April 23, 2006

An Experiment in Journalism

I went to the Middle East for six months so I could expand my freelance writing portfolio. But I found, after a few months, there may be a better way forward than publishing disconnected dispatches here and there for low pay.

The mainstream media is an industry in decline. The audience shrinks every year. Profits circle the drain. Budgets for foreign bureaus and correspondents have been gutted stem to stern. Most journalists are paid pitifully low salaries even in good times, and freelancers are paid even worse. Striving to become a part of all that may not be the brightest idea if there’s another option.

And it looks like there might be.

I decided to try a little experiment. Instead of lining up an assignment from an editor to cover Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, I struck out on my own without asking permission from anyone. Almost all my material was posted directly to this Web site. I wanted to see if the amount of money I can raise from readers competes with the industry’s going rate.

It does.

I raised more money from you to cover Iraqi Kurdistan than I’ve made covering any other country on paid assignments. I also had a lot more fun publishing my own material here instead of somewhere else. It is so much nicer to have the freedom to write whatever I want without any oversight, without any rules or restrictions, without any word limits, and without any delays. (The LA Weekly sat on my Libya story for more than a year. Four months after publishing it, they still owe me money.)

That doesn’t mean your generous Pay Pal donations have made me rich all of a sudden. I don’t have enough blog traffic for that. And saying www.michaeltotten.com pays better than freelance assignments isn’t saying a lot. But I did raise enough to go to Iraq and pay the bills during the time I was away. That’s all I need.

My experiment was therefore a success. I can go to Northern Iraq working for you and have a better experience than if I went there for somebody else.

Not many journalists go to Northern Iraq, though. So here’s what I don’t know: Were you willing to pay me because I went where few others go? Or can I do this again in a different location? I need to know how economically viable this emerging model of journalism really is.

Over the next two weeks or so we’ll find out.

After I left Northern Iraq for the second time, and before I returned to my home in the United States where I am now, I gathered more material in Israel and Palestine. I didn’t tell you I was going to do that. I didn’t ask a single editor for an assignment. I just went. That material will begin appearing here shortly.

More foreign correspondents live in Jerusalem than perhaps any other city on Earth. Are you willing to pay for independent coverage from there as well as from neglected places like Iraqi Kurdistan?

If so, I won’t have to wait for green lights from editors before buying plane tickets and heading off on assignments. You can read a lot more of the kind of thing you’ve been reading here lately if you’re willing and able to cover expenses. We can cut the industry out of these operations entirely. I would do this for love and for free if I could. But I’m not independently wealthy, so I just can’t.

If writing about Israel and Palestine on the blog proves to be profitable, here’s what I’m thinking of next:

I want to go to Iran and “embed” myself, so to speak, with the student movement that struggles against the Khomeini regime.

I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in Israel and Palestine as I would have liked, and I intend to go back. (I now know Palestinians who can get me safely into and out of Gaza, Hebron, and Jenin.)

I have been in contact with dissidents opposed to Assad’s Baath Party both inside and outside of Syria. It may be time to pay them a visit if the embassy in Washington (there isn’t one in Beirut) will grant me a visa.

I can secure protection and safe passage in Kabul and in the hinterlands of Afghanistan. Nothing is stopping me from going except that I do not have an assignment.

I speak some Spanish, I know Latin America well, and it’s about time I went to Cuba and, perhaps, Venezuela.

If at all possible I’d like to go to North Korea, as well.

What I need to know before I can do any of this is if you’re willing to “hire” me to write about places other than Northern Iraqi Kurdistan. Can I turn this blog into a job? Or was I lucky just this one time?

Working for you in Northern Iraq was the best job I ever had. If you want unfiltered, unplugged, and unedited foreign correspondence from other places as well, hit the Pay Pal button and I’ll provide you with lots of it for a long time.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 23, 2006 11:21 PM
Comments

How could I say no to that? I Paypalled what I could at this time, and good work will earn more without a doubt.

It's funny actually, this was my second tip to you and I never donate to anything. It even feels more like paying for services/goods rather than donating here.

Posted by: Pasi at April 23, 2006 11:53 PM

Yes, if you decide to go on this venture, I will donate. I think until now, you were basically feeling your way through, and we didn't really have a set of material to compare and contrast across your various experiences. But now that you have that, I am definitely willing to contribute periodically.

The key point for me is not necessarily that you go where others don't--it is the comprehensive perspective you are developing that to me seems most valuable. So, for example, when you are in Jerusalem, you have your Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, etc experiences to provide the regional context that perhaps a long-term, Jerusalem-only beat writer can't. That context and exploring its complexities is what I appreciate most.

If you do East Asia, I will contribute even more since that is my region and I write about it at my own site.

Best Regards,

Shawn

Posted by: Shawn in Tokyo at April 24, 2006 12:05 AM

try going to indonesia too, mike, the most populous muslim country in the world.

Posted by: john marzan at April 24, 2006 01:33 AM

Hi Michael,

For what it's worth, here's what I think:
The kinds of assignments you want to give yourself can only succeed if you remain anonymous. Having too many people know in advance where you are going is both dangerous and it will affect the nature of your reporting. For instance: if you would go to Kurdistan for a third time, the officials over there would make sure you have a great time, in order to get good publicity.
As you continue to do this work, you will become (more) famous. I think you have a dilemma there: you need to keep a low profile, but you also need to promote yourself in order to generate income.
About generating income: Maybe you could give the readers a piece of a new story and only provide them with the next piece if the donations reach a certain amount. You could provide the readers with a visual representation of the percentage of the total amount.
I do think that some form of the plan you have represents the future of independent journalism. And you're so good at it!

Posted by: mas at April 24, 2006 01:51 AM

Part of my interest in your writing was due to the uniqueness of your situation (only writing from Iraq Kurdistan). Part of my continuing interest is your business model, ie: no one to answer to but your tip jar.

I will remain interested if you continue to give us a perspective different from that of the other media sources, regardless of the places you travel.

I am concerned about the dangers presented by some of your potential destinations, especially Iran. If you get killed or harmed I will be to blame, even if my contributions to your tip jars are measly. That is the only problem I see with this new business model.

Posted by: LJK from Colorado at April 24, 2006 06:05 AM

Michael,

I wish Bush was the salesman you are. We wouldn't be in the mess we are in if he were.

I labeled my paypal transaction "cajones". Your courage is peerless. Please don't let your youthful tendency to invulnerability get you in trouble. I learned in Vietnam to cultivate and be specially tuned into that "first twitch" of intuition. It will keep your "cajones" out of the fire, but you no doubt already know that.

God speed you on your way, Michael, and keep you ever under his devine protection. It is a truly noble calling our country has undertaken under the guidance of eternal principles and you should be proud to be on intimate terms with that calling.

Sincerely,

John Hinds
Member, Patriot Guard
http://www.patriotguard.org/

Posted by: John Hinds at April 24, 2006 06:51 AM

Do you have a safe post office box address somewhere that can be used by those of us who refuse to use PayPal?

Posted by: Xixi at April 24, 2006 06:59 AM

Gutsy request.

I think the most important thing for you to do before undertaking new "assignments" is to change the style of your website.

It's a real pain going through all of the archives to find a topic. Quick links grouped together would be excellent.

For example, put all of your Iraq posts together. Do the same for Libya, the 2004 election, etc. These would be similar to newspaper archives, but since everyone has contributed to the production of them, they will remain open for public viewing.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at April 24, 2006 07:13 AM

Michael:

You keep going, I'll keep paying. Just be careful out there, OK? ..bruce..

Posted by: Bruce Webster at April 24, 2006 07:30 AM

Xixi,

I have wondered that also. I too refuse to use Paypal. I wonder if Michael can use the Amazon site as well as the Paypal site. I used the Amazon site on another blog and it worked out well and I was not supporting Paypal which is a plus in my book.

I love the stories Michael has come up with about an area that I really know little about but want to learn more. He has been an educational tool for me and an entertaining one. Keep up the good work and find another way for those of us who refuse to use Paypal can help out. Build it and we will come.

Posted by: dick at April 24, 2006 07:50 AM

I just donated to your tip jar - the first time I've done that for a blog. You've also moved into the top 3 must read sites on my RSS reader.

I'm sure that regardless where you go, I'll be reading, and occasionally hitting the tip jar. I think that yours is really the ultimate capitalist venture. The better and more unique the product, the more money you will make. If your writing goes downhill, or you report from places nobody wants to hear about, your tip jar will suffer.

Others have suggested ways to refine or enhance your business model. Here's my two cents. You may want to consider allowing comments from those who donate at least $X.XX per month or per year - essentially buying comment permission.

