Today, The Atlantic published Inkshares’ first piece of crowdfunded journalism. It is by Kyle Gardner, a grad student at the University of Chicago who focuses on India and the history of the Himalayas. Kyle is also my good friend and one of the keenest and wittiest people I know.
Kyle’s piece focuses on the current election in India. India is the biggest democracy on the planet and this election will see the most votes ever cast by human beings. Specifically, the piece focuses on the rise of Narendra Modi, the tea-seller turned politician soon to be the next Prime Minister of India. But Kyle’s piece isn’t just a didactic recapitulation of preexisting statements — it’s based on his own conversations with everyday folks as he wandered through Delhi’s kebab stands and tea stalls over the last three months. It’s a humble, outsider’s discussion of the democracy of another nation, one grounded in the flavor, perceptions, and words of everyday folks. To me, it’s Tocquevillian — a longform Democracy in India.
Crowdfunding words — journalism, books, whatever — is about readers making decisions about what they want to read and playing an active role in the production side of the literary world we all inhabit. In the case of Kyle, that was 26 folks ponying up about $500 to cover the cost of kebabs, tea, and moped gas. In other cases, it was 99 people and $1,700 for a “no-bullshit, critical look at the history of science fiction’s far-right and its long-lasting influence,” or 135 people and $3,500 to cover reporting on resurgent epidemics meant to “re-instill our respect for nature,” or 30 people and $1,500 for the stories of five women trying to get pregnant in the age of omnipresent we’re-pregnant-again Facebook posts.
But good writing — in any genre or format — is hard. It takes resources, support, and collaboration. So these are indeed also great examples of how Inkshares can leverage the crowd to help provide writers, whether debut or established, with the basic value proposition of any publisher: funding, editorial support, and audience building.
It is my personal and (doubly) biased opinion that this is the best piece of reporting on the Indian election. It goes without saying that it could not have ended up at a finer outlet, that of course speaking to its quality. Importantly, Kyle is not a “journalist” by conventional standards. He did not have bylines or paychecks at The New York Times or The Guardian. This is, in fact, his first piece of “journalism.” He, like most of us, was just someone with an idea and a story to tell. He is — we all are — the future.
This is what Inkshares is meant to do, both in longform and books — bring eventual readers into the literary process at its inception. And this collaboration and camaraderie is good for everyone: for readers, for writers — for words and ideas.