Kickstarter Creators on the Future of Independent Journalism

Share this post

A student reporter for Brooklyn Deep, a Kickstarter-funded investigative journalism platform
A student reporter for Brooklyn Deep, a Kickstarter-funded investigative journalism platform

A home for citizen-run investigations. A platform for community storytelling. A podcast network created to revolutionize the medium.

Since Kickstarter launched eight years ago, writers, photographers, and podcasters have used it to forge their own paths in journalism. And a community of readers and listeners has followed: as of this month, over $10 million has been pledged to Journalism projects on Kickstarter.

To mark the milestone, we spoke with the creators behind three memorable Kickstarter-funded journalism projects. They shared their thoughts on the future of independent journalism and the potential for journalists —  by teaming up with the Kickstarter community  — to transform the field.

Meet the panel

Carroll Bogert: President of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that reports on and amplifies the voices of those within the U.S. criminal justice system.

Paul Salopek: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist behind Out of Eden, a seven-year, 21,000-mile trek following the ancient pathways of human migration.

Julia Calagiovanni: Managing editor of Off Assignment, a home for the untold stories that never make it into print.

Who benefits from independent journalism?

Carroll Bogert: All citizens can benefit from good, reliable information. The Marshall Project in particular serves a large community of people who care about the criminal justice system. Our stories have gotten cameras installed in prisons, helped sensitize first responders to sexual assault, launched federal probes into private industries, and given a voice to incarcerated people and others trapped inside the criminal justice system. Our goal is to make more Americans care about criminal justice.

Paul Salopek: In my book, all good journalism is independent. Everyone benefits from it. And the more diverse the independent news sources, the better. When only a few big media outlets dominate the news coverage, certain voices don’t get heard. That said, whether the reporting is generated by legacy companies or independent journalists, the mission should be the same: to report without fear or favor, uninfluenced by powerful political, commercial, or other special interests.

Julia Calagiovanni: Everyone. Independent writers and content producers have a unique opportunity to go beyond the conventions and limitations of more traditional media outlets. There’s often more latitude to work on topics that matter to you. And readers can hear from voices that might not have a seat at the table otherwise.

From My Guantánamo, and Theirs by Ted Conover for Off Assignment
From My Guantánamo, and Theirs by Ted Conover for Off Assignment


What is your advice for aspiring journalists?

Julia Calagiovanni: Mistakes hurt, but you’ll live. Learn from it.

Paul Salopek: In today’s saturated marketplace, it’s more important than ever for young colleagues to make their unique voices stand out. You can specialize in a single topic and own it. Or you can be an early adopter of new technology. Or  —  as in my case  —  you can go to parts of the world where crucial events are unfolding under the global radar. Go to Africa, which now has more than a billion people and is undergoing both a green and a digital revolution simultaneously. You won’t bump into too many other competitors there.

Carroll Bogert: Get really deep into a subject that is important. Know more about it than anybody. Be less concerned about the flash and the profile and the followers and the flourish of your writing.

Paul Salopek on the Out of Eden walk
Paul Salopek on the Out of Eden walk

When did you first realize that community funding could impact independent journalism?

Paul Salopek: I realized it in the first year of the Out of Eden walk out of pure necessity. I have several wonderful partners working with me on the project, but we still need our readers’ help to keep the storytelling going. I learned that when it comes to journalism, crowdfunding offers a double-barreled benefit: above and beyond raising money, it helps build a loyal, participatory audience. That’s important for a ten-year–long narrative like ours.

Carroll Bogert: In the summer of 2016, we used Kickstarter to fund our weekly column called Life Inside. We raised more than twice as much as we had originally hoped. The experience was very heartening  —  it was our first indication of how much our readers actually supported us.

Julia Calagiovanni: It’s been great to see so many publications  —  Matter, Narratively  —  really succeed in the crowdfunding arena. That inspired us to bring our own publication to Kickstarter. Crowdfunding is so powerful in that it not only raises money, it also corrals many other important resources: visibility, enthusiasm, a supporter base that wants you to succeed and believes that you can.

From The Marshall Project’s Life Inside column
From The Marshall Project’s Life Inside column

Where do you see independent journalism headed in the next five years?

Carroll Bogert: I think this sector will grow. Ever since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Americans are consuming more media than ever. But the commercial media can’t do everything. The kind of long-form investigative reporting that The Marshall Project does is very difficult to sustain commercially. So I think nonprofits will constitute a growing portion of the media landscape.

Paul Salopek: I can only hope it is more robust. Democracies need accurate, fearless, unbiased, independent reporting to survive. I’d like to think we’re headed for a shake-out phase where the worst of the web’s excesses are palling on the public and quality independent news platforms will thrive. It’s tough, given how the Information Age preys on our human impulse to seek shallow distraction and echo chambers. But we’ve got to keep battling.