However, if you're satisfied that you're making sufficient money to make a living with the current model, why complicate things?

Posted by: Scaldis Noel at April 24, 2006 07:57 AM

Michael I'll be happy to continue contributing (under my real name). I'd love to know what the "street" in Iran has to say about their nutjob Ahmadinajad!

I just wish I could go with you!

Posted by: DagneyT at April 24, 2006 08:42 AM

Yes, independant news would be welcome but the reason most of those guys hanging around Israel and the Palestinian areas are still alive is that they've done a deal with the devil not to publish stories that are in any way unflattering to the regime in the past and the current one, no doubt. It may be more dangerous there than Iraq, in some ways, if you intend to tell the unvarnished truth. Be careful!

Posted by: foreign devil at April 24, 2006 09:11 AM

Michael,

I absolutely look forward to your writing. As soon as I get my paypal account updated I will hit the tip jar as generously as I can and on a regular basis. Keep up the great work and please stay safe. My prayers will be with you!

Posted by: Dr.Travis J. Andersen at April 24, 2006 09:32 AM

MJT,

I will pay you to go to Iran.

Posted by: JBP at April 24, 2006 09:33 AM

Part of your popularity is because you're going to places we don't hear about at all. The biggest part is because you're NOT a journalist. You're a better writer than most journalists, and your experiences are more intriguing and open.

Would I consider putting some cash in the tip jar for more? Absolutely! Can you keep this up without compromising the integrity that makes this all work? I certainly think so. Would it be personally and financially risky as hell? Probably so. Would it all be worth it, at least if I were in your position? Hell yes!

What I'd also be interested in is a professional book with more material and pictures. I'd pay good money for a coffee-table style book on Iraqi Kurdistan if the writing's as good as it is here. The trick would be finding a publisher who would be willing to give such a project the attention it needs, and it would be a pain, but it's something to consider at least.

Posted by: Jay Reding at April 24, 2006 09:46 AM

Hi,

There are reasons three for why I read your blog.

One is that you went where others did not go. I didn't know anything about life in northern Iraq.

Another is that, unlike all conventional journalists (and I mean all), you know history. In your assessment of the situation, Iraq's history did not start in 2003.

German n-tv.de (I often read German news because they tend to be less anti-American than English news for some reason) will happily report about ongoing events in Iraq and refer readers to other articles; but there is never a single article about pre-2003 Iraq or even mention of anything that happened before 2003 except the 100 or so killed for which Saddam is now on trial.

Germans cannot support George Bush because Germans do not know that the invasion and the deaths caused by the terrorists did not, in fact, replace the romantic idyl Iraq now seems to have been before 2003. Your articles about Kurdistan can do a lot to give people in the west hope that SOMETHING is improving.

And the third reason is you simply write well.

I have given some money (alas not a lot and less than your writing is worth to me), and I intended to make it a regular monthly habit for as long as the blog interests me. I tend to forget lots of thing. I hope I won't forget this.

Greetings from Dublin,

Andrew.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 24, 2006 09:57 AM

I dunno about the rest of the people... I just sent money to you so you wouldn't resort to PBS style fund raising.

"We'll be returning to today's blog entry in a moment. But first, PJ Media's Onmbudsman would like to say something about YOUR local blogger support"

Ick.

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord and Stuff

Posted by: Ratatosk at April 24, 2006 10:02 AM

Israel and the OT, huh?

I'm very curious to see if you can avoid your own biases and "report" fairly on this one, Michael.

Just so you know, and to add a dissenting voice to this Politburo Chorus, I will not assist in financing any future expeditions. As much as I appreciate the zeal for traveling and new experiences, I prefer my analysis from "experts."

Don't take this the wrong way, but it is obvious to me that your "background" on the subjects you're reporting is limited to maybe a book or two, or a couple articles you googled 10 minutes prior to getting on the plane.

Posted by: Awaiting at April 24, 2006 10:03 AM

Michael, I will gladly support you. You're not part of established journalism circles so you don't see the world like they do. When you visit foreign countries you clearly value the pulse of the common person and report his ordinary opinions and thoughts. I feel there's more truth to this than what I often read in the newspapers.

Plus, I just like your writing style. It's direct and uncolored by the journalist's tendency to obscure simple observations in too much subtlety. I appreciate your common sense predisposition: you're the guy I meet at happy hour; you're a buddy from school or work; you're the neighbor who just returned from vacation and has well-observed stories to tell.

So, I'll hit your tip jar and continue to do so periodically. But the minute you start hanging out at the hotel bars and adopt the jaded mask of a professional journalist I'll dump you. ;o) (no seriously).

One suggestion: don't tell us where you're going until after you return. I like being surprised, but more importantly it helps you maintain your anonymity and consequently your safety when you visit less-than-friendly countries. I imagine your lovely bride would appreciate that too.

Posted by: jeff at April 24, 2006 10:16 AM

Awaiting: I'm very curious to see if you can avoid your own biases and "report" fairly on this one, Michael.

I have fewer strong opinions about those places right now than I have ever had.

Don't take this the wrong way, but it is obvious to me that your "background" on the subjects you're reporting is limited to maybe a book or two, or a couple articles you googled 10 minutes prior to getting on the plane.

Wrong, but whatever. I can't make everyone happy. I'm tempted to post a picture of my bookshelves, but that would be immature.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 10:40 AM

Michael,

I see a trend emerging. Like so many others here, yours was the first blog I ever "tipped". I think it was the second time I'd read it, and I felt like I'd been given this gigantic gift. I felt compelled to give something back.

People seem to have that urge with your blog, and I think it is content propelled.

And I will send future tips as well. I subscribe to no print media at this point and will be happy to pledge what I would to them, to you.

All I want in return is a book with pictures someday, because I feel like I'm taking these trips with you and I want to be able to keep accessing the memories.

Posted by: Jane Woodworth at April 24, 2006 10:49 AM

I'll continue to hit the tip jar as long as you go to places that are interesting to me and that I wouldn't go myself.

Your proposed trips all sound very interesting.

However, that means no embedded visits to Cannes or the Bahamas.

Posted by: John Davies at April 24, 2006 10:56 AM

I dropped money in the tip jar becuase I enjoyed the in-depth looks you've been giving at sides of the Middle East that I don't get from a lot of other places. For example, I now am dying to go to Istanbul and Beirut since you gave such an intriguing look at both places. I also appreciate your insights into Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon, not to mention Kurdistan.

I'll continue to drop money in the tipjar as I can do it, and would especially love to see your thoughts on Cuba and Venezuala.

Posted by: Michael N. at April 24, 2006 11:14 AM

Getting involved with the political opposition in a totalitarian state sounds like a real easy way to get yourself killed, Michael. Please be careful.

Posted by: Moonbat_One at April 24, 2006 11:18 AM

Michael,

I am not a friend of Pay Pal's. I just don't want to sign up with them. And, I don't even go to eBay anymore. HOWEVER, if you had a POST OFFICE BOX ADDRESS, I'd send a check. Just make it easy enough to do so. (And, then, it's my choice to use a check. OR you could do what eBay'ers do for the likes of me. I'd have to send a Money Order. Which my bank gives to me for free. In order to avoid the lunatics who send bad checks through the mail.) Again, you're new at this. So I'm just making a suggestion. THE OTHER CHOICE? USE AMAZON! They're smart enough to issue their own credit card. That would make giving you a donation a cinch.

I'd love to hear more about Israel. I think Olmert, with his "big government," is just undoing the work that could have been done. And, the one thing I've noticed is that neither English paper, the Jerusalem Post, or Ha'Aretz actually gives unbiased reporting.

Among Olmert's faults is that he sold out Jerusalem to the Haredi. And, now he's doing it on such a large scale that Israel will go backwards; not forwards, politically. You bet I'd love to see the analysis of how Arik Sharon's successes are going to fly apart. (Can I predict it flies apart? No. But there's history ...)

Thanks for listening. CAROL HERMAN

Posted by: Carol_Herman at April 24, 2006 11:22 AM

Can't promise much but supporting your efforts is about the least I could do, considering my disdain for what passes as the Information Machine in these corrupted times.

What a great plan of action you have outlined. And so very required in an age of constant agitprop, disinformation, and general inanity.

Thanks again for taking the risk of doing something DIFFERENT. I hope all your readers will pony up something (every little bit helps) in order for this to become a real option.

Good for you ----- Better for us.

