Archive for March, 2012

You Pay, We Direct – Funding Independent Films

BY BRANDON DOYLE

In the Internet age virtually anything is possible.  But filmmaker Robert Greenwald and business partner Jim Gilliam have found a new way to fund their independent film projects.  In early 2006, Gilliam approached Greenwald with an idea.  After struggling to meet the budget for Greenwald’s newest film, “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers,” Gilliam wanted to ask Greenwald’s Internet followers for money.

The idea to simply ask for donations on the Internet was unheard of, and was an idea Greenwald never projected would be successful.  “I thought he was crazy,” said Greenwald about Gilliam’s idea. “I thought this would never work.”  But after requesting donations on the Internet, Greenwald and Gilliam had exceeded their goal of $200 thousand in just 10 days.

Gilliam and Greenwald were able to fundraise successfully because they had previously established a loyal following.  An overlying theme of independent media, as I blogged before, is “itch the niche.”  Independent media pioneers need to find their target audience, establish a connection with them, and exploit them (a positive exploitation to help produce more content).  It was because of this pre-established audience that Greenwald and Gilliam were able to meet budget requests by simply requesting donations from.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times.  Itch the niche.

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Arianna Huffington: Journalistic Sellout, or Entrepreneur?

BY BRANDON DOYLE

As John Tozzi would say, Arianna Huffington is bringing in the big bucks.  In February of 2011, Huffington announced she would be selling her website, the Huffington Post, to internet mogul America Online.  In a 2007 article written by Paul Harris for The Guardian, many journalists are slamming Huffington with negative feedback, claiming she is a political sellout that made $315 million at bloggers’ expense.

Initially, content found on the Huffington Post’s website were contributing articles from bloggers around the world.  The bloggers contributed to Huffington Post for no pay.  Instead, Huffington offered contributing bloggers exposure and recognition in exchange for financial compensation.  “Arianna not only sold her soul as well as her ship of slaves, but sowed the seeds of her demise with this act of greed and exploitation,” wrote RB Stuart, a former contributing blogger who estimated her writing for the Huffington Post to be worth approximately $25,000.

But amidst all the negative feedback, we must take a step back and look at Huffington as an entrepreneur.  Like so many bloggers today, Huffington started her website for the same reasons as many others: to report news and make money.  So why are bloggers mad?  Huffington executed that business model perfectly.  As far as bloggers claiming Huffington took advantage of her lack of pay for articles, contributing bloggers agreed to Huffington’s terms and continued to submit articles.  If they were so mad they did not receive payment for their articles after Huffington’s sale to AOL, then in my opinion, they should have been fighting to be payed before the sale.

Bloggers need to follow the business model of a crack dealer: give them a little for free, addict them, then charge for their product.  If their writing and viewpoints are strong enough, the author’s audience and publishers will want more, and then bloggers should charge for content.  In the case of the Huffington Post, bloggers were naive.  I guess they (we) have learned our lesson.

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Entrepreneurial Bloggers Cashing In

BY BRANDON DOYLE

In a 2007 article, John Tozzi of Business Week writes about Bloggers Bringing in the Big Bucks and presents case studies of bloggers striking it big.  The article begins with an anecdote of Eric Nakagawa, a software developer from Hawaii.  Nakagawa first posted a funny picture of an overweight cat on his website with the caption, “I can has cheezburger?”  in January of 2007.  More images with funny captions began to surface, and the phenomenon began.

Nakagawa began a blog, posting pictures of cats with more funny captions.  The blog I Can Has Cheezburger soon grew in size.  By May of 2007, Nakagawa’s blog had reached 1.5 million hits.  Tozzi calls the quick rise of Nakagawa and I Can Has Cheezburger as an “accidental entrepreneur.”

It is this phenomena of accidental entrepreneurship that has allowed for many unknown bloggers to create a living off blogging.  The world, and the United States in particular, loves a story of entrepreneurial rise.  From rags to riches, from nothing to something and from something to someone.  It is this belief that gives bloggers the hope and ambition to continue their work and grow their readership.  Whether it be accidental or through hard work, there is an entrepreneurial drive in every blogger.  So why not give blogging a chance?  It couldn’t hurt…

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Itch the Niche

BY BRANDON DOYLE

Josh Marshall’s keynote speech delivered at Ithaca College in 2008 provides many excellent points about blogging, as well as raises some questions.  In his lecture, Marshall talks about his rise from blogging to the growth of Talking Points Memo to the importance of independent media.

