First, forgive me for the headline; I know the "Netflix of " is an overused phrase of late. In this case, though, it's pretty appropriate.
Last month, I profiled a mysterious startup called Beacon which wanted to reinvent journalism. Insight into the startup's intentions could be divined only through a couple of thought-provoking pieces published as newsletters. Beacon didn't like the current landscape of journalism, and intended to do something about. Exactly what that was, however, was anyone's guess.
Now we know. Beacon launched a beta version of its product this week, and it does indeed look a lot like Netflix for news.
Here's the premise: Beacon employs a number of well-credentialed journalists to tell stories through the Beacon platform. Readers pay $5 a month to get access to those stories. That subscription money is not spread evenly amongst Beacon's writers, though. Readers choose one writer whom they wish to support with a subscription, and that writer receives the bulk of your subscription dollars. You still get access to all of Beacon's content, however- not just those written by your "preferred" writer.
That's an important distinction: while you support one writer with your subscription, you still get access to all that Beacon has to offer. It's an original model which seems to benefit both reader and writer.
To help you choose your writer, you can browse their individual profiles on Beacon. Profiles include stories written for Beacon and those written elsewhere on the web. Again, this is significant. Beacon doesn't exist only within itself, but gives you access to a writer's work all over the web, bringing all of a writer's content together under one roof. The profiles also include a short video from the writer him/herself, detailing what motivates them and what you can expect from their stories.
Speaking of stories, it helps to know precisely what ground Beacon writers are covering.
The topics cover a broad range of subjects, but most seem to fall under the umbrella of foreign correspondence. Jason Motlagh, for example, has "reported from more than forty countries around the world." Miriam Wells tells "amazing human interest stories from South and Central America," and Kate Cronin-Furman brings "stories about mass atrocities and international justice."
Other writers stay close to home, or speak to more global topics: Steven Gray writes about social mobility, and Jeb Boone reports on the web.
Whether the Beacon model will succeed, and certainly on what level, remains to be seen. It's hard not to root for a team that places so much emphasis on the writer's relationship to readers, making it the foundation of the entire business model, instead of a mere afterthought. Beacon's offering a free 14-day trial to give readers a taste of what's to come, so there's no reason not to see what all the fuss is about.