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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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67 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    If the choice is between crowdfunded reporting and reporting that advertisers like GE and Monsanto would be willing to support, crowdfunded reporting is probably better.

    If the choice is between crowdfunded reporting and reporting that is paid for by stuff like the classified section, preening m/billionaires who love bragging about their newspaper, and a large group of people who got the newspaper last year, get the newspaper this year, and will get the newspaper next year, the latter is definitely better.

    What’s the choice between?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      The choice seems to be from crowd funding and not existing.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Then the constant thought in the back of the reporters’ minds will be “I have to write this story in such a way that the same number of people (or even more of them) will crowdfund me next time.”

        The reporters who fail to keep this in mind will eventually write a story that will result in cranks cancelling their subscription and, hey, reporters gotta eat too. If they don’t eat for long enough, they’ll cease to write stories entirely.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Then the constant thought in the back of the reporters’ minds will be “I have to write this story in such a way that the same number of people (or even more of them) will crowdfund me next time.”

        Not sure how different this was from the previous models.

        The incentives for reporting have been perverse for a long while now.

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “Monopoly” is the wrong word, given the ostensible competition between the Big Three networks at the time (along with most middle-sized cities having two newspapers) but there was something like an oligopoly that made these players the only game in town.

        Being the only game in town allowed them to extract rents from advertisers that just doesn’t work post-internet and those rents became the tentpole that also covered interesting stories that Mencken or Murrow could be proud of.

        I have some theories about how the ideology behind bringing the news changed… but I have to chew on it.

        But there was a tipping point when the news went from “telling people what happened and only accidentally framing it with the ideology of the reporter” to “framing it with the ideology of the reporter and only accidentally telling people what happened” at some point.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Don’t forget Jay, that the professionalization of the news business was mostly a mid-20th century phenomenon. The Press from the time of the Revolution to that point was usually partisan, often sensational, and frequently skirted the boundaries of libel.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        But there was a tipping point when the news went from “telling people what happened and only accidentally framing it with the ideology of the reporter” to “framing it with the ideology of the reporter and only accidentally telling people what happened” at some point.

        The 1790s.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Hrm. So maybe we’re just finally regressing to the mean?


        I hate it when things I like regress to the mean.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I hate it when things I like regress to the mean.

        Same here. I’d a lot rather be mean to the regression.
        But there’s no regression here, as other commenters noted. The bias has always been there from the very earliest days.
        The difference is that now we like to pretend that we’re not biased. This itself is a bias toward the non-biased.
        The answer is more along the lines of accepting that media is biased, recognizing and adjusting for it.

        As far as this particular instance goes, I think crowd-sourcing is a good thing (though I’m typically opposed to such things, i.e., mass panhandling). If it comes through, some hard investigative journalism will result, warts and all. Those hogs that feed at the trough will remember that one hog that got speared through the head, and be quick to high-tail it when they see the spears coming.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Perhaps related?


  3. Kim says:

    DailyKos does some amount of reporting, and you could call them crowdfunded. 538 did some decent “here’s what these states are” and “sending people around to report on ground game”.

    I know there are people willing to fund trolls, for god’s sake. Journalism should be easier.Report

  4. Mike Schilling says:

    Later, Harris used as a defense the claim that the children could communicate telepathically and that one was possessed by a demons

    Who had turned him into a newt. (But he got better.)Report

  5. aaron david says:

    In light of all the recent scandals that have turned out to not be scandals (thanks a lot Rolling Stone!) I will wait a week or two before even thinking about this.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to aaron david says:

      Naah, this is nothing like Benghazi. He wasn’t afraid to call those little girls “demons”.Report

    • Pick a state. Odds are that there’s a real scandal of some sort in their child welfare system, reported or otherwise. When I was a legislative budget analyst, I always made arrangements to visit different parts of the state government during the inter-session period, so that the programs were more than just numbers. Child welfare visits were by far the most depressing*. Every budget analyst I knew who had had child welfare in their portfolio always recommended “Increase funding so the caseloads can come down to something reasonable, before more kids get killed.” Dying while in care is worst case, sure, but it happens, and way too often.

      * I didn’t ever have health care for kids with both development and physical disabilities, which was a separate budget area in my state, but I heard it was worse than child welfare.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

        At least you weren’t investigating summer camps!
        (of course, I’m pretty sure those heighten the caseload, so…)Report

      • This is where the voice of Sheila Tone in the back of my head says “Danger, Will Truman, danger!”