Marshall first began blogging full time for four or five years, but made the switch to freelance journalism after a series of political events occurring in early 2000’s.  One point made in his speech was the emphasis of active readership.  In 2005, Marshall held a fundraiser asking for donations from his readers to start a new website to express his political ideology and thoughts.  Marshall talked about the fundraiser exceeding well beyond his expectations.  “We raised a little more than $100,000. This isn’t in contributions of $5,000; this is people sending in  $10, $25, maybe $50–the occasional $100 and $250. But certainly 90-95 percent was $50 and under. That basically gave me the money to build the site, rent an office and hire two reporters for a year,” said Marshall.

This emphasizes what I believe to be one of the most crucial aspects of blogging and running an independent media outlet.  Through an established readership, Marshall was able to raise enough funds to build and run his website, TPM, for an entire year.  This included the addition of two reporters.  In the digital age that is today it is much easier to attract readership and build a base of followers.  I believe that if influential enough, anyone blogging about any subject can successfully establish a blog or website and be successful.

If there is one thing aspiring bloggers should take away from Marshall’s speech, it is that you should find a niche market and exploit it.  Itch the niche, and never let it disappear.

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Tenants Find Moving Hard as Building is Sold

By Megan Goldschmidt and Brandon Doyle

Mar. 26, 2012

The Women’s Community Building will meet it’s fate with a wrecking ball this May, and the employees of 2-1-1 Tompkins, one of the 13 non-profit tenants of the building, hope their phone lines don’t get knocked out as well. 

The Women's Community Building will be knocked down on May 16, 2012.

“We’re hoping that we won’t have any down time, the technical details of how that’s going to happen have yet to be figured out,” said Edward Swayze, Program Director at 2-1-1.

The program, who’s resided in the Women’s Community building since 1998, is a telephone information service that connects people in need in Tompkins County with services designed to address that problem. They are being forced to move as the building changes hands.

“When we knew we were going to have to move away from here, we thought, well where are we going to find somewhere so centrally located, and it hasn’t been particularly easy to find space that we could afford and people could still get to us easily,” Swayze said.

Fran Spadafora Manzella, Call Center Manager at 2-1-1, said it’s not just a center that answers calls, but people actually know where 2-1-1 is and come in with questions.
“The building means a lot to people and the local organizations that use that auditorium; it will be missed.”

Janis Graham, President of HEARTS’ CRY, a non-profit that provides financial help to impoverished families in Mattampally, India, knows firsthand that its hard to find space.
“HEARTS’ CRY is a little not for profit that sends children to school in India. We don’t want to spend money on office space,” said Graham.

Graham, also President of the Board of Directors of City Federation of Women’s Organization, said the CFWO, who owns the building, became a landlord to the non-profits, which wasn’t the initial mission of the organization, and money to fund the budget just wasn’t available anymore. When it was clear they had to sell, Graham took the offer exclusively to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, a 35-year-old non-profit organization.

The building was a women’s dormitory in the 60’s, and Jody Vander Yacht, Director of Community Relations at INHS thinks there is a certain synchronicity that Breckenridge Place, a 50-unit low-income housing apartment building, will replace the Women’s Community building.

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How to Drive a Car

By Brandon Doyle & Megan Goldschmidt

 

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Death Row Exonoree Sees Racial Bias

BY BRANDON DOYLE & SYDNEY NORMIL

MARCH 5, 2012

They read him his rights before stripping him of them.

Anthony with his lawyer after being released.

“They say forgive them for they know not what they do. I’ve forgiven them and I’ve moved on, but I do think they knew what they were doing,” said Anthony Graves, the 138th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. since 2010. “I was just a young black man caught up in a racist white criminal justice system. Race is a major factor in why I lost my freedom,” he added.

[Click here to view an audio slideshow of Anthony Graves.]

On August 22, 1992, in Brenham Texas, Graves was taken into custody for a crime committed in an adjacent town Somerville. Graves was the suspected accomplice for the murders of two adults, and 4 children in a home that was set on fire following the killings. In 1994 he was found guilty of capital murder.

There are thirty-four states with the death penalty and the Death Penalty Information Center reports that 1,283 people have been executed in the U.S. since 1977. To this date, out of the 140 people exonerated from death row, 77 of them were black. For the past four years John Mills, president of the Law Office of John R. Mills in North Carolina, has conducted the appeals of death row inmates like Graves.

“The death penalty is brutalizing to those subject to it… and is corrosive to our society. I suspect that it won’t be abolished in our country in my lifetime, but I think states are beginning to question whether or not [the death penalty] is a sound decision,” said Mills.

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act was the first law passed by a state that aims to eliminate racial bias regarding the death penalty. The law that was passed in 2009 allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if racial bias can be proved in their initial sentencing or jury selection.

Graves spent 12 years on death row and a total of 18 years incarcerated for a crime that did not provide any physical evidence that proved his involvement.

“There’s an 18 year void in my life when it comes to my children, my mother, and the rest of my family. You can never give me that back,” said Graves.

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