The Kickstarter Chronicles

Community radio, burning-man culture, and a crowd-funded movie about crowdfunding

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

In the city of Norman, OK, a new community radio station is in the works, and it’s raising funds on Kickstarter. For Mary Francis, the founder of Voices of Oklahoma Community Radio, starting a locally focused public radio station is an important step towards diversifying Oklahoma’s airwaves, which she said are saturated with conservative talk radio and religious broadcasting. “We’re the reddest state in the nation, and we desperately need some calmer voices,” says Francis. “Rush Limbaugh needs a counter.”

Francis has been a commentator on NPR for years, and she loves the work they do, but it doesn’t have much locally focused programming; 94 percent of the content NPR airs in the area is national. She says there is only one other community station in the entire state that focuses on “local issues, like news, music, and arts.” Voices of Oklahoma has local, original programming in the works, Francis says, including a local music and politics show, local news programs, and a Spanish language medical issues program.

The license that Voices of Oklahoma obtained from the FCC is for a non-commercial, educational frequency, or NCE. Nonprofit status is required to apply for these frequencies, and churches currently own 80 percent of all NCE stations. Most of the programming falls toward the right wing of the political spectrum. Francis explains that even the end-of-the-world guy, Harold Camping, owns more than 50 radio stations.

Voices of Oklahoma will itself be owned by a church; Francis applied for the station’s license was her local Unitarian Universalist church. Other church members have since gotten involved in the project, though Francis says the programming will be secular. Voices of Oklahoma also plans to syndicate programming from the public radio network Pacifica, which carries shows like Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News. So far, the Kickstarter has raised a little more than $4,000, and it has eight more days to reach its goal of $8,970. (Deadline: June 3, 10:58 a.m.)

New arrivals

Sometimes, on the streets of New York, I’ll see an older lady dressed to impress and looking snazzy—hair’s perfectly styled, nails painted, and she’s got a head-turning outfit with shoes to match. I find that confidence reassuring, and I’m not alone. Ari Seth Cohen has a blog called Advanced Style, where he photographs “the most elegant and well-dressed women of a certain age.” He and filmmaker friend Lina Plioplyte have been filming these ladies for the past three years, and now they’re on Kickstarter raising money for a documentary that will offer portraits of these women while challenging “conventional ideas about beauty, growing old, and Western culture’s increasing obsession with youth.” The Kickstarter rolled out yesterday and already has over $4,000 towards the $35,000 goal. (Deadline: June 23, 7:38 a.m.)

“Burners,” or people who attend the Burning Man festival, have not only their own nickname, but also their own online magazine. It’s called Burn After Reading, and it’s raising money on Kickstarter for a print version to hand out at this summer’s event. The content is focused on the many art projects displayed at Burning Man and the stories behind them. It also goes into nitty-gritty burner culture details, like a piece that explains how to train the body to be more efficient with water in preparation for a week in the desert, where the festival takes place. One of the biggest recent happenings among Burning Man veterans is the explosion of interest in the festival, resulting in ticket shortages. The New York Times covered the drama. Burn After Reading had an insider angle to the story with a piece about use of Burning Man tickets for prizes called, “The Raffle Dilemma: Scalping or Fundraising?” The Kickstarter goal of $7,000 is for a print run of 3,000 copies, and so far they’ve raised $215. (Deadline: June 29, 11:59 p.m.)


PastPages is a project from Los Angeles Times database producer Ben Welsh. The site archives the homepages of dozens of media sites every hour, ranging in scope from USA Today to Reddit to The Allentown (PA) Morning Call. The hope, Welsh writes, is that “Past Pages could grow to serve as a resource for scholars seeking to study coverage of news events.” The Newseum archives newspaper front-pages; website homepages seem the next logical step. The Kickstarter raised more than half of its $5,000 goal in less than 48 hours and has since passed that mark. The project has 41 days left to continue fundraising and has gotten media attention from Poynter and the Wall Street Journal. (Deadline: July 6, 8:35 a.m.)

The lowly status of alternative medicine in the American healthcare system, particular chiropractic treatments, is the subject of a documentary called Medical, Inc. Seventy-five percent of the filming is already done, and interviewees include “athletes, mothers, discouraged MD’s, marginalized Chiropractors, profoundly successful healers, and even patients that have been sent home to die.” Filmmakers Jeff Hays and Bobby Sheehan describe their process in the Kickstarter pitch: “As we filmed, we talked about the metaphor of ‘a small door into a large room.’ It’s a big story, but it’s only meaningful on a person by person, story by story basis.” After an initial goal amount of $75,000, the Kickstarter has raised almost $140,000, and it still has a week to continue raising money. With 800 backers and counting, it obviously struck a nerve. (Deadline: June 1, 1:59 a.m.)


Hotfrog has an intense trailer. Ominous music plays as images fill the screen: a stranded polar bear, a starving child, angry protesters, and other photographic zeitgeists. The trailer asks: “Ever feel like that frog in the frying pan from the Famous ‘Boiling Frog’ Story?” The reference is to the tale that a frog placed in boiling water will jump out, but a frog placed in cold water that’s slowly heated will remain and burn to death. Hotfrog, a platform for professional and citizen journalism, posits that humanity is “stuck in a pan of heating water. As the water grows hotter, however, the call for deep, systemic change has grown louder and clearer.” Its stories are all about this “Great Disruption,” and it seems like a fine idea. But, the $100,000 price tag proved too high. The project’s raised about $6,000 so far, and only has 11 days to make up the difference. (Deadline: June 6, 12 p.m.)

My Magazine grew out of a school art project and is aimed at young people between the ages of 10 and 18. The magazine deals with tough topics for teens, like bullying, obesity, and teen dating violence. It’s a valiant effort, given that the teen section of the magazine stand is mainly Justin Bieber covers. But the Kickstarter is going to need a lot of momentum to reach its $15,000 goal before it expires in about two weeks. So far, it has $20. (Deadline: June 11, 12:45 a.m.)

Out of time

In the book Open Source Church, Landon Whitsitt uses the principles of crowdsourcing to explain a new way to restructure churches. Now, he’s using the power of the group to fund a new print magazine, PLGRM, on Kickstarter. The project is set to end Sunday, and it squeaked past the $5,000 goal just days before that deadline. The pitch says the magazine will “shine a spotlight on the lives and interests of those no longer satisfied with Modern Christianity,” a cohort that’s surely full of both friends and enemies for PLGRM magazine.

A crowd-funded movie about crowdfunding? Capital C: How the crowd liberates itself seeks to explain how this new way of raising capital is changing the world and shaping the future. “Every day the number of innovators opting to leverage the power of the crowd (instead of relying on conventional forms of financing) is growing rapidly,” says the Kickstarter. The pitch quotes MIT Professor Eric von Hippel, who called crowdfunding “the biggest paradigm shift in innovation since the Industrial Revolution.“ The film has raised almost $76,000 in the two months it’s been on Kickstarter, and has just one week left to close in on its goal of $80,000.

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