Julia Calagiovanni: Larger media outlets will always have an important place in the landscape, but small-but-mighty indies will remain important. I hope that independent print, audio, and video journalism  —  and maybe some other formats we haven’t even thought of yet  —  will complement, challenge, and strengthen what’s already out there.

Why is independent journalism important to you personally?

Carroll Bogert: I believe that good information is the starting point of social change. No big problem ever got solved without someone shining a bright light on it.

Paul Salopek: I have devoted most of my career to covering people who live far from the global centers of power. Any reporting that shares the bullhorn has my blessing.

Julia Calagiovanni: In college, I worked with a variety of small student-run publications rather than the main campus newspaper. Working on an online feminist magazine, a print alt-weekly, and a print long-form magazine, each with its own particular ethos and mission, presented me with different challenges and opportunities. In that smaller setting, our teams were able to work really closely together. I see those same strengths in “grown-up” independent journalism.

How can readers improve their own media literacy?

Carroll Bogert: Keep reading. Check the byline, and the source. It’s easy to skip over that stuff when you’re scanning quickly on social media, but not all journalism is equally trustworthy.

Julia Calagiovanni: Read critically. Seek out a variety of voices from writers of varying ages, backgrounds, races, and genders. Go beyond Twitter  —  it’s fun and it’s fast, but there’s so much more to be said on basically any topic. Stepping away from the screen gives you some really important mental space.

Paul Salopek: To be news-literate today you have to think like a reporter. You have to be intellectually active, to explore. You have to be skeptical. (“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) Once a week, access your information from a radically different news source. Foreign correspondents in places with polarized press environments have to read six or seven newspapers  — each partisan  — every day, just to suss out a median understanding of what’s really going on. Welcome to that club, ordinary readers.

Paul Salopek on the Out of Eden Walk (photo: John Stanmeyer/National Geographic)
Paul Salopek on the Out of Eden Walk (photo: John Stanmeyer/National Geographic)

 Explore more Journalism projects on Kickstarter  —  or head here to start your own.