        My fear is that greater funding would do more to disrupt families getting by than to save lives.Report

      • YMMV, @will-truman , but mine was that breaking up families is what happens when the caseworkers are overwhelmed. They can’t match people to counseling, follow up with the counselors, make sure the child is actually getting medical or other care (it’s not enough to sign them up for CHP, someone’s got to take them to the doctor), just make the regular home visits that the law requires.

        So, yeah, I guess adding an inadequate number of caseworkers results in more families getting broken up. That’s not what staff was recommending.Report

      • I brought it up with Sheila, and she didn’t buy it. Her description of the current state of affairs (in LA, at least) leave me inclined to agree.

        I asked her to develop a guest post or series, but she’s pretty busy.Report

      • I’d love to read one or more of them.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    Crowd-funding and sourcing is just what a lot of places and people are doing because traditional modes of income, welfare, and credit-building are drying up.

    There are small businesses that crowd-fund because banks are no longer willing to give them credit, I’ve seen people crowd-fund their medical bills (which also has ethical issues according to a recent article in the Atlantic), bands are going to a crowd-funding model because the old method of releasing albums and people paying for them doesn’t pay. ProPublica and NPR use donations which is basically crowd-funding.

    I did a brief Google on the Arkansas Times. Wiki says they are a weekly alternative newspaper out of Little Rock. They also seem to be a lonely liberal voice in a conservative state. Like many other alt-weeklies, they seem to be free. The kind of paper picked up at coffeeshops. These alt weeklies used to be able to support themselves through advertisements. Many of which were basically thinly veiled ads for sex workers. This revenue is drying or dried up as sex workers and “massage parlors” go to advertise on-line.

    So they need to crowdfund and this includes giving pitches to readers.

    I get your concerns and I can see how this can become another way to troll the enemy but it can also lead to substantive reform and The Arkansas Times picked this as a target after the Harris Scandal, not before.

    Basically, the Internet is still wrecking havoc on funding and income sources but bills still need to be paid. What is your solution to this problem?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      FWIW I have a weekend subscription (the actual physical edition) of the NY TimesReport

    • I don’t think Tod’s concern is with crowdfunding per se, it’s with crowdfunding specific stories before doing any work to cover those stories and as a way of deciding which stories to cover. At least arguably, that prejudices how the story will be covered, but more importantly, if adopted as a widespread model for journalism, it could conceivably result in journalists ignoring potentially important stories because of insufficient crowdfunding as compared to less interesting topics that more easily go viral and in which the findings of the story are more easily predetermined (either because they’re obvious or because the crowdfunders want something that feeds their ideological biases better).

      I’m not sure how much I share Tod’s concern, but that’s his concern, not crowdfunding per se. My sense is that this type of crowdfunding would only ever make sense for smaller outlets, and even then only for occasional stories that are potential blockbusters that larger outlets are ignoring.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I get these criticisms and think they are very valid but we are still in an early stage or possibly going back to the way things always were.

        In this case, the story seems to be that AT found out what Harris did and then decided to investigate the adoption and child protection system which is perfectly valid and I have no problems with media saying “We want to investigate this because…..”

        On the other hand, I can see wincing about someone like Glenn Beck or James O’Keefe doing the same and it devolving into Gotcha….

        The stories getting ignored is also a concern but could that also be human nature. It seems like a lot of people just have a “Let’s keep it light and fluffy and not pay attention to the serious and depressing stuff” nature.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        light and fluffy versus serious and depressing doesn’t concern me NEARLY as much as Today versus Tomorrow.

        Try getting people to care about Vanuatu (where?) before it gets destroyed… Fixing things before they’re broken is a lot easier and cheaper (and more profitable).Report

  7. LeeEsq says:

    Saul has it right. Crowd funding is being used because the traditional means of raising revenue for newspapers or other businesses is disappearing. Given that everything needs money to run and investigative reporting is not cheap than you need to get your money from somehere. The other alternative is that all news basically becomes an opinion piece rather than actual reporting or disappears altogether.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      We’ll return to yellow journalism. There’s enough room in partisan outrage to allow for advertising. Hell, even better, companies can protect themselves from being boycotted by advertising with both sides.

