5 questions

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    Whitney Helm is our latest contributor, and that means she’s the latest person to answer Through the Cracks’ 5 Questions.

    Until recently she was a reporter for Beloit Daily News and now works in marketing at a college in Wisconsin. Helm will focus on stories about news startups and investigative journalism.

    Her first story was about the SXSW Film Festival, where about one in four featured films were crowdfunded. You can follow her stories through her author page.

    Want to be a Through the Cracks contributor? Get in there.

    Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

    Helm: I’m sure there has been a more recent time. But I remember being in a movie theater watching Kick Ass 2 and a certain line caught me off guard. I don’t remember what it was but I do remember it was hilarious.

    Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

    Helm: I’m currently working on the art of writing the press releases and not receiving them by doing communications and marketing at a Wisconsin college.

    Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

    Helm: Everything. I’m coming into this very green. The journalism industry changed a lot between when I was 15 and decided to be a journalist and when I graduated college at 24. I’m excited to dive into how crowdfunding will continue to change the landscape of the field.

    Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

    Helm: I’m a lover of talking and sharing. That’s what initially drew me to writing in the first place, journalism was just a way to combine what I already love. Every story starts with a conversation.

    Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

    Helm: I want to learn more about crowdfunding and the best way to do that was to dive in and get to talking.

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      It has become a sort of tradition for Through the Cracks contributors to answer five questions about themselves. We’re a publication with staff all over the world, and we rarely get to see one another in person (Bay Area adjacent staff is getting together at Mad Oak Friday though!), so it helps us learn a bit more about each other.

      You can see the profile and social media accounts of Through the Cracks reporter at the bottom of any story they author.

      Our newest contributor is Melissa Hutsell. She’s a freelance writer with a passion for community and global journalism. Born and raised and based in Northern California, she writes for hyperlocal and national publications on a diversity of topics including business, art, culture, food and health. She’s got an appetitive for traveling and learning.

      Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

      Hutsell: That’s easy! I was watching “Broad City.” The show gets me every time, especially because of the female perspective that the show’s hosts bring to comedy in general. It’s relatable, hilarious, fresh and absolutely needed in today’s society. You just can’t be in a bad mood after watching an episode!

      Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

      Hutsell: I am always working on something different. The world of freelancing is exciting like that – you never know what type of assignment you will get next!

      Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

      Hutsell: I became a journalist because I wanted to make a difference in the world through storytelling. I’m drawn to this part of Through the Cracks’ Mission Statement: “…little sprouts becoming bigger, finding ways to grow in less than ideal conditions. It’s a demonstration of tenacity, organic growth, the desire to survive and the ability to adapt.” These are the businesses, the campaigns, the people whose stories I want to tell, and whose determination will change landscapes across all industries. Crowdfunding is quickly changing the dynamics of journalism and business; I’m fascinated with both industries.

      Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

      Hutsell: I believe journalism is one of the most powerful tools for change. I get the honor of telling the stories of people who are inspiring global change at the local level –and it is truly incredible to help bring these stories to life.

      Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

      Hutsell: I personally identify with the organization’s mission of creating success in less than ideal situations. Throughout my personal and professional life, I have had to overcome less than ideal circumstances, and as a result, I have built my own path to success.

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      A photo from a recent all-night shoot for a short film. Credit: Joe Proudman.

      As an editor, you know you play with the team you have.

      Sometimes people strike out, and sometimes even your best writers don’t seem up to the task.

      But sometimes you have a deep bench, a team of reporters so talented and focused that when you make an addition and bring in even more talent, it’s like hearing about a baseball team that already has a deep bullpen but adds another ace.

      joe_dome
      Joe Proudman. Credit: Sandra Proudman.

      That’s what it felt like when Joe Proudman joined Through the Cracks a couple months ago.

      Joe is a true multimedia journalist who has worked as a writer, photographer and video producer at various times in his career. He’s worked at the Star Ledger in New Jersey, New York Times Lens blog and taught photography at Lake Tahoe Community College. 

      For Through the Cracks he’s written about:

      • #ReWriteTheCode, a documentary born out of a survey of black women in tech.
      • Crowdfunding that leads to more than money as in the case of the documentary Gaucho del Norte, a film about a sheepherder who moves from Chile to Idaho to support his family. 

      Next up: A story on Vimeo’s effort to support crowdfunded documentaries.

      Go here to see similar interviews with other Through the Cracks staff.

      Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

      Proudman: I don’t remember specifically, but it had to be something my wife said. She comes out of left field with comments that just crack me up.

      Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

      Proudman: I work as the multimedia specialist at UC Davis, shooting video of research that happens on campus. It’s a job that takes me all over California, and allows me to cover topics such as climate change and autism, along with events such as oil spills and animal rescues.

      Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

      Proudman: I was part of journalism at a young age, experiencing the industry right before things started to dramatically change – and it still hasn’t settled. Crowdfunding is playing an interesting and growing role in journalism and my natural curiosity has me fascinated with the idea of crowdfunding as a tool in furthering the industry. 

      Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

      Proudman: I’m a storyteller in everything I do, and found a natural home in journalism.

      Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

      Proudman: Through the Cracks is investigating an area that hasn’t been looked at in-depth before and it’s exciting to be part of that effort.

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      At one point a few months back I figured we could use some help with editing and keeping our vision in line so I asked Jenna Loceff to join us and act as editorial vision director.

      Jenna and I have known each other since college (a startup that looks back to smart, reliable people you knew in college? How predictable!) and it makes me sleep a little easier at night to know she’s a part of what we’re doing here.

      She’s playful and sometimes silly (her daily doodles are plenty evidence of that).

      Today in History #todayinhistory

      A photo posted by jenna loceff (@miettestarr) on

       

      Today in history

      A photo posted by jenna loceff (@miettestarr) on

       

      Today in history #todayinhistory

      A photo posted by jenna loceff (@miettestarr) on

      She’s also pretty damned smart, and she’s got a deep interest in crowdfunding’s ability to bring stories to life, and she’s dead serious about quality journalism that impacts people’s lives.

      When Jenna isn’t lending us a hand, she’s a board member of the Santa Rosa Junior College Journalism Advisory Committee and senior reporter at The Deal.

      This is one of about a dozen interviews done with Through the Cracks staff. To see them all, click here.

      Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

      Loceff: Watching Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon perform History of Rap.

      Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

      Loceff: I’m working on some short stories. Fiction is scary.

      Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

      Loceff: I am pretty excited about how many people are successfully using crowdfunding to fund their projects.

      Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

      Loceff: There is so much nonsense being disseminated to the masses. I’m trying to help level it out.

      Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

      Loceff: I believe in what Through the Cracks is doing. Plus the people are talented and awesome and it is rare to work with such great people.

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      Ekaterina Basilaia joined Through the Cracks earlier this year just as we started to grow and I’m so glad she’s a part of this venture to follow crowdfunding in journalism around the world.

      She is responsible for some of the most interesting stories we’ve ever published, like Russia Insider’s campaign (Crowdfunding propaganda?), brought to light the role of propaganda in a series of Russian crowdfunding campaigns.

      Then there was her fun story about Charlie, a year-old Belgian news startup who chose to crowdfund their online magazine for reasons that go beyond money.

       

       To give our readers a better idea of who we are and why a group of journalists from around the world came together to explore this phenomenon, we’ve shared quick interviews with five simple questions.

      Here is Ekaterina’s take.

      Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist?

      Basilaia: I’m a journalist because I believe that there is always something to share with people and to help them understand the world. News helps me to jump into different worlds and feel cultures and there are still so many more worlds left to jump into. These cravings are compelling and it’s difficult to ignore them.

      Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

      Basilaia: I decided to join Through the Cracks after I saw that it does its best to fill a gap in covering the events and actions that fall behind the interests of mainstream media.

      Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

      Basilaia: The last time I laughed until I cried was a few months ago in Lisbon on holiday with friends. We saw a man pretending to be a statue spring to life and punch a man in the street who attempted to sit on his feet. The man was creeped out and his funny face made us laugh out loud.

      Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

      Basilaia: Parallel to freelancing for Through the Cracks I’m working on my Ph.D dissertation about media.

      Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

      Basilaia: It’s a unique possibility to offer the readers the voices of alternative journalists. I work primarily on the issues that concern journalism in Eastern European and Russian media. Considering political peculiarities in the region it’s amazing to see how fast crowdfunding is gaining its foothold and how successfully journalists are able to use different crowdfunding platforms to free themselves from undesirable influences.