Posted by: dougf at April 24, 2006 11:23 AM

Michael,

Thank you for your post. I always enjoy reading you and I rely on you as a solid source of information. You write very well. Through your eyes, we your audiance, have experienced a great deal.

I didn't HAVE to donate. I WANTED to.

I hope you come to realize that doing what you do, as well as you do it, leaves your myriad readers WANTING MORE. AND WE'RE WILLING TO PAY TO KEEP RECEIVEING IT.

So God Bless you Michael. Keep travelling, keep posting and you'll keep receiving our warm thanks and donations.

And if you're ever in Chicago, I'd like to buy you a beer....

Mike

Posted by: Michael from Chicago at April 24, 2006 11:23 AM

1. Yes, the location matters. I wouldn't pay to read your take on the Upper West Side.

2. Yes, those are locations I would pay for the privilege of seeing you visit, particularly Iran.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: TallDave at April 24, 2006 11:30 AM

Oh, and to properly monetize your efforts, I strongly suggest writing a book at some point.

Regards,
--Dave

Posted by: TallDave at April 24, 2006 11:32 AM

"We'll be returning to today's blog entry in a moment. But first, PJ Media's Onmbudsman would like to say something about YOUR local blogger support"--Tosk

LOL. That posting was funny,Tosk. Thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: dougf at April 24, 2006 11:32 AM

Michael,

I'll definitely support your effort for $20.00/on the 17th every month. The only thing I ask is that you post more pictures.

Posted by: Joshua Betts at April 24, 2006 11:33 AM

Going to be hitting the tip jar in a little while, but if you end up in Israel, one major recommendation- talk to a local and get cab prices between major locations in the same city (such as Jerusalem). Israeli cabbies have a nasty tendency to drive around the city a couple of times in order to run up the meter.

Posted by: Josh at April 24, 2006 11:33 AM

Let the disintermediation continue!
Media disintermediation. Hmm. How 'bout dat?

Posted by: BlogDog at April 24, 2006 11:34 AM

As a veteran journalist who covered a war or three himself, I think you're onto something huge, although how huge will take a while to sort out. In addition to a permanent link to Middle East Journal, I frequently put up update posts for the readers at my modest blog (http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com) because you're one of the few journos doing cutting edge work. Keep it up, but cover your ass!

Posted by: Shaun at April 24, 2006 11:36 AM

Any chance of setting up a donation method besides paypal? Some of us don't use Paypal due to their anti-gun politics.

Posted by: CJ at April 24, 2006 11:39 AM

Mr. Totten,
If you go to Iran or North Korea I will DEFINITELY contribute some money.
I am also a freelance journalist (and high school history teacher) and I've made some possible contacts with former Baathists trying to confirm/deny a lot of the stories regarding the documents from Saddam's regime that have been released by U.S. intelligence. I am not sure how your sources are with former regime officials but I'd love to compare notes on what they have to say about their old days in power and if you went to Iran I'd love to be able to make some suggestions for you to inquire about.
Mark

Posted by: Mark at April 24, 2006 11:42 AM

Michael, I enjoy these pieces and appreciate the risks you take to provide them. Have you considered setting targets for funds to raise per assignment or per quarter, and then maintaining a thermometer-like graphic to let folks know how you're doing with your fund raising efforts? Personally, I'd sign up for a subscription service that paid you quarterly or annually if you can arrange that.

Posted by: charles austin at April 24, 2006 11:42 AM

Michael-
I would hire you for those stories. I think your work has value in part because of where you go and in part because of what you say. Yes, people are starved for stories about thinly covered areas, but I would say that you have built a fledgling brand here with a reputation for honesty and an engaging writing style. Don't underestimate that. I want to know more about Iran, but I would not, for example, be interested if Dana Millbank went to Iran.

One suggestion. Great pricing has transparency. If you go somewhere, give an indication of how many dispatches you might write and what you would recommend giving that would constitute a fair price. Folks will eventually set their own price for your work's value, but give us a little transparency so we can arrive at a starting point. Right now, we're in the dark.
I wish you the best.

Posted by: Don at April 24, 2006 11:50 AM

How long you could investigate something running on a deficit. In theory, though in today's media/entertainment world less likely in practice, the MSM could send someone to cover a story that people don't want to pay for, that most don't want to hear about, but that is nonetheless important. They may lose money on this. Could you do that?

Posted by: Ben Shapiro at April 24, 2006 12:00 PM

A tip o' the hat is good, but a PayPal tip is better? I'm persuaded. I'll tip a good waitress plenty. Why not a good journalist?

Posted by: Scott W. Somerville at April 24, 2006 12:01 PM

I never hit tip jars but I've hit yours twice. Keep doing what you're doing and I'll continue. Gladly. I think your perspective on Cuba would be absolutly fatastic. Heck I'd probably keep donating if you visited Kansas City.

Posted by: FloridaSteve at April 24, 2006 12:05 PM

Michael:

Drop me a line if you need some legal services in connection with your projects. I'm here in Portland, and can probably help you out more that way than with the small amounts of cash I can scare up anytime soon.

Posted by: Shelby at April 24, 2006 12:05 PM

I also would have contributed by now, highly unusually for me, had you offered some means other than PayPal.

Your stuff is great. I hope you get this to work, and I hope you find a way to stay safe while doing it.

Posted by: ZF at April 24, 2006 12:05 PM

I must admit, guiltily, to reading your website to get information about N. Iraq-I know someone there and the ability to send pictures and information is not available. It was nice to see how nice the area is-not something portrayed by conventional media-and it made me feel better about having someone there. Thank you

Posted by: TLS at April 24, 2006 12:06 PM

Ben: the MSM could send someone to cover a story that people don't want to pay for, that most don't want to hear about, but that is nonetheless important. They may lose money on this. Could you do that?

It would depend on so many factors. How much do I care about the story, would I enjoy covering it, how much would it actually cost, etc.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 12:08 PM

When the journalism good and the stories are interesting (as they have been) I am willing to donate about what I would pay for a magazine in a year. i.e. $20 - $30 per year. Not much I know, but if anough people feel likewise or are more generous it could work as a job.

I love the idea of you reporting from Iran for instance, because I think that from your other reporting I would get insight and texture I don't get elsewhere. If you make a success of it there will be others who will emulate and you'll be competing for donations, but hopefully the readership for this kind of thing will grow at the same time. You will have the advantage of being one of the first, with a name already, that gets you links from the likes of Instapundit, not to mention the affiliation with Winds of Change, both of which I am sure are key ingredients for success. In the meantime you'll be having the exeriences of a lifetime.

Posted by: Graham at April 24, 2006 12:19 PM

Michael,

I'll keep donating as long as you keep writing. To make your income more dependable, you might consider a subscription model, where people sign up for X dollars per month for your guarantee of Y dispatches from interesting places around the world.

You're setting the model, here. In a decade, this will be common and you'll be acknowleged as one of the pioneers.

Be careful and good luck,

~rob

Posted by: Roborant at April 24, 2006 12:34 PM

Michael,

Not sure I can contribute at this time, but I hope to do so in the future. I REALLY enjoy your writing. It is unique, compelling, intelligent, adventurous, informative, descriptive, and relevant. I, like others, feel that I get a more accurate picture and an entirely different perspective from reports like yours than from the MSM. I hope that this business model will work out for you and we can look forward to more excellent writing. May God go with you.

Posted by: CP at April 24, 2006 12:35 PM

Wow. If you sneak into Iran or North Korea I'm sooo hitting that tip jar. I haven't yet, but don't feel bad. You'd be the first.

Posted by: Daniel at April 24, 2006 12:40 PM

I have to admit I'm torn. I love the coverage but I'd hate to think that I helped pay for a plane ticket to a place that got you killed.

OTOH perhaps the money would go towards a "No Problem" bribe.. Decisions decisions..

Posted by: otis wildflower at April 24, 2006 12:41 PM

Great work, Michael!

I do hope you'll continue this "experiment in journalism", and I have therefore (at long last) hit the Tip Jar. I don't know how much my modest contribution will help you henceforth... but at least I'll stop feeling guilty about reading your blog, and benefiting from first-hand reporting that I haven't paid for!

I very much like the idea of a roving reporter, going where he thinks the stories are, and getting paid if his audiences want to read those stories. I think that's worth encouraging, and worth paying for. So I don't want to suggest where you should go next; I'm content to leave that up to you.

Let me add something, though (almost certainly unnecessarily; you're smart enough to have thought of this). If you continue to do this, and you can keep your own hide intact, you'll become increasingly successful... which, as an earlier commenter noted, will make it more difficult for you to keep doing what you do. You'll also get increasing pressure from your readers and others, telling you what to write and how to write it. (Writing about Israelis and Palestinians is guaranteed to get you that sort of heat, no matter what you write.)

