Michael Shapiro

Michael Shapiro

Bwog was waiting for its turn at Professor Michael Shapiro’s office hours. Bwog won’t play coy; Bwog was there to talk with him about his online journalism experiment because of Twitter. Learn more about the Roundtable project below, as one hopeful knight enters the court.

He invited Bwog in, and said to sit down. Before Bwog could anything, he told me to write stuff down. Bwog took out its notepad.

In short: Shapiro & Co. has a start-up called The Big Roundtable. It’s intended to “connect writers to readers.” (In short, gatekeeper: bad. A new model of digital journalism: good.)

He told Bwog he had the idea after he shared a 30,000 word article about a possible miracle on the island of Molokai with (a) a big-shot fiction writer and (b) his comic-book enthusiast, 18-year-old son. He’d expected the former to go for it and the latter to be bored—but the reverse happened. His son loved it. So he thought, how can that miracle be repeated? How does a story find a reader who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise, but who’d love that story?

Editors, like all people, have tastes, he explained—and a good magazine will necessarily reflect the taste of its editor. But this means that many stories that readers would enjoy go unpublished and unread.

Obligatory link to the BRT’s nearly-funded Kickstarter, which adds:

Writers are now freed from the constraints of convention in telling their stories and from the commercial needs of editors and publishers, who determine what tales get told.

It’s not a war on editors, Shapiro averred—just another option for writers looking to publish.

So, say Writer A submits a finished story. Five readers read the first 1,000 words. If one or more like it, five more read it. These are “trusted readers,” who’ve been invited, Shapiro says—”you don’t want thousands”.

(“So,” Bwog offered, “it’s more of an oligarchy than a dictatorship?” He replied, “Call it that if you want.”)

If it enough of the readers like the piece, it goes to Mike Hoyt. He “lifts it up” for publication with the writer.

BRT will publish one longform article per week. If visitors to the site like the first 1,000 words (or so) they can pay $1.29 (or so) for the full story. The writer will see $1 (exactly) of each purchase.

So that’s it. Bwog’s time was up, and another student was waiting outside Shapiro’s office.

“Thank you, Professor Shapiro,” Bwog said, passing a patiently waiting J-schooler on the way out.

M.S.: “Professor Shapiro is my brother or my sister. I’m just Michael.”

Headshot via michael-shapiro.com