Share this project

Done

Share this project

Done
An audio documentary and companion book about the brilliant journalist who covered the AIDS epidemic as he was dying of the disease
An audio documentary and companion book about the brilliant journalist who covered the AIDS epidemic as he was dying of the disease
299 backers pledged $28,451 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

Dying Words: The AIDS Reporting of Jeff Schmalz project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with
sound

$28,451

299

About our subject

Jeff at his high school graduation.
Jeff at his high school graduation.
Jeff Schmalz was a journalistic prodigy. He was hired by The New York Times while still a college student, and he was essentially running its metropolitan coverage by his mid-20s. From his crisply pressed trousers and shirts to his unerring sense of how to structure a feature story, he was a consummate Timesman. People in the newsroom speculated that someday he could be “on the masthead” – the list of the top editors on the world’s most important newspaper. All the while, though, Jeff was struggling with his identity as a gay man. He came out to many friends and peers on the Times, but he kept his sexual orientation secret from the newsroom management, the people who had control over his professional life. Under the executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, the Times newsroom of the 1970s and 80s was a homophobic place, and journalists known to be gay or lesbian were stalled or even demoted in their careers.
 
Then, one day in December 1990, Jeff collapsed in the newsroom with a brain seizure. It was the first evidence that he had full-blown AIDS – a death sentence in these years before drug cocktails were available to victims of the disease. With AIDS, Jeff was endangered and he was outed. Yet he was also cracked wide open in positive ways. He found his calling in writing about HIV and AIDS, doing memorable portraits of Magic Johnson, Mary Fisher, and Harold Brodkey, among others, and chronicling his own experience reporting on the most personal beat imaginable. As Jeff himself said at the time, having AIDS stirred an empathy in him that he had long obscured beneath a witty, cynical, hard-driven exterior. 
 
Who Jeff was and what he did deeply changed The New York Times, sensitizing it as never before to the humanity of gay people. The Times of today – publishing same-sex wedding announcements, editorializing in favor of marriage equality – is the fruition of changes that Jeff helped set into motion but never lived long enough to fully see.

And now, 22 years after Jeff died at age 39, his contributions have been largely forgotten. “Dying Words” will restore his name and work to the annals of gay history and journalistic history. 

About our project

Jeff with his mother.
Jeff with his mother.
The project has two parts – an audio documentary and a book about Jeff Schmalz. Both the documentary and the book will draw upon our extensive interviews, existing recordings of Jeff himself, and excerpts from his AIDS coverage. Over the past year, we have interviewed such major journalists as Anna Quindlen, Adam Moss, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and Elizabeth Kolbert, as well as the AIDS activist Mary Fisher and the LGBT historian Eric Marcus. We have original recordings of Jeff’s interviews with Magic Johnson and Bill Clinton, among others. Our project has the full and enthusiastic support of Wendy Schmalz, Jeff’s sister, who is his closest living relative.

The audio documentary will be produced by Kerry Donahue and edited by Ben Shaprio, both award winning journalists and then distributed by PRX to public radio stations around the country, and be available as a podcast. The companion book is already under contract with CUNY Journalism Press, an imprint that has done fine books on topics such as the Pentagon Papers case and the columnist-critic Nat Hentoff. The book-- about 60,000 words of text, including excerpts from Jeff's work--will be released as both an original paperback and ebook. Our goal is to have the audio documentary broadcast on public radio stations and the book published to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1, 2015.

We have been working on the project for almost a year already, interviewed colleagues, friends, and family members of Jeff’s, and rescuing original audio recordings of the interviewed he conducted as an AIDS reporter. We have been happy to contribute the first $10,000 to this labor of love. Now we are at the point where we need outside resources to finish. Our expenses are about to significantly mount in the coming months as we hire an audio editor, a marketer who will pitch the program to stations and a publicist to help us get the word out. We believe we are telling a vitally important story that will be lost if we didn’t tell it. We need your help to do this work.