And you'll have to be careful not to let it all go to your head... because then you'll be no better than the high-salaried "journalists" who cover the front lines from their hotel rooms, recycling last year's editorials into tomorrow's predigested news.

There is a hunger today, perhaps greater than we've known in a generation or more -- a hunger for the TRUTH. Americans want, and need, to hear from a journalist who will ask tough questions of everyone, put things in a readable context with no axe to grind, and let the chips (and sacred cows) fall where they may.

You are that journalist today, Michael. If you continue to be, you will not lack for work, or an audience, or an income.

Please do keep up the good work -- and stay true to yourself, always.

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

Posted by: Daniel in Brookline at April 24, 2006 12:42 PM

Experiment huh? While my hat goes off to Mr. Totten, reader-funded journalism was born elsewhere.

Everyone here should also be reading Back-To-Iraq.com

Since March 2003 (MARCH OF 2003!) Christopher Allbritton has been conducting the kind of "experimental" reader-funded journalism in Iraw, that this site has purported to have invented. Just a friendly reminder that other, "on the ground" coverage is available from folks considerably more expert than Mr. Totten.

Posted by: Nick at April 24, 2006 12:46 PM

I'm out of work and don't know when I'll get hired again. I'll be glad to chip in a few dollars to keep your work going, though. I enjoy good writing and you're one of the best I've ever come across. You're doing what I've always dreamed of doing and likely never will do so.

Posted by: Lola Lee Beno at April 24, 2006 12:47 PM

FloridaSteve: If he comes here to KC, what would he write about that could compare to life in the war-torn ME?

I know. He could cover the Royals!

Posted by: The Monster at April 24, 2006 12:51 PM

Michael,

If you are considering North Korea, perhaps you would consider Zimbabwe? It gets no attention, and is basically a North Korean satellite, with education camps, famine, and other such innovations. The foreign media insist on seeing everything as black vs white, so they really miss what is really going on there, and the Zim government takes advantage of this.

On the other hand, it may not be the best thing for you to do because it doesn't get much attention and may not generate many hits for your site.

Anyway, if you want to go to Zim, I could arrange many contacts (and places to stay) for you, and it should be pretty safe.

Posted by: Ray at April 24, 2006 12:52 PM

Michael, you might consider taking a digital video camera with you on your next trip and posting cool video tape on your site. Also, you can bring in people from the countries you visit to add historical prespective and details to your stories after you post them.(peeple like lebanonprofile etc...) They are already in depth, but it is pretty cool that the whole world can talk to each other on the net.

Posted by: Mike at April 24, 2006 12:59 PM

Michael, I have supported you in the past and will continue. What a great adventure and heaven knows, we need a person on the ground in the middle of current news events to keep us informed. I wish you the best in your endeavors and look forward to reading more dispatches from abroad.

Posted by: Carole Newton at April 24, 2006 12:59 PM

absolutely will pay for your reporting...I dropped all my subscriptions to everything and now just read blogs...would love to give you the money I am saving...also if you are going to Iran you should look at the "View from Iran" blog...she is an American married to an Iranian who lived in Iran for the past two years and just returned to the states..here is the link and she has a comment feature enabled.
http://viewfromiran.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Rosemary at April 24, 2006 01:31 PM

How's about this?

Someone earlier on mentioned eventually writing a book based on your travels.

What about incorporating yourself in some fashion? IPO a 20% share of Michael Totten's next book, should it ever get written.

Figure out how much you need to keep you busy for a year (lets just say $100,000).

Sell 100,000 shares at $1.00 apiece. Let's say your book gets published, and you make $300,000 on the book. Your donors get back 60% of their investment.

That way, even if people can't bring themselves to just flat out give you money, they might consider it if there's an investment side to it. Even if it's just to make back 25 cents on the dollar, it makes the decision to support this kind of thing a lot easier.

What's more, just think if you make a LOT of money on the book. This could be the "new model" for citizen journalists. Imagine if this model worked, and donor-investors made money. That would probably be the last nail in the coffin of the MSM, as everybody would start investing in this kind of thing. I know I certainly would.

Posted by: Sean at April 24, 2006 01:43 PM

I think everyone's interests are different, but keep reporting as an "embed", and provide unique looks into places that aren't common in the MSM, and you'll do fine.

Posted by: Allan at April 24, 2006 01:46 PM

Just give some money that I could. Your blog is informative and entertained to read. Keep up the good work.

If you go to Iran, you definitely get my support.

Posted by: Hanh at April 24, 2006 02:01 PM

I will continue my support even if you visit and write about Utah. I enjoy and learn quite a bit from your posts. I would like a signed copy of your book when it is released. You might think about doing something like Michael Yon and sell photographs/books/etc. to help raise money too.

Posted by: markytom at April 24, 2006 02:02 PM

I kicked in $100. Since you asked, my reasons are: (1) yes, you went to areas where others weren't reporting from. (2) you reported information that was interesting, relevant, and not being reported by others. (3) The reporting was not noticeably infected with ideology.

Opinion abounds in Old Media and on the blogosphere. What does not abound is straight reporting. I would not be interested in one more opinionated account. I am very interested in facts and even impressions, so long as they are as ideology free as possible. Yes, I am quite aware of poststructuralist arguments about the impossibility of true objectivity, etc., etc. But I also know that effective efforts can be made to reduce one's conscious biases and discover the unconscious ones. One can at least approach objectivity in good faith. I'm willing to pay for that if well done and original. So far, good work.

Posted by: Victor Erimita at April 24, 2006 02:11 PM

I don't send money to many people either but you're performing too valuable a service to us all for me to not.

I will probably send you more money at a later date. Any of the places you mentioned sounds interesting. I am a little concerned about you getting too near to Hezbollah after your last trip to Lebanon.

Watch your Six Michael!!

Posted by: Will Myers at April 24, 2006 02:14 PM

I also donated to you a couple weeks ago and I did it because I appreciate your independence and the stories that independence generates. Watching reporters in the Green Zone with their handlers and toadies is telling me about a highly filtered and managed slice of what is happening in Iraq. Your stories bring an unpredictability and 'lack of script' that I find very refreshing.

I also find your stories fascinating because they are so informative, which is partially because of the places you go that are underreported. That doesn't mean we want you to be some sort of journalistic Crocodile Hunter, part reporter, part stuntman. It isn't about going to the most dangerous places; it is about going to places in the news which are not getting eye-witness accounts told from them. Sometimes those overlap but perhaps sometimes not.

The only three people I've ever hit the tip jar on were yourself, for insightful comment on true situations and people that I hadn't already heard a million times, Michael Yon, for the same thing from a military perspective, and Wretchard, for the same thing from a geo-political viewpoint. What this successful experiment of yours shows, I believe, is that people thirst for insight more than anything. Having an unknowledgeable and non-passionate TV reporter put on a khaki vest and a pith helmet and give me "the word on the street" doesn't hold a candle to your "I'm living here and talking to these people" revelations.

Immersion > Danger. Insight > Scripted. Independence > Writing for your cocktail party circuit.

Good luck and safe travels.

Keith

Posted by: Keith at April 24, 2006 02:27 PM

Yes Michael, I will continue donating as often as I can. What you have brought to us can't be compared to anything else.

When you write this book of yours, hopefully you will sell signed copies to us?

Posted by: Cathy at April 24, 2006 02:46 PM

Michael, I think the concept and work you are doing are great. Good luck with your continued experiment.

I do have a quick question. I saw your comment about getting in/out of the occupied territories via trusted Palestinian guides. Unfortunately, this is the only way to report events in those areas, but my question is: do you think you'll be able to write balanced Israel/Palestine pieces when your work is inherently tied to access provided by one side?

I'd love to hear your take.

Posted by: Hylton at April 24, 2006 02:51 PM

"As much as I appreciate the zeal for traveling and new experiences, I prefer my analysis from "experts.""

I'm the opposite. I don't want my analysis from experts, I want just facts and then do my own analysis.

Michael has told me things about Kurdistan that no other journalist reported about. What is it worth if somebody gives me an analysis of Iraq without giving me the information that his analysis is based on? Or even worse, what if the analysis is not based on some information because the journalist didn't bother to look at it?

As for Michael's "bias", it seemed to me that he was rather unbiased when he decided to meet Hizbollah and developed an opinion about them based on their behaviour. How much more unbiased can you get?

