How Journalists Crowdsource Funding on Kickstarter

Dying to sink your teeth into a juicy assignment but can’t find a publisher to foot the bill? These days, enterprising journalists are turning to crowdsourced funding platforms like Kickstarter rather than of pinning their hopes on a publishing deal or a magazine assignment to cover their expenses.

Drawing on the popularity of group buying sites, web videos, and social media, Kickstarter’s platform helps creatives connect with backers, a modern-day version of arts patrons from the Renaissance era, through video and social media.

Maria Williams-Russsell, a poet/author who’s seeking funding for the Favorite Words Project, says she and collaborator journalist/author Janet MacFadyen “found a like-minded community [on Kickstarter] — people who were doing cool, creative projects and other people who believed those projects were worth funding.” Interestingly, Williams-Russell says most of their backers are simply people who believe in the project, not friends or family.

Users are also encouraged to offer rewards to backers: for instance, a copy of the book or magazine they’re trying to produce. Often these rewards work on a tiered system, so the bigger the financial contribution, the bigger the reward. (Plenty of the contributions are small, similar to the microdonations that boosted Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.)

Of course, publishing a magazine or going on a photojournalism trip isn’t cheap, so funding is “all or nothing”: either you reach your financial goal within the specified timeframe and complete the project or the deal is off, like those group buying sites mentioned above.

Here’s a look at four projects currently seeking backers on Kickstarter (no pressure but if you want to want to support a fellow journalist or writer, we certainly won’t object):

Favorite Words Project


Williams-Russell and MacFadyen describe the Favorite Words Project (mentioned above) as a “living installation” on t-shirts and bumper stickers. They’re collecting user’s favorite words, and after a year of collecting these words, plan to compile all the words into a book, which they believe will speak volumes about language and the people who contributed.

Shadow People


Crime journalist Scott Anderson had a commercial publisher for his non-fiction book, Shadow People, about the impact of meth addiction on poor rural communities. However, when the publisher requested changes that Anderson felt would have undermined the book’s intent and compromised his reporting, the author walked away. “I didn’t spend 16 months in patrol cars at night watching dangerous and unstable men get arrested, and interviewing the innocent victims of crimes, to watch the book that resulted get ruined by editors who are cowards,” he says. Instead, he’s joined forces with a group of journalists to sell his book through Amazon. “The Kickstarter fund is going to help keeps its shelf price low so people in many of the poor, rural communities that I wrote about can afford it,” he adds.

For Love of Libya

Tim Jagielo works as photo editor and writer for The Tri-County Times, a semi-weekly newspaper in Fenton, Michigan. He’s been following the story of a local man who returned to his nature Libya and decided to join the rebel forces. For his project called For Love of Libya, Jagielo plans to travel to Libya this winter to report first-hand on how this local man and his wife (who will likely join her husband in Libya this fall) are contributing to Libya’s rebel movement. Jagielo says he plans to use a combination of print, photos, audio, and video to tell their story.

Print Altas Quarterly

Freelance writer/editor Laura Palmer and art director Jenna Yankun are working on Print Atlas Quarterly, a magazine that introduces readers to American craftsmen through words and images. They’re hoping to raise $20,000 to cover costs like printing, legal fees, film development, and postage.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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