 
Jeff with friends and family for the 1993 AIDS Walk: Back row left to right:  Lynda Richardson, Rich Meislin, Jeff Schmalz, Roy Finamore Michael Wilde; front row left to right: Ben Kushner, David Dunlap, Hendrik Uyttendaele, Wendy Schmalz
Jeff with friends and family for the 1993 AIDS Walk: Back row left to right: Lynda Richardson, Rich Meislin, Jeff Schmalz, Roy Finamore Michael Wilde; front row left to right: Ben Kushner, David Dunlap, Hendrik Uyttendaele, Wendy Schmalz

For "Dying Words," we have assembled a team of highly accomplished journalists, producers, and designers. The project was initiated by Samuel G. Freedman, the author of seven acclaimed books, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, and a columnist for The New York Times. 

Kerry Donahue directs the radio program at Columbia Journalism School and is an independent radio producer with more than two decades of experience. Her work's been heard on PRX, WNYC, WBGO, Audible, and Marketplace.

Ben Shapiro is an award-winning radio producer and documentary filmmaker. His projects have aired on many NPR programs, PBS, and the Sundance Channel, among others, and include a documentary film about photographer Gregory Crewdson.

Kristofer Ríos is a producer with Univision Documentaries and a visual journalist at Fusion.

Chris Blomquist is a visual communications professional with thirty years of experience providing graphic design and marketing support to educational and non-profit organizations such as Columbia University, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Public Radio.

Tim Harper, a longtime journalist, author and editorial/publishing consultant, is a professor and writing coach at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where he is the founding editor of the CUNY Journalism Press, which will publish "Dying Words" in paperback and ebook later this year.

Jeff's Work

"Covering AIDS And Living It: A Reporter's Testimony," The New York Times, Dec. 20, 1992. 

"Whatever Happened to AIDS?," The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 28, 1993. 

"On the Book-Signing Circuit with Magic Johnson; Call Him Earvin: 'I Can't Be Magic'," The New York Times, Nov. 19, 1992.

Risks and challenges

Thus far, we've paid about $10,000 out of our own pockets to do the research for the documentary and book. Our largest expenses are still ahead of us, with the need to hire a sound editor, a consultant for radio distribution, and a publicist. We have continuing expenses for transcribing recorded interviews -- including some of Jeff Schmalz's original cassette tapes. We need to build a website and hold promotional events. We're looking at $25,000 or more in upcoming expenses. The risk and challenge is very basic: to be able to bring this vital work to fruition and to make sure that it reaches the largest possible audience.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    BEAT REPORTER

    You will receive a link to download the radio documentary and be acknowledged as a donor on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    74 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  2. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    FEATURE REPORTER

    You will receive a link to download the Dying Words e-book, a link to download the radio documentary and be acknowledged as a donor on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Reward no longer available 30 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  3. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    BUREAU CHIEF

    You will receive an inscribed copy of the Dying Words book, plus links to the e-book and radio documentary, and be acknowledged as a donor on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Reward no longer available 50 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    This special premium has been added to help us reach our stretch goal of 390 donors and our fulfill our promise to support and share the work of journalism students covering LGBT issues. In the spirit of Jeff Schmalz, a great mentor to Samuel Freedman and many other reporters and editors, you will get all the premiums for the $50 level -- plus an inscribed copy of Freedman's book "Letters To A Young Journalist."

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 19 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    METRO EDITOR

    You will receive a thumb drive with the radio documentary plus additional audio interviews with key sources, as well as a link to download the e-book, and be acknowledged as a donor on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 30 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    FEATURES EDITOR

    You will receive an inscribed copy of Dying Words, plus a thumb drive with audio of documentary plus additional audio interviews, a link to the e-book and acknowledgment as a major donor in the book and on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    25 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    NATIONAL EDITOR

    You will receive a one-day training in audio production/reporting (your choice of topic, scheduling based on mutual availability) by Kerry Donahue, as well as a thumb drive with the radio documentary and additional audio interviews, a link to the e-book and acknowledgment as a major donor in the book and on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 7 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  8. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $350 or more About $350

    COLUMNIST

    You will receive a two-hour consultation with Sam Freedman on your book proposal or writing project (scheduling based on mutual availability), as well as a thumb drive with the radio documentary and additional audio interviews, a link to the e-book and acknowledgment as a major donor in the book and on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Reward no longer available 5 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    NEWS EXECUTIVE

    You and a guest will receive an invitation to a reception celebrating the book publication and the audio broadcast. You will also receive an inscribed copy of Dying Words, plus a thumb drive with audio of documentary plus additional audio interviews, a link to the e-book and acknowledgment as a major donor in the book and on the website.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 3 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.

Funding period

- (35 days)