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      Sandra Proudman
      Sandra Proudman

      So far we’ve spoken to photographers Kevin Hume and Alexandra Meleán as well as editors Khari Johnson and Carlos Moreno.

      Now we’ve got five questions for Sandra Proudman.

      She’s a photographer who writes about photography and Latin America for Through the Cracks. She likes a good story, and she has written a few.

      She wrote a story about Aline Smithson, who dressed her aging mom up like Elvis and other characters for more than two years.

      More recently she wrote about a Berlin street photographer who crowdfunded his court battle to fight a law that calls pictures taken in public without permission an invasion of privacy. Visit her author bio page here.

      Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

      Proudman: An unyielding passion for storytelling. Stories are really what connects us to one another, whether they be shared visually or through writing, there’s tremendous power in sharing stories.

      Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

      I liked the idea of contributing writing to a great startup and at the same time supporting the endeavor of one of my good college friends, Carlos Moreno. It was a win-win situation and an invitation to be part of an awesome startup.

      Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

      Proudman: For Through the Cracks, I am working on a really great story about a photographer that is traveling around the world to take portraits of women. Outside of Through the Cracks, I have a full time job working for another great startup, CostTree, which provides cloud-based cost allocation planning for nonprofits and local governments. I also juggle a plethora of side projects, which include working on a novel and on a landscape collection of photographs from state and national parks.

      Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

      Proudman: What’s captured my insterest the most is the wide range of projects people are working on, each unique and full of storytelling.

      Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

      Proudman: When my mom, my sister and I get together there are some really magical moments where one of us says something so funny we’ll all laugh until there’s tears coming out of our eyes. Last time we had one of those days was New Years Day.

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        Khari Johnson. Photo by Jaryl Cabuco.
        When I officially started working at Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism last October, I was very excited to get my hands dirty. I was also a little uneasy about entering somewhat unfamiliar waters. Even though I have launched a project on Kickstarter, crowdfunding was still a relatively new thing for me.

        Khari gave me a chance to look deeper into this new way to make storytelling possible and together we’ve searched for and found stories that we can share daily, stories with good ideas that media companies big and small can emulate.

        I’ve known Khari for more than four years and have found him to be not just a talented reporter and photographer but a diligent leader who really cares, not just about crowd journalism but about diversity too. He cares who covers the news and how to get those projects noticed. Plus he’s not such a bad guy from what I can tell (If your mom says she loves you, check it out!).

        So to continue our series of interviews with Through the Cracks staff, here’s his answer to five questions that can tell you a little more about who he is and why this website exists.

        Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

        Johnson: I’ve been binge listening to the podcast “Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period” and a while back they were talking about how Samuel L. Jackson refuses to run in movies, even though he’s a part of the Marvel Avengers series. That made me laugh for a good while but on another episode they were talking to an actor who worked with him on a play in the 1970s and he said Sam. L spent a lot of time in the dressing room watching TV and yelling at contestants on Family Feud.

        So now I’ve got this visual of a man who refuses to run in an action movie today and who spent part of the 1970s yelling at game show contestants. Toss in a visual from the back of my mind of his character in the movie “School Daze” (my little sister loves that movie) and this was all more than I could handle.

        Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

        Johnson: Mostly Through the Cracks. In my free time I look for work as a copywriter or freelance photographer and work on my Finnish.

        Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

        Johnson: The six or seven-figure campaigns always come as sort of a shock. I’m used to the idea now but when you see a documentary put in the effort then make $100,000, I can see why people sometimes place a lot of confidence in crowdfunding.

        The most surprising thing for me is that you don’t need decades of experience or a million followers to have a successful campaign.

        A great idea can travel fast, gain momentum and produce the seed money a storyteller needs to give an idea life. The idea that a reporter can identify a need, present a plan to the crowd and then have the seed money to explore and fill that need still blows me away. 

        I’ve only seen a handful of business ventures in or outside journalism sustain themselves with reward-based crowdfunding alone.

        Sometimes it’s part of a larger revenue model, but the idea that a new or nonexistent news outlet can get funding without the need to rely on a bank or venture capitalists seems unimaginable. It feels brand new and it’s just going to continue to grow and be considered a viable option.

        Get a clear view and understanding of this possibility and it will change the way you think about journalism.

        Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

        Johnson: I got into journalism as a writer for my high school newspaper, The Foothill Echoes. I was the opinions editor but I think my first article was an interview with the head of the school English department. I wanted to know why students were required to read the work of a less than diverse group of authors in order to graduate. I was taken aback by the fact that my questions were taken seriously; that reporting can provide useful information, start a conversation or lead to change.

        I’ve been asking questions ever since – about sports that aren’t always considered sports (Cardboard Tube Fighting League, Lingerie Football League, International Pillow Fight Day, etc.), about small businesses, crime, City Hall, local government and environmental issues, about national policies and politics, etc. You can see some of my work as a reporter and photographer at kjohnsonmedia.com.

        As soon as I entered journalism the decline began so I’ve spent much of my professional life thinking about ways to provide communities sustainable sources of news.

        My general interest in crowdsourcing started a few years ago.

        Before creating this website, I worked with a team of freelancers and the crowd to build a news startup in Imperial Beach, Calif. It’s a city of less than 30,000 people that hadn’t received consistent coverage in decades and to my knowledge had never received daily coverage. It was one of the most educational and rewarding experiences of my life and I think collectively we were able to make an impact.

        Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

        Johnson: Ha well I created this website, so… I started Through the Cracks for a few reasons that have evolved over time. 

        For starters, I was frustrated because the only stories I could find about successful crowdfunding campaigns by media entrepreneurs were focused on the rare campaigns that raise $50,000 or more.

        Those campaigns are incredibly important, especially when they supply the money necessary to stand up a news startup but money raised does not reflect the total value of a crowdfunding campaign in journalism.

        Crowdfunding is a form of marketing, a way to deepen relationships with readers, increase engagement, fund experiments, etc. There are so many unique ways to incorporate crowdfunding that weren’t utilized or understood until just recently.

        When you take a look at the way campaigns, big and small, are carried out and the sort of things they pay for you find innovation and interesting new approaches to make reporting and storytelling possible.

        I was also concerned by the number of professional journalism organizations that have no training or guidance for journalists, photographers and documentary filmmakers.

        This despite the fact that journalists aren’t trained to market but are encouraged to become entrepreneurs. We’re trained to characterize marketing as the dark side.

        If journalism campaigns have underperformed in the past it may be due to the fact that asking for money and marketing are taboos or unnatural for journalists.

        I think it’s asking a bit much to expect journalists to just dive in so we share these stories to inspire good ideas and reveal the challenges and benefits other storytellers, photographers, documentary makers etc. have encountered.

        Another reason I made this website is to spread ideas that may benefit communities that lack coverage today, whether they’re a local community or a specific niche.

        There are entire communities around America and the world who are typically overlooked or were deemed unworthy of consistent coverage by previous media business models. The applications of crowdfunding in journalism seem narrow to me right now. I’m anxious to see this spread.

        Should media entrepreneurs or a community decide they want to build something then crowdfunding may act as a good gauge of public interest.

        Sometimes people in new media talk about crowdfunding as a way to fund an alternative to traditional media. I think in some cases crowdfunding can give people options where few or no options exist today. Crowdfunding may be part of a solution to ensure people have the information they need to make good decisions, to be good neighbors and to be active citizens.

        Finally, among some reporters who cover the media there has been this fixation on BuzzFeed, New York Times, Vice and Vox, both in regular coverage and talk of the future of journalism.

        If innovation happens at the edges then BuzzFeed, Vox and the like may be at one end of the news startup spectrum but some of the news startups brought to life by crowdfunding may be on the other end. 

        This site was created cognizant of the fact that roughly 40 percent of all online journalists in America work for websites where the staff is young, the news organization is young and the average number of employees is three or less.

        I’ve read about all I can about the inner workings of these other news outlets. A funding model that may help supply communities with the info they need though? That’s really exciting.

        It’s also worth remembering that BuzzFeed began as an experiment and crowdfunding has been called a research and development lab for journalism.

        Crowdfunding gives us insights into crowdfunded news startups, most of which are less than a year old. That’s unique and to my knowledge cannot be found anywhere else.

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        Shortly after I started Through the Cracks last August, Carlos Moreno was one of the first people I called. We’ve worked together on something or another for years now, critiquing each other’s work and offering solutions.

        We both have a consistent, deep passion for the future of journalism and telling stories. That’s why we’ve built much of Through the Cracks together.

