UK-based Byline is claiming to be the most visited journalism crowdfunding platform in the world some eight weeks after launch.
It claims to have launch-funding of £550,000 and has the blessing of former Times editor Sir Harold Evans. He said the site is “a perfect marriage of the web and the traditional newspaper… a venture that will sustain the information for a functioning democracy and rescue us from ‘volumes of clickbait and celebrity rubbish'".
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Like other crowdfunding sites, Byline raises money for journalism projects by soliciting donations. But it also acts as a publisher, providing a platform for the work.
This has already landed it in hot water legally. In May, the site received a legal letter from Rebekah Brooks’ legal team over comments made in an interview with Sunday Mirror phone-hacker Graham Johnson. This prompted it to remove the allegedly defamatory statement.
So far Byline has raised more than £2,000 to enable James Doleman to cover the Andy Coulson perjury trial, more than £6,500 to enable Julie Bindel to investigate the global sex trade and more than £3,000 so that Martin Hickman could cover the Neil Wallis hacking trial.
Abby Tomlinson, the student behind the Milifandom Twitter campaign, is seeking £1,500 a month to publish a twice weekly video blog featuring interviews with politicians.
Byline is founded by Seung-yoon Lee, who started the project after graduating from Oxford University last year. Former Economist correspondent Daniel Tudor is the other co-founder.
The site has backing from German/American billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen and Korean tech entrpreneur Jae-woong Lee.
Lee, who himself hails from South Korea, told Press Gazette: “We don’t see ourselves as a crowdfunding platform because first and foremost we want to be a media platform that uses crowdfunding to fund ourselves.
“In a newspaper journalists pitch their ideas to the editor, but with us they pitch them straight to the readers.”
The site plans to fund itself mainly by taking a 15 per cent commission on donations to projects. But for the first six months it is not taking any cut.
The site is currently in the “beta” stage so is only allowing journalists to fundraise on it by invitation. The next stage will be to open it up so that it anyone can pitch a journalism project on the site.
The plan is for all the journalism which is funded on the site to be available for free.
According Lee, the plan is that once the site becomes fully open legal liabilities will decrease because it will be operating like a social media platform. Under European and UK law social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have limited liability for legal actions under privacy and defamation law.