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 researching an oral history project about a Baltimore neighborhood for Johns Hopkins University, Tom Smith was having trouble finding images to illustrate the story. He visited the Afro American newspaper headquarters, and discovered an archive of over 1.5 million photos dating back to 1890. Smith realized much of his original Internet searching had been in vain; these historical documents only existed in their original, print format. He set himself the ambitious goal of digitizing these photographs, and, rather than rely on mere humans, he built an open-source robot to help with the workload. Referred to by The Wall Street Journal as a “robot [which] rescues black history,” the Gado 2, an improved version of the original Gado, works alongside Smith’s friend, Alex Neville, scanning images and recording notes and newspaper clippings taped to the back of photos. All of this is then organized by keyword and uploaded online. Smith started a Kickstarter to fund Neville’s “modest rent/sandwich requirements,” because even though the Gado 2 is quite self-sufficient, a person is required to feed the robot new images and scan the ones that are delicate or torn.
The photos and their notes can be quite revealing. For example, Smith refers to a “relatively generic scene of men listening to a preacher,” from World War II. Since it’s a US Navy photo, it came with an official caption, which reads: “Enhanced by the stress and peril of war, the Negro’s deep religious feeling finds frequent expression at South Pacific bases.” But “the Afro reads this scene entirely differently,” says Smith. That caption says: “Seabees in the South Pacific listen to a sermon delivered by a white chaplain. The Navy won’t accept colored ministers in the services, which is quite in keeping with their policy in keeping colored out of the commissioned ranks.” These are the kinds of historical insights Smith is looking for. “With the exact same photo, you get two radically different perspectives; the Navy uses the photo to reinforce a stereotype about African American soldiers,” says Smith. “The Afro uses it to highlight an injustice and reveal a hidden dynamic, by pointing out that these soldiers don’t have the option to worship with someone of their own race.”
People who donate $550 to Smith’s Kickstarter project will be rewarded with a Gado 2 kit, which includes everything needed to build the machine, and is a pretty generous deal, given that the Gado 2 costs around that much to order. The only piece that’s not included is the scanner. Smith hopes other institutions with limited resources and large archives will use Gado to digitize their collections and make them more widely available. His next “dream collection” is the archives of the Baltimore News-American, which documents the same period from a white, working class perspective. The Gado project has so far been funded by grants from the Abell Foundation and the JHU Sheridan Libraries. Their Kickstarter goal is only $1,000, though they’ve already raised almost double that amount. Smith says this is his second Kickstarter, and after setting a goal that was too high with his first, he didn’t want to “shoot for the moon again and end up with nothing.” (Deadline: April 9, 9:40am)
New this week
Just because a publication starts online doesn’t mean it was intended to stay there, and a few of this week’s newest projects are trying to raise the funds to give their readers a print edition. Atlas, a student magazine at Emerson College, has raised $345 of its $2,000 goal. You can see the layout in its Winter edition on Issuu, a digital publishing platform, and the Kickstarter is to fund their first hard copy. (Deadline: April 11, 5:00pm) Also showing its stuff on Issuu and aimed at students is the “Vice-style, pseudo-gonzo print for San Diego’s college crowd,” a magazine called Brick Road. Complete with a professional-looking design, their own “Page 5 Girl,” a section called “Erotically Neurotic,” and the offer of “$100 cash money” for a Facebook like or share, I’m feeling the success vibes here, even though Brick Road’s only $335 of the way to its $6,000 goal. (Deadline: Apr 21, 2:59am)