The Kickstarter Chronicles

Comics journalism, drone aircraft, and a tea partier’s personal tale

Each week, dozens of journalistic endeavors turn to Kickstarter for funding. Pitching media projects to this online community brings another meaning to the concept “public interest journalism”; success depends on how intrigued people are by the pitch. From the hugely popular to the barely noticed, CJR’s Kickstarter Chronicles is a weekly look through some of these journalistic proposals.

Project of the week

While working as an intern at the Chicago Sun-Times, Darryl Holliday came across a blurb announcing mass wedding ceremonies at Chicago’s Cook County courthouse—an annual event for inmates getting married to non-prisoners. Holliday asked his good friend, Erik Nelson Rodriguez, an aspiring artist, to come along and do the drawing while he did the reporting.

The three-page graphic narrative, “Wedlock: Love and Marriage at the Cook County Jail,” was Rodriguez and Holliday’s first piece of “comics journalism.” Holliday, who’s getting ready to graduate from Columbia College with a degree in journalism this spring, felt a flexibility in this approach. “In the courtroom, you can’t bring five tripods and a microphone. We’re just two guys with notebooks, so we can go anywhere.” They’ve named their venture The Illustrated Press.

Their Kickstarter page is to raise the money for the print costs of their first compilation book, and has so far raised almost $1,000 of its $3,500 goal. Holliday says the book will contain five to seven stories, similar in the length of the “Wedlock” piece. The book will also contain several one-page drawings, which Holliday refers to as “moments,” since they only capture a particular scene, like this one about Occupy Chicago.

The graphic approach is time-consuming. Holliday says from “beginning to end” the two men could complete a four or five page story in maybe three weeks, but since they are juggling multiple stories alongside school and work responsibilities, it can take about two months to complete one. But both readers and editors alike are interested in their work; they are creating a couple of pieces for two different magazines. Ultimately, they hope to put out a quarterly magazine of comics journalism, with each issue organized around a different theme, and bring on other reporters and illustrators. “I’m really interested in making comics journalism a legitimate form of reporting,” says Holliday. (Deadline: May 1, 12:59 am)

New arrivals

Aerial Battlefield Photojournalism is a campaign to build a drone aircraft to fly over Syria and record the country’s internal conflict. “We will capture scenes too large in scale for someone on the ground to photograph, and, in doing so, will make the battles and pivotal moments of war comprehensible to the casual viewer,” writes the Kickstarter’s creator, Kevin Patrick Dawes. The Kickstarter features a video of Dawes filming the scene from the top of a building in Syria, and apparently being shot at. “A sniper had waited until I had climbed all the way to the top before opening fire,” writes Dawes.

An American from San Diego, Dawes was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition in a story called “American Took Up Arms With Libya’s Rebels.” The story reported: “Dawes says he first went to Libya to serve as a medical aid worker in June, but eventually decided to take up arms after pro-Gadhafi forces started targeting medical staff.” NPR commenters wrote that Dawes could be mentally ill, citing his comments about conspiracy theories on a forum called The Something Awful. It became the subject of an article on Salon: “NPR celebrates crazy forum troll’s decision to practice unlicensed medicine in Libya: A young man with a history of paranoid writings and no combat or medical experience gets an uncritical interview.” The author, Alex Pareene, writes: “This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a fascinating subject for an in-depth profile, but … his claims probably shouldn’t just have been taken at face value.” All this controversy could be hurting Dawes’s fundraising. So far, there’s $30 pledged, and a $28,000 goal. (Deadline: May 14, 1:26pm)

Kickstarter isn’t just for brand-new media ventures. The Baffler, a magazine that made its debut in 1988, is back with a campaign on Kickstarter aimed at revival, asking people to “Help fund the journal that blunts the cutting edge.” “Most left-wing journals, then and now, offer wonkery, moralism, dialectical obfuscation, and other forms of boredom,” reads the pitch. “The Baffler offered comic juxtapositions that suggested criticism could be a literary art, and drew in readers who did not typically read cultural magazines.” Under new ownership, and a new publishing contract, donations to The Baffler will go to paying writers and artists who contribute; so far, it has raised over $2,000 of their $20,000 goal. The project’s description ends with this exchange about its fundraising efforts: “As someone scribbled on our Facebook page, “That’s awesome you can use communistic economic supports to prop up your capitalistically enviable periodical!” Yes, comrades, it certainly is.” (Deadline: May 11, 9:19am)


Bill Powell, the man behind Going South - Hiking the A.T. with a Brain Tumor, hasn’t let illness affect his sense of humor: “The doctor told me I would have 3 - 5 years of medicine controlled symptoms before things started to go south. So with that diagnosis I decided to ‘go south’ a little earlier.” He’s planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, keep a journal, and eventually publish a book about his travels. With ten days to go, the project has already raised over $9,000 after setting the goal at $6,000. (Deadline: Apr 16, 8:00am)

A photo book featuring “rollergirls”—a term for ladies who play roller derby—met its pledged goal of $1,600 in 24 hours; with 12 days to go, the project is well over $2,000. (Deadline: Apr 18, 12:06pm) Another photo book, This is Hardcore: Evolution Through Photo, documents six years of Philadelphia’s This is Hardcore festival. Its Kickstarter campaign ended yesterday with almost $19,000 after a pledged goal of $15,000. Check out their page for a video of “Joe Hardcore” explaining the project as heavy metal music plays in the background, all while holding an adorable puppy that appears to be wearing a hooded jacket. (Deadline: Apr 5, 10:45pm)

Long shots

They Call Me TeaBagger: The story of an actual Tea Partier,” is a project from Ed Shedlock, “a member of this leaderless party.” He’s asking for $5,000 to fund a book about this movement and to dispel generalizations: “To many people, the Tea Party is full of racists, homophobes, bigots, rednecks and militia members. Well, I happen to be none of those things and yet I still proudly call myself a Tea Partier.” With $36 towards the project’s $5,000 goal, I’m not very confident this project will make it. (Deadline: May 1, 5:00pm)

I’ve been watching the project NewsPrime for a few weeks now, and it hasn’t been able to pick up much momentum. The pitch says that “NewsPrime will provide a local newspaper or television client with ready to use news content written and edited by Emmy and Peabody award winning journalists,” which sounds reasonable enough, but funding has barely budged in weeks, and the project has only $915 of its $25,000 goal. (Deadline: Apr 23, 12:48am)

Out of time

Warm Dome is a Kickstarter project from Aaron Hawn, intended to fund his cross-country bike trip documenting “the landscapes and people” he’ll come across. But with only about $1,500 in donations and a pledged goal of $4,000, the project has some ground to make up before it runs out of time this Sunday evening.

From filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton comes “Somewhere Between,” a Kickstarter raising money for a documentary that will look at the lives of four young girls adopted from China. It’s a personal story for Knowlton, who adopted her child from China, and the Kickstarter page has comments from both adoptive parents and adopted children who are very enthusiastic about this film. Last time I checked yesterday, the film had not made its $80,000 goal, but a $10,000 donor recently jumped on board, and now the film is $6,000 over its ambitious $80,000 goal, with four days still left to go.

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Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR. Tags: , , ,