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The Kickstarter Chronicles

Four decades of mystery, seven deadly sins in Las Vegas, and pro-frack America
March 16, 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 trailer for the documentary film project Lost Brothers opens with a grainy video from April 6th, 1970 of photojournalist Sean Flynn on a dirt road in Cambodia. He’s warning a French reporter, Christian Bousquet, about the Viet Cong troops he just saw. It is the last known recording of Flynn; the Khmer Rouge kidnapped him that same day, along with Dana Stone, a friend and fellow photojournalist. This eerie video, combined with Flynn’s former work as an actor and his famous actor father, Errol Flynn, led to much publicity around his disappearance, even inspiring a song by the Clash called “Sean Flynn.” But what exactly happened to Flynn and Stone remains unknown.

There are well over a dozen journalists whose disappearance in May and April of 1970 remains a mystery. Photojournalist Tim Page, who was friends with Flynn and Stone and had worked with them in Vietnam, has traveled dozens of times to Cambodia to try and piece together what happened. Now, in partnership with Mythic Films, Page is trying to raise the money to return to Cambodia and create a comprehensive documentary about what he finds there.

The film already has a number of investors outside of Kickstarter, says Angela Krass, a producer for Mythic Films. They are almost halfway to their $50,000 goal, but this effort is as much about outreach as it is about fundraising; publicity from the Kickstarter project has helped in their reporting. “We’ve received more information as a result of this campaign,” says Krass. “Images, memories, footage, stories, people.” They were able to identify the French reporter in that final video, something that hadn’t been done until now, and also located family members, like Dana Stone’s sister. Krass says even Cambodian citizens are now coming forward to share what they know about the missing. (Deadline: Mar 31, 8:15 pm)

New this week:

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This past weekend saw the launch of “Regeneration Japan: Stories of hope and healing,” a collection of stories about people’s lives after the tsunami, presented through both a multimedia website and a print book. The proposal is over a third of the way to its $8,200 goal. (Deadline: April 1, 12:00 am)

A number of magazines debuted on Kickstarter this week. Among them: Truth, a bimonthly focused on “LGBT people of color, with a specific focus on the Black diaspora.” (Deadline: April 30, 11:59 pm) Decades Magazine, covering “food, fashion, gore and intellectualism,” has a quirky pitch video, and the first issue promises a wide range of features: “the history of Disco in New York, the story of a modern-day Witch, and an article on the science and adult use of breast milk.” Full disclosure: this author went to journalism school with Decades creator, Chloe Schildhause. (Deadline: April 11, 11:04 am)

Sinner magazine, which covers arts and culture in Las Vegas, has devised a unique way to organize its sections: “Pride focuses on style and trends. Gluttony is about food, restaurants and drinks. Lust touches on sex and relationships. Wrath features mixed martial arts and other sports. Sloth showcases leisure and entertainment. Greed is about money and gaming. Envy uncovers the stories about the unique lifestyles in Sin City.” A QR code accompanies every article, which, when scanned with a smart phone, directs readers to related content on their devices. (Deadline: May 11, 7:20 pm)


When the Sudanese government started bombing the Nuba Mountains of southern Sudan, foreigners were evacuated, but Ryan Boyette, a 30-year-old from Florida, secretly stayed behind. Boyette, who was profiled by Nicholas Kristof this past October in The New York Times, used a solar powered laptop and satellite phone to communicate information that he and 15 others collected to human rights organizations and journalists in the Western world. This area is cut off from both aid and media coverage, which is why Boyette launched a Kickstarter called Nuba Reports. After passing the $20,000 goal in one week, Boyette upped the ante a bit: “Our fundraising goal during the next 40 days is $40,000 which will allow us to concentrate solely on our work rather than fundraising over the next year.” The money will help to “build the site, train the reporters, buy important reporting equipment, and hire editors to help us create compelling frontline video and text dispatches in both Arabic and English through the end of the year and beyond.” (Deadline: April 15, 12:38 pm)

FrackNation, which started with an ambitious ask of $150,000, is already over the $175,000 mark. The film is meant to counter Josh Fox’s Gasland, a documentary about the environmental fallout from fracking, which famously shows people lighting their tap water on fire. “It turns out people have been lighting their water for centuries in America,” says filmmaker Phelim McAleer in the Kickstarter pitch. The project will feature interviews with people around the country who welcome fracking to their backyards, and will report on the benefits of this form of natural gas extraction. This idea has clearly hit a nerve; FrackNation has almost 2500 individual backers. (Deadline: April 6, 9:01 am)


A project called DL Cast, which is pitched as an “online-only newscast” covering “issues the establishment media refuses to cover” is asking for $10,000, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence with its 140-word description. (Deadline: Mar 30, 11:12 am)

In other less-than-thorough pitches, a 117-word explanation for a blog about “the potential rewards and pitfalls” inherent in online dating services has raised zero of its $1,700 goal. “As a former professional dating coach, blogger, and dating expert, I’m uniquely situated to see if these services are a scam or a legit way for busy professionals to find love,” reads the “about” section. Backers receive a “one-hour personalized phone dating consultation.” (Deadline: Mar 22, 6:10 pm)

OccupyKISS: anarchist blog from OWS has raised $20 out of its $3,000 goal. The projects creator, Shazz Baric, writes that the money will be used to “replace a laptop that the NYPD broke when it forcefully evicted myself and 200 others from Zuccotti Park,” as well as “provide me the stability to spend the next two months catching up on the notes that I’ve taken since being a part of this movement,” but makes no real promises for what will be produced. “I hope to share the perspective I earn in the form of a 70-100k word book.” If you want people to pony up, you have to use a better verb than “hope.” (Deadline: Mar 31, 9:41 am)

Tiny News is asking for $35,000 for a “Mobile 2.0 platform, which crowdsources citizen journalism,” but so far has only raised $20. “You can take a photo or a video in the street, enter 140 character length structured stories on who, what, when, where, how, and why,” reads the about section. I’m going to assume the “citizen journalism” is unpaid. Those who pledge get “Free classified advertising” in exchange for their support. The pitch never does get around to explaining what the $35,000 is for. (Deadline: Mar 31, 6:33 am)

Out of time:

Joe Hurley, a newspaper reporter, walked the entire length of Route 6, which stretches from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Long Beach, California. Photographer Travis Lindhorst accompanied him, and the pair published weekly stories in various newspapers along the way. Ten Million Steps, their Kickstarter campaign, is meant to fund a book about their adventures, but with three days to go things need to pick up, as they are only half way to their $12,500 goal. Cuba: Branded is also running out of time. The project is a “visual exploration of Cuba through the lens of branding,” meant to “give the reader an idea of what daily life in Cuba is like.” The project needs another thousand dollars to receive funding, and this has to happen before midnight on Saturday.

Ending this evening with well over 2,000 backers is the Kickstarter project “This is not a Conspiracy Theory,” from filmmaker Kirby Ferguson. The project, “a multi-part series that will explain the major ideas, events and human quirks that have shaped where we are right now politically,” far exceeded its $48,000 goal, and the donations have continued to flow. This success is due in no small part to the popularity of Ferguson’s first web series, “Everything is a Remix,” which explores the derivative nature of creativity, and has view counts totaling in the multi-millions. “I started it as a hobby,” says Ferguson about his first web series, “I assumed it would be nothing but that.” Ferguson decided to quit his job in advertising around the release of the third part of “Remix,” and fundraised for the project without Kickstarter. He says the first part of “This is not a Conspiracy Theory” will be ready before this year’s election. Ferguson says that as a Canadian, this film idea is personal. “It’s a way for me to understand America and make peace with this crazy place.”

Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.