Ana Marie Cox is a journalist in Washington who first gained notice in 2004 when Nick Denton, the Englishman who oversees the Gawker.com family of blogs, hired her to write the politically-themed Wonkette.com. After two years offering her sassy style of reporting to innumerable readers online, she moved on to co-write Time.com’s “Swampland” blog. This work was initially full-time but earlier this year Time recontracted with Cox on a strictly freelance basis, so she joined Maer Roshan’s magazine Radar as Washington correspondent.
Radar, a magazine founded in 2003 (with funding from friends and family of Roshan, formerly of Tina Brown’s Talk) died after two issues that year, was revived in 2005 with backing from Mort Zuckerman, died again after three issues, and, in 2007, was relaunched yet again with funding from Jesse Jackson’s son Yusef and (reportedly) supermarket mogul/Clinton crony Ron Burkle. In this incarnation Radar lasted, very remarkably in an increasingly unfavorable climate for print media of any kind, for a year and a half as a bimonthly, although the magazine’s website attracted more comment than what appeared on paper. Cox’s articles and posts at both the magazine and site kept her in the public eye; last week she appeared on Larry King Live.
And, last Friday, Radar abruptly gave up the ghost; its backers dismissed the staff and sold the name to American Media, publishers of the Star and various other magazines, which promptly remade the Radar.com site as an imitator of TMZ.com. Cox, who had been planning an article for the magazine about the last days of Sen. John McCain’s campaign, was left with a wish to cover the story for whoever would buy such an article, but no way to pay her expenses and no time to pitch to an editor.
Presumably inspired by the example of Sen. Barack Obama’s and Sen. Howard Dean’s online fundraising, she hit upon the idea of appealing to her readers in cyberspace, via her personal blog (and its PayPal feature), to send her whatever they felt like contributing to help her cover the last of the campaign, specifying that her expenses would come to $1000 for each of four days and $1500 for Election Day.
Her appeal was posted on Saturday morning. Within 24 hours she reported receiving $2000 in contributions, and by Tuesday morning she said she had gotten $7000, enough to secure a seat in Gov. Sarah Palin’s press section and go back on the road. Today she is to board McCain’s plane and finish covering the race for the Washington Independent.
What do Cox’s readers who contributed receive in return? Well, for a $1000 contribution she promises a one-on-one dinner and in-depth postmortem of the campaign; for $500, a phone call from McCain HQ on election night; for $250, an MP3 of her asking a “senior McCain staffer” the question of one’s choice and the reply; and so on down to a thank-you email for a ten-dollar contribution. (However, today she asked permission to add $10 contributors to her Facebook page instead of emailing them.)
Time will tell if other journalists, left out in the cold by abrupt magazine closures (and they’re going under left and right now), will attempt similar strategies to keep going. But anyway, it’s another indication that media is entering a whole different era.