Kickstarter launches careers and innovations

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Luke Rafferty had an idea.

The sophomore photojournalism major at Syracuse University, who is part of the ONA Student Newsroom, has always loved people who created, and he wanted to profile the craft of artisans as the nation changed its consumerism styles. He wanted to target the social aspect. And he wanted to film.

He and his documentary partner turned to Kickstarter for their fundraising. The pair received $6,321, surpassing their $6,000 goal, and filmed “The Timeless Artisans” over the summer. As a result of the project, someone who wanted a profile on an artisan in Ecuador paid for Rafferty and his partner to take a trip to the South American nation and produce a video.

“The networks you make through Kickstarter are unparalleled,” he said.

As journalism changes with expanding innovation in its online frontier, crowdfunded projects through platforms such as Kickstarter are becoming increasingly popular.

Chris and Laura Amico are a Kickstarter success story. Their $40,000 goal, to keep funding their D.C. student-reporting website, raised $47,450 in 30 days in 2012 for Homicide Watch, their project that examines specific cases.

Without Kickstarter, Chris Amico said, he wouldn’t have made connections that have been integral to his and Laura’s careers.

“It gets a lot of people invested in the story before it happens,” said Chris, who also works with Glass Eye Media. “I know for sure it takes away the element of surprise. It can’t be, ‘We’re going to investigate this super-secret thing in two months after we’ve told the Internet about it.’”

Since the Kickstarter funding, Homicide Watch has grown to include a Chicago arm. The challenge of crowdfunding journalism, Amico said, was defining a tangible end to the project. And actually asking for money is long and tiring, he said.

Amico said that the crowdfunded reporting didn’t change the reporting of the project.

Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications will give university funds to students who reach a certain number of backers for projects on Kickstarter, said Dan Pacheco, the chair of journalism innovation at the school. The program, called Kick it Up, will support nonfiction storytelling projects.

“From the very beginning, before you even launch something, the system really incentivizes you to communicate with your audience, so that you respond to their interests,” he said.

Avni Nijhawan, a second-year graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, who is part of the ONA Student Newsroom, is creating a choose-your-own-adventure documentary focusing on sexual harassment in India, which was inspired by a Delhi rape case. The funding – a goal of $5,000 – is going to cover expenses for a trip to India to film. So far, she’s raised $1,236.

“Crowdfunding is very appealing because it is transparent,” she said.

“When you have so many people expecting a return on their investment, then you feel more pressure as a journalist to do well,” she added.

The Texas Tribune live-streamed the entire Texas 83rd Legislative Session, including the engaging abortion filibuster in June, featuring Wendy Davis. The live stream had a couple of million views, said Rodney Gibbs, the chief innovation officer.

“It was a big thing for us, and it got us thinking about what more we can do with this,” he said.

About two and a half weeks ago, the organization started a Kickstarter campaign to purchase equipment to expand its livestream coverage, targeting the 2014 gubernatorial election in Texas.

“We want to have the ability to cover that thoroughly and livestream it as breaking news is happening,” Gibbs said.

He said he’s unsure whether Kickstarter will change the way issues are covered, but it’s generating excitement for new possibilities in the newsroom.

“It’s already having an impact on morale,” he said.

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