I for one am looking forward to a report about Palestine from him.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 24, 2006 03:04 PM

i've hit your tip jar in the past, on a semi-regular basis, and would certainly continue doing so.

i'm not as much interested in places no one covers as in stories/perspective/background/etc that no one covers -- or that no one covers fairly, or in depth, or in context.

there could be a thousand mainstream journalists wherever you go, and i still trust you'd be telling me interesting stuff worth knowing that would never make it into any 'mainstream' medium.

Posted by: luba at April 24, 2006 03:22 PM

Hylton: I saw your comment about getting in/out of the occupied territories via trusted Palestinian guides. Unfortunately, this is the only way to report events in those areas, but my question is: do you think you'll be able to write balanced Israel/Palestine pieces when your work is inherently tied to access provided by one side?

Yes. (I have access to the Israeli side, too, of course.)

The Palestinian man I know who can take me wherever I ask him to take me is not dogmatic at all. We get along very well.

I may end up burning bridges with Hamas at some point, like I did with Hezbollah, but that doesn't mean I won't still have access to other Palestinians who are more interesting anyway.

It's easy to get access to members of the Palestinian parliament. I interviewed two of them just by showing up and saying hi. No appointment. No background check. Nothing like that. They are much easier to "work" with than Hezbollah, at least so far.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 03:41 PM

Yes Michael, I will definitely donate again. Having said that, you should think very carefully before visiting some of the places on your list.

Posted by: Deanna Heaven at April 24, 2006 03:52 PM

This is great stuff. You are covering things that the pathetic MSM simply will not cover and you are doing it an honest way. Love it.
The only thing that prevents me from donating my bit is Paypal. I understand that it may not make economic sense for you to use other payment systems at this point. Some people have no problem with Paypal, but I do. I think if you could open up the payment options a little (credit card, check, etc), then a few more folks like me would be honored to kick in on whatever assignment you choose. I'm not sure how many (maybe 2 or 3 from the comments I've seen so far) additional people that would net and if it would offset other potential costs. May not be worth it now, but as your business grows, you may want to consider it. Needless to say, whatever you decide, I'll keep watching.

Posted by: rc at April 24, 2006 04:34 PM

I haven't donated yet, but that's a matter of reading from work, not because I didn't feel like it. Reminding us of your funding mode would also help spark donations.

Having you out there reporting gives me the feeling of having a personal representative. There is no time or column inches limit, so you can post a lot more than a typical reporter - and it's easier to find. You can also personalize the reporting, which seems to be frowned upon by "professional" journalism.

All in all, I'd say - go for it - you have a good product. Post relatively frequently so we won't have the experience of going daily to a page that doesn't change often (basic blog advice, of course). And... put in photos, some of which include yourself.

Normal third person journalism is not as interesting. The practice strikes me as stuffy, only designed to give the appearance of "objective" or "professional." Perhaps it is also to prevent reporters from becoming recognized "brands" - which would up their cost to a news organization. So keep up the first person stuff!

I think you will be successful, but you do need to be careful - the bad guys may start looking for you. I am still amazed that some of the Iraqi bloggers (such as Zeyad) have not been attacked.

Good luck to you in your venture.

Posted by: John Moore at April 24, 2006 05:07 PM

Michael:

I enjoy your blog very much. You write well about important places most people don't hear anything about and seem, in general, to be fairly free of political baises and axes to grind (overt ones, anyway).

I guess I am just an old fogey, but I don't like paying for things online.

Live-blogging Iran would be phenomenal. But, as other people have mentioned, the more widely you become known the more dangerous it will be for you. Don't think that Hizb'allah didn't take your little open letter to heart. Of course, I am sure you realize that.

I know that this exposes my own political biases, but you should know, of course, that there is no such country as "Palestine". A lot of people have tried to give the Arabs such a country but they won't take yes for an answer, preferring instead to pursue their "dream" of a Judenrein "Palestine", with all of the attendant suffering for everyone involved.

And I certainly wouldn't trust your Palestinian friend to protect you if it comes to it. The PA and its various constituent thugocracies have thoroughly intimidated reporters so that they simply do not tell the truth. They know that they will be killed if they do. And people who are deemed "collaborators", as your friend would be should you write something critical of the terrorists and his relationship with you become known, are in even greater danger. Your value lies in remaining as anonymous as possible.

But, in any case, good luck and stay safe.

Posted by: Ephraim at April 24, 2006 05:10 PM

Michael,

I'm happy to support, however meagerly, your excellent writing. Contrary to what you and Glenn Reynolds say in Glenn's recent podcast, I don't think it's much like reporting from Iowa at all! I'm here in Iowa, and I sure as hell don't get to read stuff this compelling. Keep up the great work!

Posted by: Matt Snyder at April 24, 2006 05:11 PM

Working without an editor has its advantages and its drawbacks. You are good enough in style to get past most of the drawbacks. As long as you write as well as you do, I will read and appreciate.

And yes, I'm still pushing the book idea. :) Maybe you will be able to show a publisher your comments section as proof of interest.

Posted by: B. Durbin at April 24, 2006 05:58 PM

Speaking of things Jacksonian, I just hit your tip jar with one. Keep up the good work.

In a month or so, a book called Watching the Watchdog will be out. Check the dedication. We're all better off, for the kind of work you're doing, Michael. I mean it.

Posted by: doc at April 24, 2006 05:58 PM

Doc,

I see from your email address and the book's page on Amazon that it's your book.

What does the dedication say?

Thanks for the Jacksonian. :)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 06:35 PM

I have a question Micheal. So you ask for donations now to cover your trip expenses, then when you write your book, you are basically making money off of us, no?

Please if you disagree say so, I am just trying to understand this because I don't think it is fair.

Posted by: Dan at April 24, 2006 06:41 PM

Dan: So you ask for donations now to cover your trip expenses, then when you write your book, you are basically making money off of us, no?

I don't see it that way.

I will be making money from you ("you" being those who donate) for blogging, not for the book.

It will take me hundreds (thousands?) of hours to write a book. Any profit I make from a book will be because of those hours of writing work that went into it. If I don't put in all those hours, there will be no book and therefore no book profit. I will never say "please give me money so I can stay home and write a book without needing a job." That's what would be unfair, in my view.

The book will not be republished blog entries. It will be written completely from scratch with the blog as Draft Zero.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 06:47 PM

Michael, I have read your column for a long time. I stated in the past I would be unable to contribute due to the tremendous cost of paying for my tuition, but if you begin this incredible journey. I will make sure I will donate what I can when I can. I ahve really enjoyed reading your column and hope to see more great blogging.

Posted by: Mantis at April 24, 2006 06:51 PM

Since you are a trusted source now, I'd suggest Iran. Israel/Palestine is covered to death, but in Iran like pre-war Iraq, the media can't be too honest or they lose access.

I also second the Amazon payment method in addition to paypal.

Posted by: Aaron at April 24, 2006 07:10 PM

Yours was the first, and so far only, blog that I've tipped. From the first entry I read I was hooked and I check in several times a week.

My tips have been small in size and do not reflect the value I put in your writing. The more jewelry I sell, the more I can tip (hint hint all you folks out there LOL) but I will definitely do what I can to get you out in the field.

Though I agree with the poster who brought up guilt. I would be heartbroken if I helped in raising money for you to go somewhere that takes your life. These are dangerous places that you talk of visiting. They aren't vacation spots for sure.

I'd love to hear true reporting from China, North Korea (an impossibility I think), Sudan, Zimbabwe, and even Venezuela. Heck I'd pay for honest reporting from Seattle! :)

Keep up the great work. I appreciate all you do and love to read your writing. Don't forget all us little guys and gals when you make it big. ;-)

Posted by: Megs at April 24, 2006 07:12 PM

Ok, thanks for the clarification. By the way, I sent you an email regarding linking to a new blog that is about 10 days old, but you never replied, hope that you will have the change to.
Regards

Posted by: Dan at April 24, 2006 07:19 PM

I may end up burning bridges with Hamas at some point, like I did with Hezbollah, but that doesn't mean I won't still have access to other Palestinians who are more interesting anyway.

Look out. Those guys even send Palestinian children to their deaths - they have no consciences at all. They're mass murderers for God.

I don't want you to be (one of?) the first people to die for weblog journalism.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at April 24, 2006 07:39 PM

I dunno about the rest of the people... I just sent money to you so you wouldn't resort to PBS style fund raising.