        Next in our series of quick interviews with Through the Cracks staff is Carlos

        He’s a big part of everything we do at Through the Cracks. He’s also a photojournalist, a photo teacher, fashion photographer and so far as I can tell a decent human being.

        Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

        Moreno: I’m a photographer because I believe photography can be a bridge that helps a community of people, like-minded or not, understand other cultures and topics.

        Most importantly, photography is a visual language, and I love that language.

        Well done photography can change minds, and if you’re lucky, as a photographer, maybe even open minds and hearts to other possibilities.

        Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

        Moreno: I decided to join Through the Cracks because like our editor [Khari Johnson] I feel that journalism in all its forms needs to be represented in a bigger way. Through the Cracks does that. It showcases projects that few, if any organizations, cover on a daily basis.

        In that way Through the Cracks is special, and once Khari asked me to join I couldn’t refuse. I’m sure we’re filling a void and hope it keeps growing with time.

        Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

        Moreno: When I’m not working as the Latin America/Photo Editor at Through the Cracks I’m freelancing and finding new clients in the California-Baja California area. I also teach private photography classes and shoot fashion work as a staff photographer for Designer Studio Inc.

        I have been lucky these last few years to live near the San Diego-Tijuana border. I’ve had the chance to learn about the culture, travel the region and shoot for local and national papers interested in the U.S.-Mexico border and Latin America.

        As I get more familiar with the Tijuana border I would love to start a project that documents the trans-international art scene that is changing lives on both sides of the border, but at this point it’s just an idea. More to come!

        Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

        Moreno: What has surprised me so far about crowdfunding journalism is how niche oriented it is right now, not just here in the United States but all over the world.

        It’s exciting to see Latin America finally have their journalists’ work seen without dependance on government support. Fascinating new ventures I’ve written about like Animal Politico in Mexico and La Silla Vacia in Colombia demonstrate this point.

        They have really developed an international brand and shown the world that there is a larger voice out there ready to be heard and it’s amplified by well informed local journalists who work hard to engage their audience.

        Crowdfunding is only in its infancy. I believe when the journalism community begins to feel comfortable about it and develop a better sense of how to work with the crowd, it can explode and create a renaissance of underreported stories. That’s revolutionary, interesting and amazing.

        Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

        Moreno: The last time I laughed until I cried was at a karaoke party in Tijuana where the group I was with all got up to dance and join me in singing the Bee Gees’ 1977 classic “Stayin’ Alive.”

        Yes, with the voice and everything, haha. It was ridiculous. We had the entire bar dancing. I probably wouldn’t have gone all out if it wasn’t for my friends.

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        alexandra-melean

        Through the Cracks got started six months ago with one reporter and a Tumblr blog.

        Today we have about a dozen people working to bring you original stories of innovation, reporting and storytelling made possible by crowdfunding.

        Given our quick growth, we think you should know a little more about the people who are cranking out these stories, so in the coming weeks we’ll share stories about each of our contributors and editors.

        Nothing fancy, just five questions, but we hope it gives you a better idea who is building Through the Cracks.

        Through the Cracks: Why are you a journalist or photographer or generally awesome person?

        Meleán: I blame a combination of character flaws like recklessness, passion and a burning curiosity to know and see everything. Oh, and of course, wanderlust. 

        Through the Cracks: When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

        Meleán: I laughed until I cried last week, but I can’t remember the exact reason why. =/ 

        alexandra-meleán-photography-1

        Through the Cracks: What are you working on right now?

        Meleán: I’m in the process of writing a story on alternative education for Bolivian Express. At the same time, I’m part of a small team designing a map of entrepreneurial ventures located in the rural wine country of Southern Bolivia to promote tourism for territorial development. I’m also in the process of editing 60+GB of footage and photos from my trips to Valle de los Cintis and the Uyuni salt flats this month.

        Through the Cracks: Why did you decide to become a contributor to Through the Cracks?

        Meleán: Why not?

        Through the Cracks: What has surprised you about or captured your interest in crowdfunding journalism?

        Meleán: Everything. There is a world of possibilities for creatives and storytellers in crowdfunding journalism. I’m particularly interested in Nat Geo photographer Matthieu Paley’s book crowdfunding campaign, “Men&Food” – story coming soon for TC!

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