the news frontier

The Kickstarter Chronicles

Hyperlocal news, jam bands, and how to make a baby
March 9, 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 weekly look through some of these journalistic proposals.

Project of the week:

The Bushwick News, a hyperlocal news website also known as BushwickBK, stopped publishing this past October due to money troubles. Its editors are hoping that a Kickstarter campaign could help reboot the site. The founder, Jeremy Sapienza, said in the early years they made ends meet through ads and revenue from event hosting—but costs eventually exceeded earnings, and Sapienza decided to end it. He was soon getting e-mails, comments, and posts to The Bushwick News’s Facebook page, pleading with the site to “please start again,” says Sapienza. “People suggested we take the cause onto Kickstarter.”

BushwickBK is one of the few hyperlocal news sites currently attempting to raise money via Kickstarter. The site is collaborating with local businesses, who have hosted some fundraising events. Supporters of The Bushwick News’s Kickstarter get to choose from deals at community vendors as a token for their contribution.

Sapienza says he and a small group of reporters “bellyached a lot over the amount” of money to ask for. They wanted to raise enough to not have to worry for a few months, so they settled on a pledged goal of $40,000, and are a quarter of the way there with over a month left. If the site makes its goal, Sapienza says that asking readers for contributions will become part of its revenue model, especially since the majority of people contributing to the campaign are local residents of Bushwick. “We hope the neighborhood can afford our work,” says Sapienza. (Deadline: Thursday April 12, 10:38 pm)

New this week:

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Greg Palast, an independent investigative journalist who often works for the BBC and The Observer, launched a Kickstarter project on Sunday. He’s asking for $15,000, which will go to finishing a film, four years in the works, tentatively titled The Election Games: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The money will also go to fund further investigations for a book on “the billionaires buying the election,” slated for the summer of 2012. Palast has covered voter disenfranchisement issues before, both for the BBC and Rolling Stone. (Deadline: Thursday May 3, 2:13 am)

Also new to Kickstarter this week is Cannabis Planet, a film “about the merits of the Cannabis Sativa plant as a Food, Fuel, Fiber & Medicine.” (Deadline: Friday April 6, 1:20 pm) A documentary about American music festival culture debuted around the same time, but some festival goers were less than enthusiastic about the idea of being filmed, taking their frustrations to a message board on JamBase–a site that covers the bands that play at many of these festivals. Some festival campers even promised physical violence to anyone with a camera near their tents. (Deadline: Thursday April 5, 2:49 pm)


Science and technology-focused Matter, a platform for investigative long form stories, reached its $50,000 goal in just 38 hours. In nine days it passed the $100,000 mark, and soon after that passed another publishing milestone when Matter’s Kickstarter comment section experienced its first troll. (Deadline: Saturday March 24, 3 am)

In other science publishing news, adults around the country are apparently clamoring for an explanatory children’s book about sex: What Makes a Baby has already exceeded its funding goal six times over, raising over $50,000 after initially asking for $9,500. Watch the video to see kids being cute while answering the question: “What makes a baby?” (Deadline: Friday March 16, 9:22 am)


Wikipedia vandals are the focus of the documentary project “The Encyclopedia Game,” and while I am intrigued to know why people edit Wikipedia entries to be wrong, I have my doubts about the depth of the pitch, and its very ambitious $60,000 goal. (Deadline: April 5, 11:59 pm)

Out of time:

On the morning of its Thursday deadline, a picture book called “A Bitter Place: Stories of Nigerian trafficking to Italy” hadn’t yet reached its $7,500 goal. But in the final few hours, it earned just enough to cross the finish line. A picture book covering much lighter fare, called Love ever after, surpassed its $15,000 amount early on; when the campaign ended Thursday, it had raised over $25,000. The project even garnered a write up on Time’s LightBox blog and a mention in The New York Times. Grow Northwest magazine, which covers local foods, farms, and handmade crafts in Washington State, has until the end of the day Friday for its campaign; luckily, Grow has already made its nut.

Things aren’t looking so hopeful for documentary film project After The Fair: The Legacy of the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair, which still needs almost $5,000 by the end of Friday. Also running out of time Friday evening is a documentary film project about Grammy-nominated artist Joe Budden; the project is still a solid $20,000 from its goal. It’s still worth checking out the page, though, especially for this gem of a sentence in its “about” section: “If you’re expecting the stereotypical music industry documentary about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll this project is just the antithesis… SEX, CIGARETTES and HIP HOP.”

Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.