I'm trying to imagine Totten opening every post with an ad from his corporate sponsors.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at April 24, 2006 07:43 PM

Hi Michael,
1. MSM is dull. They all parrot the same thing. Experts? Not for me cause that usually means Agenda, no thanks. The Experts tell us what they want us to hear, the guy in the street tells you the way it really is. YOU are able to talk with the folks that matter.

2. I want to read about places that are NOT in the news, like the Kurdistans, all of 'em. Or, about places that are in the news, but the reports are terribly one dementional, like Iran. Any news "hot spots" would be good stories simply because of HOW you think and write.

3. I would like to donate, but like others here, I can't do paypal. Hopefully, you can find a good way for those of us, who can't do paypal, to 'tip your jar'. :-)

4. I really enjoy this blog, and I KNOW that wherever you go, you'll be smart enough to play it safe. It is SO NICE to read a REAL JOURNALIST'S WORK for a change without the muzzles, deadlines, demands, AND SENSORS applied to the piece, gag. I'm so very GLAD that this blog is working out for you. We ALL of us benefit.

THANK YOU, and stay SAFE!

Posted by: Renée C. at April 24, 2006 08:26 PM

Michael, As old as my computer/software is, i am afraid to even try something like Paypal, but, as so many have said, I find I'd be happy to send a check to a P. O. box. In fact, I want to contribute; before driving into town Friday, i thought, "just maybe, I'll find him in the phone book and can just, sort of, drop by with a check in hand." I couldn't, so didn't.

You have my deepest respect and best wishes; not only for what you have done and plan to do blogging/reporting, but for generating such a huge spate of comments: I like these people; I like the things they're telling you.

Posted by: Ken Stewart at April 24, 2006 09:06 PM

Michael, thanks for all the news unfiltered.

You've fallen on a great new paradigm shift in media assignments.

How's this. You put up the areas, let us vote. You go to one place or two of the top 5-10. The revote for your next efforts.

I hope this does not sound impersonal, but imagine youself as a mobile commodity of news persuit. So, like organge juice demand and weather factors, the news is hot based upon geographic locations and instability or lack of raw news coverage factors.

You're serving up a commodity, not enforcing it. The reason I love this medium is I do not have to wait thru 20 or 50 minutes of junk on TV to get to the prime story I want to hear about. Instead of you being a gatekeeper or pusher of info, we, your reading audience(fairly well informed) decide the path and gates you go thru. We might even propose topical questions prior to your depature. Just some ideas.

Fair enuf? I'll contribut for that! In fact, it's a good concept for a neo-news-network.

Anyone else have comments? Is this to narrowly defined?

Posted by: Michael at April 24, 2006 10:36 PM

You got $50 from me, whatever you decide. Syria sounds the most interesting of the ones you mentioned. Iraq is right up there as well and North Korea would be groundbreaking. Stay safe, and keep it coming.

Posted by: Matt S at April 24, 2006 11:00 PM

Michael: How's this. You put up the areas, let us vote.

I thought about that, and am still thinking about it. Only problem is I would be tipping my hand and indicating where I'm going in advance. Sometimes that's fine. Other times it isn't. So I don't know yet.

I do have a financial incentive to announce where I'm going in advance, so I'm not trying to be obnoxiously secretive here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 24, 2006 11:06 PM

I just discovered this place a couple days ago and will continue to return. I really enjoyed reading about a place that doesn't get enough attention from the rest of the money.

Although I don't have any money to spare for a few months(tuition sucks up any I have), I'll be willing to contibute when I have a little extra.

Posted by: Matthew at April 24, 2006 11:19 PM

"the rest of the money"

I meant to say the rest of the media.

Posted by: Matthew at April 24, 2006 11:21 PM

I have less of an interest in reading about an Israel/Palestine excursion, only because however well-written it may be, it's still contributing to an already insanely overexposed area of the world. What I found so immensely enjoyable about your previous articles was their spotlight on territories that are completely under-reported by the MSM, namely Iraqi Kurdistan, Cyprus, and an insider's view of Beirut, Turkey, etc.

That is what I consider the gravy of this blog, and I would do what I could to help subsidize on-the-ground reporting from areas like Iran, Cuba, Syria and the like. My one request echoes another poster in that you please post more photos. I find those absolutely fascinating, and I'd love to see more. I would also pay for a book of your adventures that contains some of these exceedingly interesting pictures.

My two cents. And please be careful out there. The more famous of a reporter you become, the faster you become a walking bullseye.

-brian

Posted by: BrianJ at April 24, 2006 11:34 PM

I would suggest a basic, "free" website with a premium member option. Put the 'good stuff' behind the wall for those that pay. For example, as some have suggested; pictures and video. Perhaps, comments could be made by those who pay and have input on your travels. That would provide you a more consistent and predictable cash flow. I'm sure a number of people would pay for expanded access and input.

To me, this is capitalism and journalism at its finest. If it helps kill the MSM, I will surely join.

Members could be Globe Trotters as in Trotten with Totten. Hope it all works out. We've 'hot to trot'.

Posted by: Ken at April 24, 2006 11:41 PM

Wrong, but whatever. I can't make everyone happy. I'm tempted to post a picture of my bookshelves, but that would be immature.

Probably, what's confusing this guy is that you write like a normal (but smart, well-informed) person. That is, you give the reactions of a normal person to what you see and experience. This, in my opinion, is your greatest strength. From the MSM you never get an accurate idea about what a place is really like.

(I know, I live in Israel, and I've hosted many business guests - people who never expected to ever find themselves here - and they are universally surprised that it's basically a normal country. They are also surprised about some of the things that are different.)

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at April 25, 2006 12:10 AM

I kind of like the premium subscriber model. Your basic blog posts, without comments in the free side, additional videos and photos in the subscriber side.

Posted by: Rey at April 25, 2006 12:16 AM

So here’s what I don’t know: Were you willing to pay me because I went where few others go?

Yes.

I consider most MSM reporting on Iraq to be nearly worthless because it's largely based on CENTCOM briefings and rumors making the rounds at the bar in Hotel Palestine.

I don't want re-phrased CENTCOM briefings and bar rumors, I want information from people on the scene, and I'm willing to pay for it.

As far as this is concerned:

I want to go to Iran and “embed” myself, so to speak, with the student movement that struggles against the Khomeini regime.

Good luck getting a visa. I expect your Hizbullah 'friend' has passed word along about who you are and what you're up to.

ps- having an alternative to PayPal- such as a PO box I could mail a physical check to- would be a good thing. A lot of people (like myself) avoid PayPal specifically because of all the fake 'account verification' email.

Posted by: rosignol at April 25, 2006 12:17 AM

About a month ago I reluctantly used Paypal to send you money. However I will not be using them again and I join those asking for another way.

I am willing to send money for several reasons:

-Reporting from places I don't see much good reporting from.

-A style which is intimate and interesting. More of a travelogue then normal reporting but with some good background included.

-I can't say your writing is completely unbiased but you are better than most and you do not try to paper over your point of view with false objectivity. In any case I am, in general, comfortable with your point of view.

I share others doubts about the value that you can add to understanding the Palestinian/Israeli situation but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. If you can actually provide real insight into both sides and the real political dynamics there you will have accomplished something significant. That would be a good warm-up for Iran.

Don't do a pay site or two level access if you can at all avoid it. Yes you will have some free riders but I think that it would hurt you. I am much happier sending you money when I read something I like than feeling I have to. If you ever have a period where your writing interests your subscribers less some will drop away and will not know to come back when you write about something that would have interested them.

IRAN!!!!!!!

I would be VERY interested in learning more about what is going on in Iran. What do the people there think? What is life like? Can you learn these things about people with various points of view on where Iran should go and on the government? What would actually have to happen for Iran to become more of a real democratic republic?

If you could answer these questions at all you would have to spend a lot of time there during one or more trips.

While I certainly wish you well I will not feel a responsibility for harm that comes to you during your travels. From your description of your crazed road trip into Iraq it seems that you will be taking risks regardless. :-)

Posted by: Tony Lekas at April 25, 2006 02:57 AM

"I have less of an interest in reading about an Israel/Palestine excursion, only because however well-written it may be, it's still contributing to an already insanely overexposed area of the world."

I don't think the area is overexposed at all. We barely know anything about it.

The MSM usually repeats whatever claim the Arabs make (and continues to call a terrorist a "militant" if his victims are Jews) but never tells us anything about "normal" life in the territories or life at the border where the missiles hit.

I would love to learn what life is like in the territories, what Christians go through, why Arabs can live in Israel but no Jews in the Arab part of Palestine, what the Druze and Bedouins think, and, notice the sarcasm, whether Israeli fast food restaurants are really so bad that resistance against them is justified, even it consists of a war crime.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 25, 2006 03:12 AM

A note to those worried about blogger fame,

You might not think so at first, but even in an internet deprived environment like Beirut, bloggers are known.

I met Michael through this blog, and there were countless times that someone would come up to him saying, "Hey, you're Michael Totten, right?"

Interestingly, though, the scary people haven't really caught on with the blogging world. If you look at the Lebanese blogging community, most of us are libertarian, for peace, anti-Hezbollah, and support America's policy toward Lebanon. Few are pro-Hezbollah, and the organization does not have an official blog (although they have a satellite television station).

This might also be the case in Iran, and it is definitely the case in Iraq. The average Iraqi has never heard of a blog.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at April 25, 2006 05:15 AM

I'd pay for your continued reporting. Not only are you going to places where "normal" journalists don't tend to go, you're also delivering your reports without the Local News, Sports, and Weather that I'd have to wade through in other media - my time is not so valuable as many others', but I value it! I second the cautions of everyone here: for heaven's sake, watch your back.

I've been thinking of you as a kind of Charles Dickens of international reporting.

Posted by: Jamie McArdle at April 25, 2006 05:17 AM

I call it "Direct Journalism".

Posted by: Cem Basman at April 25, 2006 05:54 AM

Jamie McArdle:

You have got to be kidding me. What possible basis exists for that comparison?

Posted by: Charles Dickens at April 25, 2006 06:39 AM

If you continue to write compelling stories, I would imagine people will be ammenable to continuing to chip in.

I second the complaints about Paypal being the only way to send you money.

Posted by: TWAndrews at April 25, 2006 07:25 AM

Dan,

Is there something wrong with selling one's talent and effort? Do you work for free? Is he asking for money without providing a service or product?

I don't understand the concern.

Posted by: JBP at April 25, 2006 07:56 AM

Hi Michael, I would definitely pay for you to continue to travel.

But, I think you have an even larger opportunity here. There are so very few of you blogging from such interesting places, reporting things that the MSM won't touch. Michael Yon comes to mind.

If you could get together with two or three other's like yourself, you could put together a small media organization devoted totally to this kind of content. You could then charge for premium content (subscription based) and the readers would be guaranteed a good value. It would also allow for individual downtime.

If done correctly, it would be an amazing site and unlike anything else out there.

You and Yon already have the readership to pull it off, adding a couple of other like minded journalists to the mix while still keeping things small, would pull in more readers with other interests.

And, I betting -- make a lot of money.

Posted by: mesablue at April 25, 2006 10:54 AM

Let me add a hearty "me, too" to the people asking you not to put up a pay-only site. The MSM does that routinely, and look what it's done for them.

I think your business model is fine. Yes, having more ways to pay might be a good idea. (Me, I don't worry about PayPal. I ignore ALL e-mails from anyone CLAIMING to be PayPal; they haven't cancelled my account yet, and I've never had to dispute a charge. PayPal spam is the price PayPal pays for being successful, that's all.)

I'm amused by the commenters who prefer "expert" journalism. As Harry Truman used to say, an Expert is someone afraid to learn anything new, because then he'll see just how ignorant he really is and he won't be an Expert anymore.

Keep up the good work -- and watch your back, please!

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

Posted by: Daniel in Brookline at April 25, 2006 11:18 AM

Daniel in Brookline,

What is wrong with being an expert? We are a nation of experts, founded on the idea that elites should be selected to govern the country based on their expertise. Hence, we elected governors to the House, and we had a committee select (indirectly) Senators and the POTUS. Further, if you get sick you go to a doctor. Toothache? Go to a Dentist. Want your car fixed? Take it to a mechanic. In the United States, we delegate everything. The same applies to the way we educate ourselves. Not just anyone can become a teacher or professor. You need to obtain several advanced degrees at great personal expense (time and money). But, for some reason, you and others think journalism should be different. I'm afraid I don't get that, because the 4th Estate is the only link between the people and the government. The press plays one of the most critical roles in the life of the American Polity, and is absolutely essential to the health of the Republic. Far from "democratizing" it, I wish the requirements for membership were more stringent and more demanding. I'll be the first to agree that there are many flaws with the way stories are reported- Iraq chief among them. But handing the keys over to Joe Journalist is the worst of all solutions. We should be looking at ways of ensuring that journalism is less beholden to public opinion, not more. Michael's proposal essentially boils down to: I'll go wherever you like if you wire the money in advance. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

I love some of the buzzwords flying around this thread lately- "MSM" chief among them. Its like Amy Goodwin had a sex-change operation and changed her name to Michael Totten. The reality, though, is that journalism should regulate itself the way the AMA regulates medicine and the way the ABA regulates the practice of law. The barriers to entry should be high, not low. And, as a citizenry, we should be celebrating more expertise amongst the chattering class, not less. "Everyman journalists" like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman dilute the information gene pool, not enhance it.

Its one thing to advocate for travel writing that is spirited and opinionated. If that's all your paying for, great. But, based on the Truman quote you cite, it sounds more like you're dismissing "expertise" completely out of hand, which is actually quite a childish belief to hold. In case you forgot, Truman, for all his strengths, was quite pliable and susceptible to taking bad advice from strong personalities. No doubt, as Michael sets out to educate us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there will be some discussion of the lasting global ramifications of Truman's failings here.

Posted by: Chris at April 25, 2006 12:14 PM

It's been great reading your work for the past few months. I only wish I could've chipped in more. Once I set things right with PayPal (long story), I'll be doing my part, and looking forward to more great work.

As for your original question, I really do think you're on to something.

Posted by: Rafique Tucker at April 25, 2006 02:12 PM

I sent PayPal money to you because I enjoyed your blog. I enjoyed it because you were telling me things first-hand that nobody else had the sense to do. You didn't provide information just to sell me a sensational story with a sensational ad to finance it. You told me the truth as you saw it. You had no restrictions, no boundaries, except those that you placed on yourself (we enjoy having you back, if you know what I mean).

The tipping point has well passed. Traditional media sucks. Even though I have TiVo and I could record the evening news, I haven't watched the evening news in about 6 years (except for certain periods of time following September 11). I read Newsweek, but only casually. I take in nearly all news from the web from sites ranging from my local newspaper to CNN, MSNBC, IHT, etc. However, none of them compare to your stories simply because they are your own stories. You don't have to worry how much soda, laundry detergent or automobiles must sell in order for you to get paid. I'm not cynically against economics; I am in sales myself. I realize that what I sell has to be meaningful to the buyer - you realize that what you sell has to be meaningful to the reader. I wish others had your courage to tell an experience and stop spewing sound bites to sell themselves or an agenda.

Posted by: John at April 25, 2006 07:21 PM

Guess who is the only commenter who's a journalist?

Michael, I ended up here completely by accident and this is only the second post I've read of yours. I think it is a GREAT idea (although I'm still paying off credit card debt from two dot-com great ideas, so my opinion is of dubious worth). I may donate after reading more (and if one of the anti-Pay Pal people could email me directly about what's wrong with it, I'd appreciate it). I have no problem with paying for good content.

Back to Chris, if journalists were "experts" in any way, it might be worth certifying them. Doctors and lawyers are certified based on their competancy to perform the job. What is the job of a journalist? Too many of them think it is merely to write. Guess what: Most of us can write. In order to report, as opposed to write, on a subject, one has to know something about it. It has NOTHING to do with journalism and EVERYTHING to do with the subject. Almost every "MSM" article I have read on a subject in which (notice the tidy grammar) I am an expert has been woefully uniformed. There is no such thing as generic "journalism expertise" - the expertise depends on the topic. I don't want my family doctor doing brain surgery - even if both are AMA members. I also don't want to read Iraq reporting from the Style page editor.

If you are good, as Michael appears to be, certification is irrelevant. That doesn't mean that anyone can do it. It means that certification is a barrier to entry imposed by the guild that has more to do with the guild than it does with merit. The market will decide merit. In the case of brain surgeons, we have decided that the market based solution is too expensive (how many people have to die for the market to determine that Joe brain surgeon isn't very good?). For journalism, the stakes are not nearly that high (individually).

That turned out long - sorry.

Posted by: mrsizer at April 25, 2006 10:57 PM

[...But, for some reason, you and others think journalism should be different. I'm afraid I don't get that, because the 4th Estate is the only link between the people and the government.

The only link?

Have you, by any chance, ever heard of this miraculous invention called 'the ballot box'?

[...]

Far from "democratizing" it, I wish the requirements for membership were more stringent and more demanding.

