“If you produce journalism that’s appreciated in your community, you deserve to be paid for it”

By Matt Abbott | 6th Dec 2017

We caught up with ICNN member, Darryl Chamberlain, who spoke to us candidly about his decision to keep publishing his two hyperlocal websites, 853london.com and the Charlton Champion, despite mental health concerns, and how he’s turned his fortunes around thanks to a little-known US membership platform.

He writes:

I’ve been producing local journalism for south-east London on my website, 853london.com, for seven years now. But it nearly came to an end this year. I’ve managed to turn it around thanks to the generosity of the site’s readers. Where it was starting to become an expensive distraction, it’s now paying me a small wage each month.

Although I’ve been a journalist for two decades, it’s been a huge struggle to find paid work recently. My outgoings are small, thankfully, so I’d been able to keep going, but my luck was running out. Being a sub-editor in 2017 was like opting to be a black and white television engineer. Contacts exhausted and motivation draining fast, the first half of 2017 saw me attend one unsuccessful interview after another.

By the summer, my mental health was a mess, and my career looked over. It looked like the site would have to go. I started toying with a complete career change.

I’d always been sceptical about trying to earn money from the site – it was always easier to just get on with it without worrying about how to pay for it. This has also been a particularly difficult area in which to get people to pay for news – there hasn’t been a proper paid-for newspaper in Greenwich since the early 1980s when one of the main titles became a freesheet and the other folded. I’d also been worried about being seen to be getting a begging bowl out.

But friends started to suggest that I should find a way to be paid for sitting in a council meeting or going through planning documents, particularly because the legacy local press in the area had given up doing just that.

Then one pointed out that 700 people subscribed to email updates from 853. If they all paid three pounds a month, it’d provide a proper monthly wage. And we talked about the brilliant London SE1 website a few miles up the road, whose editor James Hatts had started taking monthly PayPal pledges based around the London Living Wage (currently £10.20/hour) – something which had boosted the site’s fortunes.

I thought I’d go for it. I decided to use Patreon, a US site which allows people to become “patrons” of “creatives” by sending small (or not-so-small) cash donations each month. The idea is that you offer “rewards” to people who sign up, although this is entirely optional – I decided to offer a monthly newsletter to anybody who sent me half an hour of London Living Wage.

I also offered a couple of funding targets, one of which was bringing back a column that used to appear in one of the area’s local papers – the author is a fan of the site and had offered to help out.

After soft-launching to friends who were the first to sign up – avoiding anyone seeing an offputting screen reading “0 patrons” – I made a few tweaks to the site and launched the fundraiser in mid-September.

Now, 79 patrons later, the site provides an income of about £430/month, paying for a few days each month of reporting on local issues. The funding has also given me a reason to get out and attend more council meetings, and to look for more stories, which has improved the site. It’s not a full wage, but it’s a massive help, and a boost to my own confidence.

Patreon isn’t perfect – as a US site it charges in dollars, which is fiddly, and it adds VAT to pledges. But it enables me to communicate with patrons, send newsletters and work out my income. So while I’d love to see a UK version, for now, it’s the best solution. And 853’s never been in better shape. The first business cards have just arrived…

I would like to get more people contributing, though, get more people involved in 853, and make sure they get some payment too. I’m also planning to start a similar scheme for The Charlton Champion, the more traditional hyperlocal site that I help run.

So if you are struggling to get by with your community news endeavour, take a look at Patreon. After all, if you produce journalism that’s appreciated in your community, you deserve to be paid for it.

To look at and/or pledge to Darryl’s Patreon page, visit the following link

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