The Kickstarter Chronicles

China’s green technology, a call-girl confesses, and the running world’s Tim Tebow

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 look through some of these journalistic proposals.

Project of the week

Marjorie Sun, a freelance public radio journalist, long wanted to report on the Chinese clean energy sector in China, and she recently launched a Kickstarter, “China’s Race to Power,” to try and make that happen. She visited China as a tourist several times in the early 1990s, during her days as NPR’s Tokyo bureau chief, and she is an experienced environmental reporter—she spent the ’80s as an investigative journalist for Science magazine.

“At this point in my life, my interests have really intersected,” says Sun. “For various reasons, I wasn’t able to go to China to do these stories, but I have the chance now. Plus, I was interested in trying out this crowdsourcing mechanism.”

San Francisco’s popular public radio station, KQED, agreed to air her Chinese energy reports, pending their usual editorial process. “I’m targeting three specific stories for this reporting trip,” writes Sun in her Kickstarter pitch. “China’s solar industry, its smart grid and the construction of eco-cities. (Mind-boggling as it sounds, whole new ‘sustainable energy’ cities are being built from scratch around China.)”

But Sun is cautious. She wants supporters to be informed about her reporting intentions, but she doesn’t want to give away her scoops. “At this point, there are so many correspondents in China, I don’t want to tip my hand any more than I already have,” she says.

Sun’s trying to raise the $17,000 needed for travel and reporting costs; her production costs will be an additional $5,000. “Including that part in my funding goals just seemed like so much,” says Sun.

This is a choice many Kickstarters have to make. Since this platform is all or nothing (if you don’t make your goal, you don’t receive anything), deciding how much to raise often involves absorbing costs that might make the target too high. So far, Sun’s about a quarter of the way there with a little more than $4,000, and her campaign has about a month remaining. (Deadline: May 31, 11:31 p.m.)

New arrivals offers “nerdy rants” and reviews on an array of stereotypical male interests, such as beer, TV, and videogames. According to the pitch, “The Dudeletter is growing like gangly teenager! Awkward and self-consciously!” and the site has had some 50,000 unique views over the last nine months.

Dudeletter’s Kickstarter is raising money to “equip the Dude Cave to be a recording studio” for a podcast that will include interviews with “musicians, brewers, and local celebrities,” for all the audio-loving dudes, bros and probably even dudebros (kidding!) near the site’s home base in Marietta, GA. Pledge at least $50 and get a pint glass. Seventy-five dollar donations get upgraded to a stein. So far, $95 has been pledged toward the $883 goal. (Deadline: May 27, 8:31 a.m.)

The first edition of the book Confessions of a High-Priced Call Girl did not turn out the way author Dimitra Ekmektsis hoped it would. She writes in her pitch that the book was not “edited the way she envisioned,” so she published a re-edited second edition as an ebook. Her Kickstarter is to fund the new version’s print run.

Ekmektsis writes on the Kickstarter that the book has “[s]erved as a textbook in a psychology class at Barstow College, CA, and I got to be a guest lecturer for one semester.” She also wrote a cover story based on the book for Turkey’s Cosmopolitan magazine. Ekmektsis says her book “neither condemns or condones sex work, but rather lets you decide for yourself.” So far, the project has not raised any money toward its $12,000 goal. (Deadline: May 28, 10:30 p.m.)


The running world’s Tim Tebow has arrived. The 41st Day is a documentary film project about Ryan Hall, the “fastest marathon runner in American history” and a competitor in London’s 2012 Olympic marathon. Hall’s training style makes him unique: “While competitors prepare in training groups under the systematic care of coaches and advisers, Ryan runs alone,” writes Kickstarter-creator Tim Jeffreys. “Practicing what he calls faith-based coaching, he relies exclusively on the direction of his faith to dictate his training, an unprecedented and often scrutinized approach in the world of distance running.”

The Kickstarter has raised well over $50,000 after a pledged goal of $30,000, and the films official twitter, @ryanhallfilm, has tweeted to fellow Christian athletes @timtebow and @bubbawatson, asking for their support. (Deadline: May 5, 3:09 a.m.)

College journalism projects are regularly pitched on Kickstarter, and with a network that includes interested students, professors, and parents, they seem to do quite well. The Beat, a music magazine for and about the students of SUNY Purchase, is no exception—the Kickstarter surpassed its $5,000 goal by almost a grand. The pitch video is from assistant journalism professor Andrew Salomon, who says that, contrary to conventional wisdom, his students “actually like print” and enjoy the intimacy it offers. The problem: they need to have a completed issue before the university will support them. Thanks to their successful campaign, they can do their demo issue. (Deadline: May 29, 5:22 a.m.)

Longshots is a “next generation product evaluation platform” for people interested in “geek culture standards” and reviewing the hard- and software of video games, home theater systems, and other new technology products. The Kickstarter is to raise the funds for the “acquisition of content materials, equipment, space, and advertising.” The pitch-video points out that “takes things further than your usual tech site. We do macros photography and even employ professional models for certain articles.”

Indeed, a quick Google search reveals’s profile on Model Mayhem, a portfolio site for models and photographers, and one of’s homepage articles features a lovely lady lounging on the couch in her skivvies, giggling while looking at her tablet. I’m sure the models can help drive clicks, but I doubt the $150,000 pledge goal is obtainable. (Deadline: Jun 22, 2:46 p.m.)

The Bent Skeg Project is a place where people can use a fake name and email to tell a true story. A skeg is part of a boat that improves steering, and the Kickstarter project is based on the idea that “We have all bent our skeg, lost our rudder, or just plain screwed-up at some point in our lives.” Those who donate receive a “$3 sticker and the satisfaction that you are a true human being who encourages other to express themselves.” Even though the project is only attempting to raise $3,000, it has zero dollars so far, and I just can’t see people getting fired up about a vague pitch for an anonymous online platform. (Deadline: May 12, 10:01 p.m.)

Out of Time

The documentary film project Portrait aims to answer this question: “In the age of Instagram, what sets a professional photographer apart?” The movie will follow three photographers to explain their creative processes and methods. The Kickstarter creator, Andy Newman, says some pros think that “better equipment will make them better at what they do,” and this movie is “going to show that creative vision and direction are even more important than gear.” The project has until 10 p.m. on Friday night to meet its $12,000 goal. So far, it has raised almost $6,000.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and United States Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin is the subject of the documentary film Even Though The Whole World is Burning. The 85-year-old poet has spent the last three decades regenerating native plants and palms on the 19-acre Merwin Conservancy in Maui, Hawaii. He’s never been the subject of a documentary before, and the producers describe him as a “vibrant, humorous and challenging subject.” The movie surpassed its $15,000 goal a couple of days before its deadline this Saturday night.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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