Line icon alert icon Artboard Copy 8 arrow-down icon arrow-down arrow-left icon arrow-left arrow-point-left icon Fill 1 Copy 5 arrow-point-right icon Fill 1 arrow-right icon arrow-right arrow-up-right icon icon--arrow-up-right copy bar-chart icon Artboard Copy 6 bell icon Combined Shape Copy 5 book icon Artboard Copy 3 bookmark icon Fill 1 brand-assets icon Artboard Copy 13 cart icon Artboard Copy 4 chat icon chat check icon Fill 1 Copy 6 circle-back icon Fill 1 Copy 13 circle-forward icon Fill 1 Copy 16 circle-k icon circle-k circle-left icon circle-left circle-right icon circle-right clipboard icon Artboard Copy 12 clock icon Combined Shape close icon close closed-caption icon Fill 1 compass icon Combined Shape Copy 2 conversion icon conversion delta-down icon Fill 1 delta-left icon delta-right icon Fill 1 delta-up icon Fill 1 duplicate icon duplicate embed icon Combined Shape Copy 6 eye icon Combined Shape Copy 12 facebook-contained icon Facebook Contained facebook icon Facebook logo flag icon Fill 1 Copy 3 gear icon Fill 1 Copy 14 global-africa icon Fill 1 Copy 9 global-america icon Fill 1 Copy 10 global-asia icon Fill 1 Copy 17 graph-bar icon Combined Shape Copy 9 graph-line icon Combined Shape Copy 16 heart icon Fill 1 Copy 8 help icon human icon icon--human icon--activity-feed.kds icon icon--add-heading.kds icon icon--advanced-analytics.kds icon icon--alarm icon icon--alarm icon--alert icon icon--alert icon--alt-text.kds icon icon--arrow-down.kds icon icon--arrow-down icon icon--arrow-down icon--arrow-left-2 icon icon--arrow-left.kds icon icon--arrow-left icon icon--arrow-left icon--arrow-right.kds icon icon--arrow-right icon icon--arrow-right icon--arrow-up-right icon icon--arrow-up-right icon--arrow-up.kds icon icon--arrow-up icon icon--arrow-up icon--backer-badge icon icon--backer-badge icon--bar-graph.kds icon icon--bell.kds icon icon--bell icon icon--bell icon--bold.kds icon icon--bolt.kds icon icon--bolt icon icon--bolt icon--bookmark-filled.kds icon icon--bookmark-outline icon icon--bookmark-outline icon--bookmark.kds icon icon--bookmark icon icon--bookmark icon--bulleted-list.kds icon icon--calculator icon icon--calculator icon--calendar-check icon icon--calendar-check icon--calendar.kds icon icon icon--calendar icon icon--calendar icon--campaign-outline icon icon--campaign-outline icon--caption.kds icon icon--captions.kds icon icon--cart.kds icon icon--category.kds icon icon icon--chat.kds icon icon--check.kds icon icon icon--check icon icon--check icon--chevron-down.kds icon icon icon--chevron-down icon icon--chevron-down icon--chevron-left.kds icon icon icon--chevron-left icon icon--chevron-left icon--chevron-right.kds icon icon icon--chevron-right icon icon--chevron-right icon--chevron-up.kds icon icon icon--chevron-up icon icon--chevron-up icon--circle-around.kds icon icon--circle-around icon icon--circle-around icon--circle-back icon icon--circle-back icon--circle-backward.kds icon icon--circle-check icon icon--circle-empty icon icon--circle-forward.kds icon icon--circle-forward icon icon--circle-forward icon--circle-loader icon Page 1 icon--circle.kds icon icon--circle icon icon--clipboard icon icon--clipboard icon--clock.kds icon icon icon--clock icon icon--clock icon--close.kds icon icon icon--closed-caption icon icon--closed-caption icon--code icon icon--code icon--collapse.kds icon icon--collapse icon icon--collapse icon--commissions icon icon--commissions icon--compass icon icon--compass icon--confirmation icon icon--confirmation icon--conversion.kds icon icon--conversion icon icon-conversion icon--copy.kds icon icon--cpu icon icon--credit-card.kds icon icon--credit-card icon icon--cross icon icon--cross icon--curve-right icon icon--curve-right icon--date-and-time.kds icon icon icon--delta-down icon icon--delta-down icon--delta-left icon icon--delta-left icon--delta-right icon icon--delta-right icon--delta-up icon icon--delta-up icon--download.kds icon icon--download icon icon--download icon--drag.kds icon icon--edit.kds icon icon--ellipsis.kds icon icon--ellipsis icon icon--error.kds icon icon icon--expand.kds icon icon--expand icon icon--expand icon--external.kds icon icon icon--external icon icon--external icon--eye icon icon--eye icon--facebook icon icon--facebook icon--filter icon icon--filter icon--filters.kds icon icon--flag-outline icon icon--flag.kds icon icon icon--flag icon icon--flag icon--forward-fund icon icon--frown-filled icon icon--frown icon icon--fulfillment.kds icon icon--gear icon icon--gear icon--globe-africa icon icon--globe-africa icon--globe-america icon icon--globe-america icon--globe-asia icon icon--globe-asia icon--globe.kds icon icon--graph-bar icon icon--graph-bar icon--graph-line icon icon--graph-line icon--hamburger.kds icon icon--hamburger icon icon--happy-filled icon icon--happy icon icon--header-anchor icon icon--heading.kds icon icon--heading icon icon--heart-filled.kds icon icon icon--heart-outline icon icon--heart outline icon--heart-thin-outline icon Fill 1 icon--heart.kds icon icon icon--heart icon icon--heart icon--heartstrings-and-hardbacks icon icon--hide.kds icon icon--home-with-door icon icon--home.kds icon icon--home icon icon--home icon--human.kds icon icon icon--human icon icon--human icon--humans.kds icon icon--humans icon icon--humans icon--image.kds