      And few people will notice that there just aren’t that many investigative stories about the advertisers.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        Even if we return to yellow journalism, advertisers do not need newspapers anymore. They have better ways of reaching potential customers in their opinion. The great metropolitan dailies were built on advertisements and confidentials. That and the fact that reading newspapers was a source of entertainment from about 1890 to the 1950s. Even if people didn’t want to necessarily stay informed, they read papers for lurid stories of crime, graft, and sex. The dividing line between yellow jouranlism and investigative journalism was blurry to. Hearst and Pulitzer offered both in their newspapers.Report

      • North in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah that’s basically what I see happening; Jaybird is probably correct. We’re going to see the downfall of the big “nonpartisan” institutions. Only the partisan rags will endure. Then in between there’ll be the internet. I have no idea what will arise out of that ocean of undistilled chaos which is a pity because if I could anticipate it I could make myself a billionaire.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Asian Band pics
        Dick pics
        And a whole hell of a lot of sparklies
        courtesy of
        and the obligatory catpics, and a small smattering of porn.

        Randomly sampling the internet is fun, sometimes.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s kinda funny, in a dark way, how often advertising is pointed to as a shibboleth of everything wrong with American culture – the empty consumerism/materialism, manufactured wants, false consciousnesses, etc., etc. Even for those who consider advertising no particular moral issue, ads are still annoying disturbances to be avoided or skipped whenever possible. Ban billboard blight! Get a TiVo and skip the commercials!

        Turns out, advertising was the only thing keeping the whole democratic project going.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        yet somehow nobody minds whisper campaigns.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Psssst… [Looks around furtively]… [In a low whisper] A little birdie told me that Glyph minds whisper campaigns. You don’t hear that from me, though.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        We’re going to see the downfall of the big “nonpartisan” institutions. Only the partisan rags will endure.

        It’s more that I see the “nonpartisan” institutions will evolve.

        My intuition is that they won’t evolve 50/50 and we’ll see a number of them fall by the wayside due to overlap.

        Additional theory: we’ll see conservative local media and liberal national media. The local media will be tailored for each local region (as it should be) and the liberal national media will be homogenized.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        There will be a handful of exceptions to local conservative, of course. We can probably name them together, if we try. The disagreements will be in the order we name them but not in 8 or 9 of the 10 of the items on the list.Report

      • j r in reply to Jaybird says:

        This goes beyond advertising. It’s no big secret that much of the conservative echo chamber is concerned with whipping the base into a frenzy of fear and then either trying to sell them products aimed directly at that fear or hitting them up for political donations. Lots of progressive organizations similarly use some form of scary right wing news to lead their email donation pitches. And then you have something like Change[dot]org, which is essentially a big direct mail list business disguised as a social justice organization.

        Politicians and their cronies used to have to bilk the public the old fashioned way, through taxes, now they are innovating new ways of parting citizens from their dollars.

        Crowd-source reporting comes across as the least evil and foolish of all these new models.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        yup. for extra fun, sign up for both sides!
        what? give money? nahhh… giving money is for fools and people who need better credit ratings.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        “… now they are innovating new ways of parting citizens from their dollars.”

        Like trumped up fines and civil asset forfeiture.

        I’ll have more on this later.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


        Out of curiosity, why do you think local media will be conservative but national media will be liberal?

        Why don’t you think liberals will do local media?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Why don’t you think liberals will do local media?

        I think that there will be about 10ish local medias that will be liberal. I believe that you live in the city that is either first or fourth on any list that we here would come up with for liberal cities.

        But those cities will be the exceptions to local media (and be seen as a stepping stone to the national one).

        Why do I think it’ll be like this? Because of the big sort.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Kim has it depressingly light. A lot of real substantive news is not going to be covered in favor of less substantive news that draws the clicks. This has always been true to an extent but the ration between substantive news and non-substantive news is changing for the worse.

      Glyph, newspapers never sold enough copy to get their budget by subsrciption alone even when nearly everybody read a paper. The golden age of the metropolitan daily required a combination of urbanization and consumerism. Newspapers were the perfect medium for merchants and other service providers to reach potential customers before radio and television became widespread. Even after radio and television were common, newspapers and magazines were still better ways to reach customers for special deals or services that could not air on radio or television because the business was local or some other reason.Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        A lot of real substantive news wasn’t being covered anyway.
        Now, some of it is facts on the ground obvious.
        And some of it will work better in humorous form (or choleric if you prefer).Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        We’ve had the discussion before; I still don’t think you’re getting the timing right. TV and TV news killed the PM paper, but the morning dailies peaked in the 80s & early 90s. (witness the birth of McPaper during that time.) The paradigm was daily paper at breakfast, radio news during AM & PM drivetime, then evening news either during dinner or after primetime. These media did not really compete head to head for audience share.

