‘Sex, Politics and Religion’ makes a comeback

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A self described “70s baby” who launched her first crowdfunding campaign recently has some advice for independent journalists considering their own campaign: Be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone and ask people for money, and you’re probably lowballing yourself so ask for more money.

Jamila Bey is an African American woman Atheist who believes in the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the death penalty and a woman’s reproductive rights. She does not believe in putting her views in a box.

Perhaps that outspoken, freedom-loving, restraint-bucking personality is what led Bey to become host of the radio show “Sex, Religion and Politics (SPAR)” in 2011.

“I wanted to do a show where I talk about the thing that people tiptoe around when we talk about you know at the time,” Bey said.

In its first run, SPAR operated for two years from the American desk of Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s broadcasting service.

Her time there ended abruptly last November.

“They turned into just this pro-Putin propaganda portal and they fired me and anyone who wouldn’t pull the Russian nationalist line,” she said.

A year after the show ended on Voice of Russia, SPAR will return later this month on Beacon Reader after a successful crowdfunding campaign on Beacon. Her campaign was highlighted by Beacon in their most recent blog post titled “A New Way to Fund Nonprofit Newsrooms.”

Bey spoke to Through the Cracks about the show’s return, how surprised she was that her campaign succeeded and how a drill sergeant made all the difference in her crowdfunding campaign.

Johnson: What led you to relaunch SPAR?

Bey: People asked and I wanted to do it anyway.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of people who have their podcast funded through Patreon. I was interested in Patreon but saw that Beacon was kind of the same thing but for journalists. They’re a full platform. They’re not just “OK, you’re crowdfunded. Go do your thing.” It’s “You’re crowdfunded. Here’s a place to publish your work.”

Johnson: Did you hear from former listeners or…

Bey: Yeah. I do extensive public speaking and every time I go somewhere and people would bring up i heard you interview with his person or that person and they would ask “Why don’t you bring it back?”

I was shocked that I wound up being funded. That happened over the course of a couple of days.

I asked for an amount that would let me fund two months of programming.

Johnson: You said it happened over the course of a couple of days. What did you mean by that?

Bey: Well I set up a two-week long campaign. I sent out an initial run of email to my first line of people (personal network) and due to circumstances beyond my control i was required to travel and i really wasn’t able to do the campaign the way i thought i was. so 5 days later i’m at like a week left in my two week campaign. So Beacon called me and said we haven’t seen you tweet or promote much, sort of being my drill sergeant.

If I had a drill sergeant in my life my whole life would be awesome. So I listened to them and I said ‘Let me send out a better appeal.’

I’m a 70s baby so I get on the phone. I started that on a Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday people really responded. By Monday I was within spitting distance of the goal and one people came through with the last amount needed.

It felt amazing because a lot of the people who donated were people I didn’t even know. and the people I did know… it’s weird. I guess it’s  what people in sales go through all the time but as a writer who feels like ‘Well I’m doing good stuff. Why would I have to pitch you?’ It was nice to see people stand behind it.

Johnson: Did asking for money come naturally to you?

Bey: Not at all. I hate… I hate sales and the idea of being concerned with the financial aspect behind the work I do. I come out of public radio and I’ve only really ever worked in public radio. I put myself through college working at a public radio station. So the idea that I need to know about the money or not or giving out tote bags, I did find it difficult.

I felt some kind of embarrassment. like what kind of racket am I coming with that I need to get in people pocket books?

I have a skills set. I do something that people enjoy and people benefit from and I choose not to just write stuff and put behind it ‘if you want to read this pay me 99 cents’ each time. So the self promotion and marketing I just had to get over it and screw my courage to the sticking place. And it did take courage. I was a bit embarrassed doing something I don’t usually do.

And again I have to point to… the Beacon people were awesome. They said ‘We’re here to support you with whatever you need.’

Johnson: What can people expect from the new show?

Bey: Well there’s a lot of scream radio on where it’s I scream at you and you scream at me until the commercial.

I love the first amendment and that’s what I’m really going to sink my teeth in but i’m a goofball and I love music so expect some of that but I’m a policy wonk at heart. I love looking at the reasons behind the legislation that gets passed that provides for a certain thing that happen. Were going into a presidential election year were seeing the worst offenses against the first amendment and a good portion of the american people when were talking about Ferguson, Missouri.

My goal, I like to talk to people I disagree with so there will probably be a reappearance of John Popper. He’s the lead singer for Monica Player for the jam band Blues Traveller.

He’s a Libertarian and I disagree with him on a lot of stuff however we both really really love this country and we love the people in it we come to it differently.

Of course I bring on people I do agree with too and say ‘Can you believe this?’

Johnson: What lessons did you learn? What advice would you give a journalist considering the launch of their first crowdfunding campaign?

Bey: This was an amazing experience for me. I did learn quite a bit.

First of all I learned that people do want good content. The voice that I have, the perspective that I have, isn’t one that you see or hear or find access to in most traditional media.

I wish it wasn’t so but it is and if I want to share my way of asking questions or things that are important to me then I need to get over my comfort zone and do it. I think I should asked a little bigger but the Beacon model allows subscriptions so people can continue to give.

People want to hear me and that was very humbling, and because I know I have their support I’m absolutely going to work on good content.

But I’m independent and if you want to hear that you need to subscribe.

I would say ask for more. I think that’s the bottom line for me. You build up those muscles when you do the things that are hard whether its lifting weights or Sudoku or asking for money. It is intimidating but you know what, it got kind of fun. most will say no but the ones that say yes will be a pleasant and delighted surprise to me.

I think a lot of folks get hung up on which platform GoFundMe,  Kickstarter, Indiegogo… I think it is, for me personally, it was just more important to get it done. You can always decide later to do a different platform.

I didn’t do video, I didn’t do audio. I just used text. But I think it may be worth it to consider using the tools available to us that are to the advantage of someone who tells stories.

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.

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