than $8,000 (initial goal was $6,500) to create WordRates and PitchLab.

WordRates will allow writers to anonymously or publicly rate editors and publications to let reporters know who pays a fair wage as well as what it’s like to work with them. Think of it as Yelp for freelance reporters and writers, said Carney, who has worked as a freelance journalist for the last decade.

PitchLab will allow freelance journalists to critique each other’s story pitches. Once the pitch is ready to go, the second journalist, not the writer, delivers the pitch to editors. Putting competition back into the market may ensure a higher rate of compensation for writers.

“Just the fact that someone else is negotiating for you, they’re going to negotiate harder than you would for something you’re attached to. They’re going to go out to multiple people and since they’re going to get a commission, they’re incentivized to negotiate for the most amount of money possible and then hand the story back off to the writer.”

That’s why book deals are so lucrative, Carney said, because an agent is willing to pitch to multiple publishers and walk out the door if they don’t like what they hear. By comparison, the freelance writer is at a disadvantage.

“If you’re the writer going in, you’re not only the negotiator, you’re also the person who has to write it and has to deal with the editor you’re negotiating with, and that can actually damage a relationship,” he said.

Carney currently works alone but plans to work with a web designer to make WordRates and PitchLab public this summer, he said.

Nearly every reward offered by Carney included WordRates and PitchLab membership.

Culture shift

Carney said he made WordRates and Pitch because he rejects the idea that most magazines are too disrupted by tech or in such poor financial shape that they can’t afford to pay freelance reporters a fair wage.

Freelancers need leverage to inject competition back into their relationship with editors and publishers.

“The whole culture of the industry is not to pay writers a fair rate,” he said. “This is not about hurting magazines. The point is that it’s imbalanced.”

Crowdfunding is great… sometimes

He might be wrapping up a successful crowdfunding campaign (125 percent to goal with four days left at the time this story was published), Carney doesn’t believe crowdfunding is the best way for a freelancer to make money.

He likes that crowdfunding gives you a direct relationship with readers and the ability to attract audience. He also thinks that a successful crowdfunding campaign may be helpful to demonstrate WordRates’ value to foundations if he decides to go that route in the future.

But he disagrees with the idea that government or the crowd should have to subsidize reporting when wealthy private companies like Vice or CondeNaste should pick up the tab. 

“I just don’t think that’s the model for how journalism should get made. I think it lets the big players off the hook.”

And for freelance writers, crowdfunding seems like an inefficient way to do business, Carney said.

“You go around the world, you’re going to ask people for money, and some stuff will catch and a lot of stuff won’t as well and you know while we look at the success stories, there’s tons of great success stories out there, but we should also look at the failures,” he said.

That said, he can envision instances when crowdfunding pays for the initial reporting and to demonstrate value before the idea is presented to an editor.

“If you take that successfully crowdfunded thing and show I’ve got this hugely active audience, and then you sell that to the New Yorker, and you’re like look there’s this great story and we know we have the audience, we know we have people who are really interested and I can already prove success beforehand, this is something you’re going to want to sell advertising against,” he said. “That could really, that’s a very viable business model.”

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.

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