        National vs local had nothing to do with it (though cost did) – TV stations showed plenty of local commercials (as any fan of the Americans who grew up in the DC metro can attest). For that matter they still do – Johnny Casino ads are not played nationally.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

        “the morning dailies peaked in the 80s & early 90s.”

        Also worth noting is that the decline began before the internet was a factor. The mid-90s saw a round of consolidations in the industry. The talk was of greater efficiencies, what with the new conglomerate being able to buy newsprint in greater bulk than were the individual papers. This was followed by a series of personnel cuts. The thing is, the first round was wildly successful. The guys who were fired were the shlubs who had burned out decades previously, if they ever were productive, and had been riding ever since doing just enough to stay on the payroll. Every old, large organization had those guys. They could be sacrificed on the altar of cost cutting with no loss in quality of the product.

        The lesson the MBA class took from this is that personnel could be reduced endlessly. It is disheartening to go down to the library and read your local paper from, say, 1990. Those of us of a certain age will recall the Sunday-long reading of the paper. The modern version is bad, but at least there isn’t much of it.

        The upshot is that by the time we all got broadband around 2000 or so the writing was already on the wall. The paper we had been reading all along was starting to pretty much suck just as the internet was beginning to not suck, at least so far as download times went. I’m not claiming that the newspaper industry would be hale and hearty today had the 1990s gone differently, but taking the self-inflicted shot to the foot just before facing the disruption to the industry couldn’t have helped.

        I moved to Maryland around the time that establishment papers were noticeably in decline. I looked at the Baltimore Sun and could not for the life of me see any reason why I would want to subscribe. I take my local paper because it is pretty much the only hope for finding out what the county commissioners are up to. But this isn’t to say it doesn’t suck. I look at the front page every day, and instantly know whether anything newsworthy had happened. If it hadn’t, then the front page is about the doings down at the senior center or the like. About one day a week there is news I actually want to read. This is just barely enough for me to keep my subscription active, but I couldn’t really criticize anyone for not bothering.Report

  8. Mike Schilling says:

    By the way, he’s Justin, not Justine.Report

  9. Zane says:

    Lots of stuff to discuss in this post, but I’ll focus on the crowdfunded news angle.

    I wanted to see how the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (the state’s largest paper) had to say about the story. I can go to (the paper’s website) and read their current coverage. To go back to the earlier stories (the first published March 5, 2015), I either have to buy the story individually ($2.95 per story for what’s probably 200-500 words, sight unseen) or get an online subscription ($28.00 per month).

    I’m not crazy about the idea of crowdfunding reporting. I have to admit that were the other options of funding presented as novel and untried, I’d object to them for the same reasons. I’m not sure I see a good solution, and there’s probably no reason why crowdfunding is any worse than what we’ve already got. This is especially true if the crowdfunded reporting remains available to all rather than just paying customers.Report

  10. Patrick says:

    I’ll note that we already have a crowdfunded reporting mechanism that has been around for a long while.

    National Public Radio?Report

    • Zane in reply to Patrick says:

      Very true. Even the BBC would be an example of crowdfunding, just with a smaller proportion of voluntary contributions than NPR.

      But NPR doesn’t ask me to fund their coverage of the Keystone Pipeline specifically. They ask for funding to support their reporting and programming in general.Report

    • aaron david in reply to Patrick says:

      I was thinking the same thing, although when they (crowd)fund drive, they tell you of the stories they have already told, in anticipation of what they will tell you. They even have various methods for monthly donations (sustaining gift!)

      Which, if you think about it, really isn’t that far from a subscriptionReport

  11. trizzlor says:

    I don’t think there’s much difference between crowdfunding stories and the way newspapers already operate. It doesn’t take a fundraising campaign to know if Sarah Palin Watch is or is not going to be popular in your market. I’m certain news editors make plenty of story decisions based on how popular they expect the story to be so I doubt this will have much of an effect on *which* stories get written. The conflict of interest I see is that these funding campaigns have the implicit assumption of rewards. If a journalist decides to write an expose and then finds nothing, they know that they can walk away from it with relatively little sunk cost. On the other hand, if that story has already been heavily funded and the funders expect a big break, there’s much more pressure on the journalist to deliver.

    So what I would be weary of is crowdfunding with an implicit/explicit expectation of reward. A pitch that says “We want money so we can send a journalist to the national convention” is quite a bit different from one that says “We want money so we can break open this corruption scandal” in terms of what kind of pressure the journalist faces.Report