A Writing Kibbutz? Deca Builds a Journalism Co-op

By Spenser Davis August 11th, 2014

Many of the perks that once came with writing quality journalism have disappeared in an age of bite-sized stories and half-assed research. Publications now have little incentive to send journalists across the globe to cover the news when they can easily aggregate. However, even though the glory days of unlimited expense accounts are over, there are still plenty of readers willing to support longform journalism.

Deca, a journalism cooperative, was built by a group of journalists located around the world to provide writers with the freedom and financial backing to cover global stories that matter to them. The project was inspired by photojournalist collectives like Magnum, an organization founded after World War II to give photographers the freedom to cover important stories without being tied to a specific publication.

Deca currently consists of eight reporters boasting all-star credentials including The New York TimesHarper’s, and Foreign Policy, and they recently raised more than $30,000 from their first Kickstarter campaign. Stories are accessible on an iOS app, Kindle Singles, a web app that works with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and as part of Deca’s subscription service.

McKenzie Funk, a Seattle-based veteran freelance writer and one of Deca’s founders, emphasized that Deca isn’t just a publisher like Byliner or the Atavist. “The hope is that people want to read good journalism and will pay for it. Since we aren’t a publishing house, we’re cutting out the middleman because we do all the work ourselves,” he said. “As opposed to being regional or even USA-specific, Deca is fairly unique in that we want to be global-focused in every sense, from our stories to our writers and readers.”

Funk believes the collective structure is more efficient than simply self-publishing online. Deca members are voted into the group, and as a condition of membership, they each must write at least one piece per year and serve as the main editor on another article. Profits are shared per story—70 percent of sales goes to the writer; 25 percent goes back to Deca, and five percent goes to the editor. At the end of the year, the 25 percent gross is supposed to cover operating expenses, and any leftover funds will be doled out evenly as dividends.

Even though the group is made up of only writers, members are voted into various roles within the organization, which means some have to handle business tasks or brainstorm ways to make the technology more user-friendly. The website and apps are handled by outside programmers.

Since Deca just went live a few months ago, only two stories have been published. The first was about a murder in Shanghai; the second focused on open immigration. Funk admitted a few kinks needed to be worked out related to the collective process, but overall, the group has been pleased with progress. “Written into the bylaws from the beginning was the plan to change from unanimous to three-quarters majority vote after our launch,” he said. “This decision was made six months before we we published the first story.” The change was made to prevent drawn-out debates about what to publish as the members became more comfortable with the unique editorial process.

The group also adopted a similar voting process for bringing in new members, and Funk said they are definitely looking to expand when the right people come along. “We want our writers to be world-focused. If they’re not based abroad, then they should be willing to do the travel and the research.”

It will take time to see if this project can become self-sustainable, but the appeal to freelancers is about more than getting paid to tell a story. On a small scale, Deca is working to bring back the need for longform investigative reporting and the type of stories most journalists would love to write if given the chance.

“There are fewer and fewer places that have space for the type of long, thoughtful, heavily reported stories that we’re producing,” said Stephan Faris, a journalist based in Rome who wrote “Homelands,” Deca’s second published story. “I don’t know where else I could have published a 10,000-word essay looking at the meaning of citizenship [and] calling for a rethinking of our immigration policies.”

Image by Kluger Zoltan
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