Voting with your money: top Kickstarter journalism campaigns

Here is a quick tour of successful past projects and a few new projects that are hoping to get your attention and your money.

Top funded journalism projects

In late 2012, 2,566 backers pledged $140,201 to bring Matter to life, the most ever pledged to a Kickstarter journalism campaign. People responded to the promise by founders Bobbie Johnson and Jim Giles to bring them ‘the story you’ve been missing’.  Matter specializes in long-form articles about science, technology, medicine and the environment and was acquired in April 2013 by Medium, a new publishing platform established by Twitter founder Ev Williams.

Civil Eats ()

With Americans becoming more concerned about issues related to food production, it is not surprising that in 2013, 1,153 backers pledged $100,892 to support Civil Eats, a daily news and commentary source for critical thought about the American food system. Started in 2008 by Naomi Starkman and Paula Crossfield as the blog for the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco, today the site brings together over 100 contributors and has become a trusted source for complex and timely food policy news. The Kickstarter funding was used to start paying writers and hire a full-time Managing Editor, Twilight Greenaway. Starting in April this year, the site introduced a new subscription program where readers donate a minimum of $25 a year to access site content. Non-subscribers can read up to five articles a month for free.

Thanks to $69,001 from 1,441 backers, soccer fans now look forward to four issues of Howler Magazine each year.  In 2012, founders Mark Kirby and George Quraishi promised to create a big, glossy publication with distinctive, original writing and art about soccer. Topics covered in the Summer 2015 issue include the sorry state of Italian soccer and a history of Arsenal FC. The magazine’s website features a blog and an active roster of podcast programming.

Recent campaigns

While the appeal of crowdfunding may have peaked, people are still committing their cash to projects they would like to see come to life, even if they are doing so in smaller numbers.

More than 450 backers pledged $30,354 to help bring Slow Walk out of Eden to life. Billed as ‘a global trek to engage with the stories of our time’, National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek explores whether storytelling about a journey spanning seven years can be slowed to a walking pace.  Salopek’s 21,000 mile journey follows our ancestors’ migration out of Africa, starting in Ethiopia, and ends at the southern tip of South America.

Along the way, he explores major stories affecting the people he meets – from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival. In addition to the Kickstarter funds, Salopek is also supported by National Geographic who is funding storytelling from the trail and publishes his dispatches on their site and the Knight Foundation whose site serves as a lab for cartography, experimental journalism, and social media.

Online magazine, The Riveter, won the approval of 552 backers who pledged $35,815 help create an online magazine and print quarterly that tries to provide a positive response to the question: Is there a future for women in long-form journalism? Founders Joanna Demkiewicz and Kaylen Ralph decided to launch the Kickstarter campaign to fund their efforts to build a subscription base of women, ages 23 to 40.  Long-form topics covered on the site include:  how community supported agriculture is changing the American agriculture scene; an overview of labor trafficking; and the lack of female artists at mainstream music festivals.

riveter ()

Music journalists Danyel Smith & Elliott Wilson raised $67,230 from 516 backers to launch HRDCVR, a hip hop inspired hardcover culture magazine for ‘the new everyone’.  HRDCVR is a book-shaped print magazine that is designed to last so it can be handed around and shared.  Smith and Wilson haven’t decided yet whether it will be a one-off publication or if they will publish a copy each year.   A key goal, however, is to use design as a way to impact culture by giving voice to the journalistically underserved.

What’s trending now

Currently, there are 96 active journalism projects looking for funds on Kickstarter. Here are a few that are attracting attention.

The Kickstarter team has favorited Joshua Tauberer’s GovInsiderTracker campaign, which has 498 backers who pledged $19,859 to help Tauberer uncover the daily activities of the United States Congress.  Started 10 years ago, today nearly 10 million people use GovInsiderTracker each year to read bills and track votes. All the information on the site is collected automatically from the official record but Tauberer is trying to raise a total of $35,000 to hire a researcher who will report on the political context behind legislation to help readers understand what bills really mean. 

With 29 days to go and $1,120 (out of a goal of $7,500) already raised from 29 backers, Bandwagon is a podcast by independent radio producer Josh Swartz that tells stories about the people who give momentum to growing fan bases. Season one explores the Bernie Saunders campaign. Josh is raising funds to cover travel expenses, web design and sound equipment.

Rebel News ()


People looking for substantial, well-sourced journalism covering activism, politics, and rights should join the 26 backers who have given $3,036 to Rebel News. Site founder Gregg Housh says Rebel News will help you go beyond being informed and equip you to take action.  The $65,000 that Housh is trying to raise will keep the site going for just over three months with everyone getting paid a living wage.

Is entrepreneurial journalism the future?

We live in an era where experienced journalists have lost their jobs, new journalists are struggling to find jobs, and everyone has access to new low cost publishing platforms. Whether driven by financial necessity or a commitment to fill unmet content needs, to succeed, this new class of journalist entrepreneurs require a much broader set of skills to ensure they are developing, creating and sustaining economically viable content ideas.  Getting validation at the idea stage, by raising funds directly from potential readers, is a great place to start.

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