On June 27, 2013, The Big Roundtable, a longform narrative journalism publication, went live. Their goal is to eliminate the editor-as-tastemaker, to put the power over whether or not to publish a piece into the hands of readers, and to experiment with revenue models.
Think of The Big Roundtable as a “Kickstarter for writers,” a home online to connect authors of ambitious narrative nonfiction with paying readings.
In March 2013, The Big Roundtable, which is now part of Columbia Entrepreneur’s Laboratory, successfully wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign, earning more than $19,000, nearly four times their $5,000 goal.
From the outset, The Big Roundtable has attracted attention from Marketplace, Capital New York, the Poynter Institute, TechCrunch, and Nieman Lab, among others. After its launch last Thursday, the New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan tweeted, “Would be great to see this cool idea catch on: Long-form site The Big Roundtable launches after Kickstarter campaign.”
In addition to their experimental vetting process, in which the decision-to-publish is in the hands of a circle of readers, The Big Roundtable is also experimenting with revenue models. In particular, “Radiohead journalism,” named for Radiohead’s experimental online release of “In Rainbows” which they gave away for free, but also asked fans to donate what they could. In 2009, Paige Williams, a reporter for Nieman Storyboard, conducted a similar experiment for a longform story she wrote and couldn’t sell and dubbed her experiment “Radiohead journalism.”
Though authors are not guaranteed pay, they are guaranteed all of the donations made by readers, minus a 10% commission to The Big Roundtable and PayPal’s nominal transaction fee. In this way, writers are given the incentive to spread their stories far and wide and to be their own social media champions, with the backing of The Big Roundtable.
The Big Roundtable was founded by Michael Shapiro, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism who’s taught more than two decades of journalism students, in collaboration with Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and editor of the Roundtable, and Anna Hiatt, a recent graduate of the journalism school and the publication’s product manager and managing editor.
The Big Roundtable has built an exceptional team, including Michelle Levine, an associate professor in psychology at Barnard College, and Dennis Tenen, an associate professor in Columbia College’s department of English and comparative literature. In collaboration with the product team, Levine and Tenen, research consultants for the project, is helping to design experiments to measure and test reading and sharing behavior.
Eleonore Hamelin ‘12JRN is the visual artists and video producer on the team. Alessandro Pradelli ‘13BU, co-founder of the Italian book publishing Alga, is the business consultant.
André-Pierre du Plessis ‘13JRN an intern at Bloomberg TV, understands how content goes viral online, He has recently joined The Big Roundtable team to help the site’s stories find their audiences.
Visit The Big Roundtable, select a story that suits you, and pay what you can.