Yeah, that sounds good. More stringent requirements for membership mean... less competition.

Remind me, why do we have special laws to restrict monopolies and protect compeition in a given market?

I'll be the first to agree that there are many flaws with the way stories are reported- Iraq chief among them. But handing the keys over to Joe Journalist is the worst of all solutions.

Heaven forbid that we should get (relatively) normal people going places and telling us what they see going on.

We should be looking at ways of ensuring that journalism is less beholden to public opinion, not more.

Journalism isn't even slightly beholden to public opinion. What it's beholden to is the market- in order to stay in business, a Journalist has to produce something that other people are willing to pay for. That is the only constraint.

If you think that is a bad thing, I suggest you head to the east side of the Atlantic, go work for the BBC, and surgically attach yourself to the government teat.

[...]

I love some of the buzzwords flying around this thread lately- "MSM" chief among them. Its like Amy Goodwin had a sex-change operation and changed her name to Michael Totten. The reality, though, is that journalism should regulate itself the way the AMA regulates medicine and the way the ABA regulates the practice of law.

...so anyone reporting on medicine would need a Medical Degree, and anyone reporting on matters of law (i.e., what Congress, the President, and the Courts do) would have to be a member of the Bar? Presumably, anyone reporting on military affairs (such as wars) would have to have served in a military, and anyone reporting on technology would have to have an engineering degree?

I can't say I care much for the idea, but I do think that what we would be getting in such a situation would be much better than what we're getting now.

The barriers to entry should be high, not low. And, as a citizenry, we should be celebrating more expertise amongst the chattering class, not less.

More expertise? How about any expertise? One thing I've noticed about my field is that the more I learn about it, the more errors I spot in the reporting on that field.

"Everyman journalists" like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman dilute the information gene pool, not enhance it.

Those are commentators. They produce the television equivalent of the Op/Ed page, not the news section.

Of course, these days there is so much opinion mixed in with what is supposed to be 'straight' reporting that I'm not surprised you're having trouble telling the difference.

[...]

Michael- if you want to understand why people are willing to give you money to do what you do, in my case it's very simple- you're not like that guy.

ps: please take Sean along more often. He picks up on stuff you miss. ;-)

Posted by: rosignol at April 26, 2006 01:34 AM

rosignol: if you want to understand why people are willing to give you money to do what you do, in my case it's very simple- you're not like that guy.

Thanks!

ps: please take Sean along more often. He picks up on stuff you miss.

Yes, he does. And I pick up on things that Sean misses. And if a third person came with us, he or she would pick up on stuff that both Sean and I miss.

Sean is a good travel companion. I have certainly had worse.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 26, 2006 01:41 AM

Michael;

The reason I read your dispatches is that you report on the true, unsensationalized, situation in the areas in which you visit. That, coupled with the fact that your adventures are quasi-safe, at best, make for an entertaining and educational read.

Posted by: SirGlubb at April 26, 2006 05:39 AM

I have known Mike for 17 years (and I went to the prom with Sean) and one thing I know for certain is that he is the real thing. Mike has had a passion for writing and poly-sci for as long as I have known him. His enthusiasim is infectious and whenever he speaks people listen. Those of you who have said that you would read his take on such mundane locales as Utah are on the right track. Having been witness to, participant in, and accomplice to some of Mikes adventures, let me assure you, Mike can tell a captivating story about going to the video store!
As for the danger, belive me, Mike knows what he's getting into. He has a fantastic wife, a great home, and lots of friends and family who love him. He has a lot to live for! I for one was scared for him from the time I hugged him goodbye at his going away party until I hugged him hello when we (finally!) met for lunch yesterday, but I'm so glad he was able to go.
As for the comments I've read about some of you being hesitant to donate to a cause that could be dangerous to him, thanks for the love, but Mike can take care of himself. He is doing what he loves, and getting paid to do it. We should all be so lucky! Believe me, he isn't doing it to get rich. He is very employable for much higher paying "real jobs" and when the mortgage is due a 9-5 probably looks pretty good some months.
As much as I miss him when he's gone and worry until he returns, I hope he is able to make this enterprise work, we're all the better for it.
Mike, I hope you don't mind me cluttering up your site with my sentimental ramblings, but I hope I helped set some minds at ease.
Keep it up!
Lindsey

Posted by: Lindsey at April 26, 2006 09:45 AM

Rossignol,

Way to misconstrue my points.

"…so anyone reporting on medicine would need a Medical Degree, and anyone reporting on matters of law… would have to be a member of the Bar? Presumably, anyone reporting on military affairs would have to have served in a military…?"

That is a blatant straw man and not at all what I suggested. I said that "journalism should regulate itself the way the AMA regulates medicine and the way the ABA regulates the practice of law." Given the extreme importance of the role of the press in any democracy – as the channel through which information flows from the government to the people – and given the obvious failings of so many journalists in the way stories are reported, edited and so forth, it is essential that there be some standardized practices. I'm not saying you need advanced degrees in the field you cover (though I don't see how that detracts from the coverage), but I am saying that journalism as an industry should regulate itself and insist on more than a photogenic face, a strong voice, or a knack for writing. Not being a journalist, I'll leave it to someone else to figure out what the floor should be.

You also write: "Journalism isn't even slightly beholden to public opinion."

That is nonsense. Why do you think there is always a story about old-people and medicine on the nightly news? To drive ratings. Why do you think CNN canned Aaron Brown in exchange for Anderson Cooper? To drive ratings. Why do you think cable news has become increasingly personality driven and commentary-based? To drive ratings. Why do you think the NY Times runs stories about bombs going off in Iraq and not about hospitals opening? To sell papers.

When, on this site and in these threads, Michael and others bemoan the way the Iraq War is being covered by the American press, they are, by extension, bemoaning the way in which journalism has become the bastard stepchild of public opinion. They are bemoaning that it has become too democratic. They are asking journalists to ignore the public's desire to only by papers that have pictures of rubble on them and to only watch television news that shows images of violence, and to instead grow a backbone and report "objectively." To report without regard for whether there is a "market" for the story, and only with regard for the story itself.

Michael's solution to this problem with journalism: to solicit funds directly from the audience and to report on what they ask him to report on. Seems to me like we're going in the wrong direction.

Don't get me wrong, though… If the trip to Iran goes off I'll still read the stuff that gets posted. It will probably be interesting and entertaining. But anyone who thinks they're sticking it to the "MSM" with this kind of pay-per-view, American Idol approach to reporting is kidding themselves.

Posted by: Chris at April 26, 2006 10:32 AM

This month will be tough, but after I switch jobs I'll be proud to put some money towards your pay pal, and hopefully at least once a month. Good luck and god speed.

Posted by: Craig at April 26, 2006 02:06 PM

About six months ago I decided to 'deploy' the $s I was saving by cancelling my far left newspaper (SF Chroncile) to blogs. Most of these blogs have bloggers that are otherwise employed and there are few that are unique. This site is unique and this is, further, Micheal's real job so I applied the entire amount - $50 - to this site. I'm happy with my decision and will continue to support your efforts at similar levels going forward, Michael.

Posted by: Sweetie at April 26, 2006 02:09 PM

Could you make some other way to pay? Don't like pay-pal. Use Amazon with good results; (or even snail mail with a check?)

Posted by: mariro at April 27, 2006 07:55 AM

You are planning to embed in the Iranian revolution. Wow! I will pay you $50 for that.

I would have paid you a bit already, but Paypal won't take my money (complications because I moved between countries, plus I hate paypal because their arbitration services are corrupt and capricious). If you would take e-gold or amazon tip jar it would make it a lot easier to pay you.

Posted by: James A. Donald at April 27, 2006 09:31 PM

Go get 'em Michael !!

jp
http://americansforfreedom.blogspot.com

Posted by: jp at April 28, 2006 02:27 PM

Michael, I will definitely hit the tip jar for what I can. Your reporting is amazing, has been for a long time, and I can't imagine that you're getting what your work is worth. Like others, I worry about your safety and about empowering your risk. I trust you will take everyone's concern for your safety to heart.

I am fascinated with all your writings, but especially now that you are in Israel. I hope you will be able to find a way to expand your travels beyond a left-wing-Israeli circle. I would so appreciate if you could meet some of the Jews expelled from Gush Katif (Gaza) and so-called "settlers" in the so-called "West Bank" (Judea and Samaria) who stand to be expelled under Olmert's border-setting plan.

I'm very grateful for your open perspective, your talented writing and your courage. Keep up the great work and may G-d protect you. A book is a must.

Posted by: Yael at April 29, 2006 06:34 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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