the news frontier

The Kickstarter Chronicles

Watching homicides in DC and a good dam love story in NC
August 17, 2012

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.

When Chris and Laura Amico moved to Washington, DC, over three years ago, they were surprised to find gaping holes in city news publications’ homicide coverage. They saw a clear need for a comprehensive database that tracked homicides—both the victims and the suspects, from the murder through the trial. Two years ago, the Amicos began Homicide Watch DC to try to fill that gap.

“It’s not glamorous work, but it’s really important,” Chris said. It’s also the kind of work that has to be done from DC, which means the Amicos’ upcoming move to Cambridge, MA, while Laura is a Nieman-Berkman fellow at Harvard this coming year will shut Homicide Watch DC down …

… Unless they can raise enough money to hire a small staff of interns to keep the site going while the they’re gone. They’re turning to Kickstarter to try to raise $40,000 for a “Student Reporting Lab,” where paid (!!!) interns will keep the site updated and contribute to a blog about their experiences.

The campaign is just a few days old, but it has already garnered plenty of press coverage (a tired-sounding Chris noted that the campaign/interview process was getting “exhausting”). The Kickstarter is already over a quarter of the way toward its goal. Chris says one of the reasons he loves the internet is because it allows people to create something like Homicide Watch: “You can build this resource that doesn’t go away.” If the campaign is successful, that resource will keep growing.

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Deadline is September 13 at 6:26 p.m.

Doug Swords was just starting his photography career in 1978 when, on an assignment, he stumbled across “the most amazing mill dam out in the middle of nowhere,” he wrote in an email. In the nearly 35 years since, Swords revisited and studied the dam, then found a late 19th-century map of the area that showed more dams in the Wake County, North Carolina region. Swords has dutifully tried to locate, map, and photograph as many as possible.

But, he notes, the mills or remains thereof—many of which were built in the 18th century—are disappearing as shopping centers are built and the sites are vandalized or destroyed by fire and floods. One of those floods turned over the capstone of that first dam Swords found, revealing the name “Carrie H” engraved underneath. Swords estimates the engraving was done sometime between 1710 and 1730, when the dam was built, and wants to find out exactly who Carrie H was.

His campaign is trying to raise $25,000, which will go to research, creating, and printing an updated version of the map Swords used to find the mill remains. “The map will be an absolutely beautiful piece of art,” he wrote. The funds would also help maintain a research database and archives, and help fund a genealogy researcher whom Swords hopes will solve the mystery of who cared enough about Carrie H to carve her name into a three-ton stone.

Deadline is October 12 at 8:45 p.m.

Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison.