When asking complete strangers for money, best to go bold and brash, no?
This was Fresno, Calif.-based freelancer Charles Johnson‘s approach when he recently created a letter on gofundme.com, asking people to donate money for a journalism project he has in the works. So far he’s not bombing — at all. He has raised $5,570 of his $5,000 goal.
Some may view this as an odd new way of conducting journalism, but he’s not the only one doing it. As some may recall, Mike Elk, a labor reporter for In These Times Magazine, raised funds in a similar manner so he could take a much needed booze-soaked spring break. [Related: Labor Reporter Wants You To Pay For His Drunken Spring Break]
Asking people for money seems to require a person to sound like something of a braggart. What will you deliver? Why should readers shell out their dough?
On June 14, Johnson made his pitch to readers, saying he’d “taken over the news cycle” with a recent story.
“Earlier this past week I broke a story that captured the nation’s attention by debunking the bogus statistics from Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun outfit Everytown,” he wrote. “I systematically went through every single “fake school shooting” debunking them on Twitter. I quickly wound up taking over the internet news cycle and giving a black eye to Bloomberg’s multi million dollar group. And yes, I did it all from Starbucks spending $7 total on coffee.”
Johnson continued, boasting about the story’s traction: “The news even went international. I went on Sun Media of Canada to discuss the fake statistics & The Guardian also picked it up. Even CNN andPolitifact joined in on the debunking of the Everytown gun statistics calling them ‘mostly false.’ That’s right. I forced CNN to publish a retraction from research that I tweeted out.”
Then he went in for the ask without ever even hinting at what his blockbuster story is.
“I need your help now,” he wrote. “I am working on probably the biggest story of my career. I am an award-winning journalist who gets results and this is one is going to be very big. I have a long history of winning the narrative. I worked with Alan Dershowitz & Andrew Breitbart. Unfortunately, the story I am working on now requires a lot of research money. I need $5,000 to complete the project. I will not be taking a penny of the money raised. I look forward to sharing it with you.I know it’s vague but that’s because I don’t want to tip off the target of my research who is a very famous political figure and a household name.”
Some recent tweets are indicative of Johnson’s frame of mind.
A few weeks back, he wrote, “In the future, journalists will be ranked according to credibility in much the same way that Amazon sellers or Uber drives are.” And this: “I’m not going to be dissuaded from telling the truth because a bunch of losers in DC tell me that they don’t like me. #mssen.”
And last week: “It should bother you that Breitbart’s Matt Boyle & me on Twitter have been better at reporting #mssen than virtually anyone else,” he wrote, referring to the Mississippi Senate race between Sen. Thad Cochran and state Rep. Chris McDaniel. Johnson makes it clear all along that he fully supports McDaniel. At one point he even prays for his win.
This one earlier in the month was more fuzzy on his thoughts other than to announce his hunger: “Okay. Now I really must go eat noodles. Later Twitteratti. Media requests, praise, hate mail can find me at email@example.com.”
Johnson ultimately told his fan base that if they’d rather send cash than donate on the site, they can, and left his mailing address in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Aside from the actual flow of cash, which isn’t insignificant, it’s hard to say what the professional reaction is to a journalist raising his own funds.
“Dawg Smack,” a pal of Johnson’s on Twitter, wrote why he was persuaded to donate to the Charles Johnson Journalism Fund. “Mark Levin spoke highly of you on his show last week & that’s all the endorsement I needed to make a donation to your effort,” Smack wrote of Levin, the conservative radio host.
If “Betty Davis,” the lone commenter on Johnson’s plea letter, is any indication, the freelancer could be in for promising future-funded projects. She writes, “Thank you for all that you do for America!!”
The Mirror sought comment from Johnson, who has written stories for The Daily Caller.
UPDATE: You might want to get some oxygen for this one because it’s a long one.
Asked for a hint about his big story is, in a lengthy email to The Mirror, Johnson described it as “a huge story about a known quantity that will change how you will see him/her forever and reopen some very interesting questions.”
For now, he said, he’s distracted by “Mississippi’s stolen election.”
Johnson gave reasons why he couldn’t reveal more. “I apologize for being vague about this but if I said who the target was I’d not only tip him/her off but I’d also have a lot of dumb media people write stupid stories,” he wrote. “They’ll be time for that after the big reveal.”
He’s never sought money for previous journalism projects and is grateful for dough he’s received. “I only half heartedly created the account after a debate with a friend about whether or not people would help us fund our research project,” he wrote. “Turns out that they would. People have asked me for years how they can help me. When I freelanced for various websites that really wasn’t an option because editors frown on that sort of thing.”
Johnson has new ideas for journalism.
“Now that I’m free of corporate censorship or editorial silliness I have the opportunity to experiment with different ways of doing journalism,” he wrote. “I will be experimenting with many different ideas I’ve had over the years with my new website, Gotnews.com, which launches this summer. There’s a long practice of “checkbook journalism” in the British press and I want to return to it.”
He also wants to “crowd fund bounties to create a new breed of journalist who hunts down stories rather than is a stenographer for power.”
Johnson takes a break in his thoughts to throw eggs at the Washington and New York media machines.