icon icon--image icon icon--image icon--inbox.kds icon icon--inbox icon icon--inbox icon--indeterminate icon icon--info.kds icon icon icon--info icon icon--info icon--instagram icon icon/instagram icon--intermediate.kds icon icon icon--italic.kds icon icon--late-pledges.kds icon icon icon--lightbulb.kds icon icon--lightbulb icon icon--lightbulb icon--line-graph.kds icon icon--link.kds icon icon--link icon icon--link icon--location.kds icon icon icon--lock-black-bg icon lock-icon icon--lock icon icon--lock icon--locked.kds icon icon icon--log-out.kds icon icon--long-story-short icon icon--mail icon icon--mail icon--make-100 icon icon--media-embed.kds icon icon--meh-filled icon icon--meh icon icon--menu icon icon--menu icon--message.kds icon icon--message icon icon--message icon--milestone-dfm icon icon--milestone-idea icon icon--milestone-preprod icon icon--milestone-prod icon icon--milestone-proof-of-concept icon icon--milestone-working-prototype icon icon--minus.kds icon icon--mobile.kds icon icon--mobile icon icon--mobile icon--mute.kds icon icon--numbered-list.kds icon icon--order-management.kds icon icon--overflow icon icon--overflow icon--pause.kds icon icon--pause icon icon--pause icon--pencil icon icon--pencil icon--pie-chart icon icon--pin.kds icon icon--pin icon icon--pin icon--pinterest icon icon--pinterest icon--play-filled.kds icon icon--play.kds icon icon--play icon icon--play icon--pledges.kds icon icon--plus-human.kds icon icon--plus-human icon icon--plus-human icon--plus.kds icon icon--plus icon icon--plus icon--prohibit icon icon--prohibit icon--prohibited.kds icon icon--project-budget icon icon--project-we-love icon icon--pull-quote icon icon--pull-quote icon--pullquote.kds icon icon--question-filled icon icon--question-filled icon--question.kds icon icon--question icon icon--question icon--reorder icon icon-reorder icon--reply.kds icon icon--reply icon icon--reply icon--reward.kds icon icon icon--reward icon icon--save icon icon--save icon--saved icon icon--saved icon--search.kds icon icon--search icon icon--search icon--section-break icon icon--section-break icon--sentiment-neutral-filled.kds icon icon--sentiment-neutral.kds icon icon--sentiment-satisfied-filled.kds icon icon--sentiment-satisfied.kds icon icon--sentiment-unsatisfied-filled.kds icon icon--sentiment-unsatisfied.kds icon icon--settings.kds icon icon--shipping.kds icon icon--show.kds icon icon--small-k icon icon--sound-hi icon icon--sound-hi icon--sound-lo icon icon--sound-lo icon--sound-mute icon icon--sound-mute icon--spinner.kds icon icon--star-outline icon Star Outline icon--star.kds icon icon icon--star icon icon--star icon--stopwatch.kds icon icon--subtitles-captions icon icon--subtitles-captions icon--success.kds icon icon icon--survey-multiple-choice.kds icon icon--survey-open-text.kds icon icon--survey-single-choice.kds icon icon--survey.kds icon icon--tax-documents.kds icon icon--text-bold icon icon--text-bold icon--text-bullet icon icon--text-bullet icon--text-italic icon icon--text-italic icon--textalign-centered icon icon--textalign-centered icon--textalign-right icon icon--textalign-right icon--thumbs-down icon icon--thumbs-down icon--thumbs-up icon icon--thumbs-up icon--thumbsdown-outline icon icon--thumbsdown-outline icon--thumbsup-outline icon icon--thumbsup-outline icon--timeline-to-do.kds icon icon--trash.kds icon icon--trash icon icon--trash icon--tumblr icon icon--tumblr icon--twitter icon icon--twitter icon--unlink.kds icon icon--unlink icon Artboard icon--unlock icon icon--unlock icon--unlocked.kds icon icon icon--update-freeform-round icon icon--update-freeform-round icon--update-freeform icon icon--update-freeform icon--update-pinned icon Artboard icon--update-qa-round icon icon--update-qa-round icon--update-qa icon icon--update-qa icon--upload.kds icon icon--upload icon icon--upload icon--video.kds icon icon--video icon icon--video icon--volume-down.kds icon icon--volume-up.kds icon icon--warning.kds icon icon icon--warning icon icon--witchstarter icon icon--youtube icon icon--youtube icon--zine-quest icon icon-imagealign-center icon icon-imagealign-center icon-imagealign-left icon icon-imagealign-left icon-imagealign-right icon icon-imagealign-right info icon Combined Shape Copy instagram icon instagram copy kickstarter icon Artboard Copy 5 leaf icon leaf lightbulb icon icon--lightbulb link icon Combined Shape Copy 8 loading-spin icon lock icon Combined Shape Copy 4 mail icon Combined Shape map-pin icon Fill 1 menu icon Group message icon Fill 1 Copy 12 mobile icon Page 1 Copy 2 pause icon pause copy pencil icon Combined Shape Copy 3 pin icon Combined Shape Copy 11 pinterest icon pinterest play icon play copy plus-human icon icon--plus-human plus icon Fill 1 Copy 7 question icon Combined Shape Copy 14 search icon Fill 1 Copy 11 shapeshift icon share icon Fill 1 Copy slash icon solid-arrow icon solid-arrow sound-hi icon Combined Shape sound-lo icon Combined Shape sound-mute icon Combined Shape star icon Fill 1 Copy 2 stopwatch icon Group 2 thumbs-up icon Shape tools icon Shape trash icon Combined Shape tumblr icon tumblr copy twitter icon twitter copy user icon Artboard Copy 10 volume-up icon Artboard Copy 9 warning icon Combined Shape Copy 10 write icon Artboard Copy 11 x icon Fill 1 Copy 4 youtube icon Combined Shape