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The Kickstarter Chronicles

Recycling old interviews, questioning the American dream, and Catholic parents head to Burning Man
June 22, 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.

Project of the week:

As most journalists can attest, the most intimate moments and stories from interviews don’t always make it into a piece. It is these remnants from the cutting room floor that inspired Blank on Blank, a lost-interview archive raising funds on Kickstarter.

The idea comes from David Gerlach, former Good Morning America producer, who quit his job in December to start working on Blank on Blank full time. He’s busy encouraging journalists to go into their shoe boxes, desk drawers—wherever they keep their old interview tapes—and submit their favorite unused audio. Some journalists have a particular clip in mind, says Gerlach, and some just hand over the whole tape. (“I’ve found listening to the tapes to be a great activity for the subway,” says Gerlach.) The best exchanges are then plucked out and smoothed over for a finished, mini story. Some are accompanied by video or animation, usually focused on an intimate detail told by the interviewee.

The project’s Kickstarter page features some of the pieces they’ve done so far, like Tim Gunn on his FBI agent father: “My father was J. Edgar Hoover’s speechwriter … I was not the son he wanted to have”; Bono, on his final days with his dad: “I’d go and usually have a pint of Guinness and a chaser to steady my nerves. Then I’d go to the hospital and I’d sleep beside my father”; and Zelda Kaplan on her New York nightlife: “My friends are dead. … If I don’t go out with young people, who else is there?”

“There are thousands of these kind of tapes all over the country,” says Gerlach. “A lot of them are with journalists who’ve been pushed out of the industry, are retiring, or are approaching death. This is American history that needs to be saved.”

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Gerlach describes Blank on Blank as “part This American Life, part TED, and part Library of Congress.” He’s trying to encourage at least 30 new uploads over the 30 days that his Kickstarter will be live. So far, he’s got about $1,200 towards the $10,000 goal, and 24 days left to go. (Deadline: July 16, 5:08 p.m.)

New arrivals:

When it comes to getting high, street-corner drug dealers are passe; scoring can be as simple as punching in your credit card number online. “It is possible now to have illicit drugs delivered to your doorstep anonymously and securely, around the world, from your computer,” says the Kickstarter page for “Drugs Digitized,” a book project that is strangely referred to as a “novel” throughout its written description. The “phenomenon of Internet-based drug dealing and online drug communities,” will be explored, with chapters such as “Drugs-R-US: Research Chemicals, Synthetic Weed, and ‘Bath Salts,’” “A Primer on Current Internet Dealing,” and “Why this is Impossible to Stop, Regulate or Abate.” This book proposal has only been posted for about a week, and so far has $80; there are three weeks left to make the goal of $15,000. (Deadline: July 15, 6:57 a.m.)

Boston Review is an “award-winning, independent, nonprofit magazine of ideas, publishing on everything from politics and economics to fiction and philosophy.” Its mission is to “improve the state of public discourse by encouraging fact-based, reasonable, open debate on serious issues.” And as editor Josh Cohen says in the mag’s Kickstarter pitch, offering their content for free online has been part of that goal: “Because of our convictions about democracy and discussion we started putting all our content for free online back in 1996 and we are never going to charge for that content.” But, Cohen explains, the website needs money for an overhaul, which is why they’re trying to crowdfund $10,000. It’s off to a momentous start, with over $5,000 already raised and 24 days to go. (Deadline: July 17, 9:18 a.m.)


A new record holder for the most backers ever was crowned this Thursday when Kickstarter project “I’m Fine, Thanks,” surpassed 4,250 individual donors. The documentary, about “life, the choices we all make, and the paths we ultimately decide to follow,” will look at the individual stories of people who pursued a prescribed path in life, but found it didn’t make them happy. The trailer shows people expressing their disappointments in the traditional American-dream pursuit: “the white picket fence,” “2.5 kids,” “the babe, the boat, the bucks, the job, the six figures,” the omnipresent plan to “work for 40, 50 years, and then retire.” It’s clear that a lot of people have felt this existential crisis; the film had surpassed its $100,000 goal by $13,000. (Deadline: June 22, 11:59 p.m.)

Good news for North American soccer fans: a magazine is being created just for you, and raising its funds on Kickstarter. Mark Kirby and George Quraishi, both former editors at GQ and Condé Nast Portfolio, among other publications, are the founders of Howler, a quarterly glossy about international and American soccer. Forbes’s Jeff Bercovici profiled Howler a few weeks ago, pointing out the already impressive list of people who are involved: “The design is the work of famed art director Robert Priest and his partner, Grace Lee. Contributors signed up so far include novelist Aleksandar Hemon, New Republic editor Franklin Foer and Harper Collins executive editor David Hirshey.” With almost 2,000 backers, the magazine’s already over goal with time to spare; Howler’s raised almost $60,000 after implementing a goal amount of $50,000. (Deadline: June 29, 8 p.m.)


Crowdfunding Dreams is a book project raising funds to give a “behind-the-scenes look at 17 fascinating crowdfunders and their projects.” The proposal does not specify any of the stories it will cover, though it does detail the book’s length: “approximately 161 page[s]”; this calculation’s roots remain unexplained. “This book is a must read for those that are considering forging their own Crowdfunding Dreams,” reads the Kickstarter, but with only a few paragraphs of explanation and a somewhat strange pitch video, I’m afraid this is one crowdfunding idea that will remain just that: a dream. (Deadline: July 17, 4:15 p.m.)

While going over the pitch for Iowa Air in a Jar, I tried to push the title to the back of my mind as I read what seemed somewhat understandable, at first: “The purpose of this project is to explore the changing landscape of Iowa by capturing the essence of its present form in midst of its transitional history from prairie to rural farmland to suburban sprawl.” Okay, but then you get to the part the title references, that whole “Iowa air in a jar”: ”I will simply open a jar and let it fill with Iowa Air” while also “photographing the jar in the location I have discover in that county as a secondary means of capturing a moment in time.” All this will culminate into a photo book. If you’re worried about the uniqueness of each jar, rest assured, they aren’t purchased in bulk. “Every jar used in this endeavor will be found in Iowa. They will be collected from friends and family, obtained at garage sales, and procured from other second-hand sources.” Rewards are made up of mostly, you guessed it, jars, providing people with “a stockpile of fresh Iowa Air for the Apocalypse.” But alas, Iowa Air is not the latest craze, and so far zero dollars has been pledged toward the $9,900 goal. (Deadline: July 18, 10:36 p.m.)

Out of time

The trailer for the documentary My Days in the Traveling Circus shows the beautiful video work that can be expected in this film. Director Ariel Soto explains that he spent seven months capturing the adventures of a small, independent, traveling circus in Bolivia, the personal stories behind its young members and the stories behind what brought them there. The Kickstarter is a little over halfway towards its $10,000 goal and has until Tuesday to make that mark and get its funding. (Deadline: June 26, 4:06 p.m.)

Kickstarter has pages and pages of Burning Man-inspired proposals, and while most are raising money to build art installations for the festival, some are looking to fund the documentation of this desert event. Every year, over 50,000 people head to the sands of Nevada to create “Black Rock City,” an experimental society where gifts are used for all transactions and everyone is expected to contribute. Taking My Parents to Burning Man is a film that follows one young man who is bringing his parents along—“the same parents that put me through 13 years of Catholic school and a decade of Jesus camp.” There’s only a few days left before the funding must end; so far there’s been about $9,000 pledged towards the $10,000 goal. (Deadline: June 25, 2:59 a.m.)

Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.