Why I Paid $1000 To Do What I’m Usally Paid To (Almost) Do
“We can’t promise to teach you anything – after all, we’re a small business, not a training programme,” Bobbie Johnson answered when in February 2012 I asked what I would learn if I backed MATTER with $1000 in his and Jim Giles’ Kickstarter campaign.
At the thousand dollar-level, I would not only get a lifetime subscription to MATTER, but also join as a co-editor for one of the stories.
For 13 years I’ve been a journalist, covering science and technology. First as a reporter and editor at swedish technology newspaper Ny Teknik, since 2006 I’m a freelancer. And both as a professional journalist and as a reader, I have for a long time been fascinated and impressed by the longform reporting on technology and science magazines like Wired and New Scientist do.
To me, backing MATTER seemed like an opportunity to have a look behind the curtain, to see how it’s done. So, even without any promises from Bobbie, I decided the chance was worth the money. I ditched one conference from my plans and 24 hours later I had signed up as a Kickstarter user and done my first pledge.
As a reader, I’ve enjoyed the first stories from MATTER. And just recently,Ring of Steel was published. In it, James Bridle and SA Mathieson reveals that pervasive surveillance is not only something that’s going on online, but also in the physical spaces where we spend our days. Ring of Steel is a story about how automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, is used and abused in the UK.
It’s also the story where I joined as co-editor.
Did I learn anything? A lot. Not in terms of what needs to be done when working as journalist, but how and to what detail the tools are used in longform writing.
The first draft is nothing but a very rough starting point.
The editor takes a very active part in the process: Questioning facts, suggesting both bigger and smaller changes to the storyline, sometimes rewriting whole paragraphs himself.
Fact checking, done not by reporters themselves, but by a assigned fact-checker, is rigorous.
Reporting like Ring of Steel takes a lot of time to finish, that you as a reporter has to be prepared to rewrite, rethink a lot, over and over again.
But being a co-editor wasn’t only about passive learning. After a while, I felt that I could take an active part in the discussions, both about the technical details in ANPR and the journalistic process. And when my questions and suggestions where considered and responded to, I learnt a little bit more about my own expertise.
Nothing of this should be news to someone who has been a reporter for 13 years. And it’s not. While I haven’t done this kind of longform reporting myself, I have had colleagues who have and by them been told about the process. About line-by-line fact checking and heated debates about what to exclude from the story.
But being a part of the process in real time on Editorially where the draft were edited and discussed is a different thing. And it means that I now have the confidence to pitch ideas like Ring of Steel to swedish editors. I now know what it takes, and I think that I can deliver.
To me, that’s money well spent.