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 Smith realized much of his original Internet searching had been in vain; these historical documents only existed in their original, print format.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.”