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
A campaign with a haunting name, The Island of Widows, is on Kickstarter to fund a report on a rare form of chronic kidney disease that’s killing some of the world’s poorest agricultural workers. The Kickstarter is named after a Nicaraguan community, La Isla, or The Island, that locals are now calling La Isla de las Viudas, The Island of Widows, where 40 percent of the working age population has this illness.
The victims of this chronic kidney disease are mostly men, some as young as their 20s. Launched by investigative reporter Sasha Chavkin, multimedia reporter Anna Maria Barry-Jester, and the Center for Public Integrity, this project is an expansion on the work already laid out by these reporters: Chavkin for a story published on CPI, and Barry-Jester in an award winning photo gallery. (Full disclosure: this author knows Chavkin from working in the same building as he does, here in Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Chavkin is a reporter for The New York World.)
The research done by these two suggests that this chronic kidney disease is more prevalent than originally thought. For this project, Chavkin and Barry-Jester will be traveling together to another community that’s having the same horrific experience. As they write in their Kickstarter:
We suspect that the new strain of chronic kidney disease that affects otherwise healthy young men working in agriculture is not an anomaly to Central America but a serious international epidemic.
Some researchers have speculated the outbreak is from pesticide exposure, or from dehydration and heat stress from long hours in hot fields. Chavkin says that calling it a “work-related issue” is a point of contention. “Sick workers’ livelihoods depend on whether this can be tied to their jobs,” says Chavkin. “The treatment of dialysis makes this an incredibly expensive disease, and it’s affecting some of the world’s poorest people.”
This project is the first time the Center for Public Integrity has used Kickstarter to fund an investigation; they’re featuring it on their site and hired a videographer for the pitch. “This is something they’re trying to pilot,” says Chavkin. CPI even spoke with the Kickstarter folks to learn some best practices, and part of the reason this project is CPI’s first on Kickstarter is because of the level of reporting that has already been done. Displaying photos and completed reporting increases the chances of successfully getting funded, and by showcasing Chavkin and Barry-Jester’s previous work on the topic, donors can see that the reporters have experience and expertise. The project has been met with an enthusiastic response. In a little over a week, almost $6,000 has been pledged towards the $7,500 goal. (Deadline: April 22, 8:05pm)
A project about the impact of Christianity on the videogame Zelda came onto Kickstarter late last week from Lucas M. Thomas, a writer who’s covered video games for the website IGN. Called Zelda vs. Jesus, the project has already inspired some anger. As Thomas writes:
Some have responded with anger or offense, attacking me for daring to conceive of such a project. Others have pleaded with me to cancel the book and stop what I’m doing, saying I’m shoving Christianity into their favorite video game and they don’t want it there. Still others think that I’m reading too much into things that shouldn’t be given such consideration.
As a kid, I played Zelda, but I hadn’t picked up on the Christian themes. The game’s hero, Link, has a cross on his shield, but Thomas points out more subtle references: the game’s book of magic is the Holy Bible, Link gets swallowed by a whale (like Jonah in the Old Testament), and the cross is used to see ghosts in Zelda II. Thomas says on his Kickstarter page that his project will look into the background and intention of these details at book length, a format that’s rare in the video-game beat. (Deadline: May 8, 8:00pm)