Planet Money launches Kickstarter campaign for T-shirt reporting project

By Andrew Lapin

NPR has launched, and already met the goal for, a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign backing a special investigative project by Planet Money, its reporting unit that produces multi-platform economics coverage.

Our t-shirt will have a cool little code on it that you can scan with your smartphone. It’ll bring you to an interactive page where you can see photos of the people who made your shirt and follow its journey around the globe.

The T-shirts contain a smartphone scan code that opens an interactive page with photographs of the people who created and distributed the  shirt. (Photo: Planet Money)

The campaign, which went live April 30, set a goal of $50,000 for a reporting series that tracks production and distribution of T-shirts. A portion of the proceeds will also fund news training for station-based reporters. The program reached its goal on May 1, one day after launching the campaign. There are 13 days remaining in the campaign.

Backers contributing on Kickstarter will place orders for the shirts, and Planet Money’s reporters will report through each stage of production and distribution  — from farms overseas that grow the cotton to factories that manufacture the shirts, and to cargo ships that deliver the shirts to the U.S. The series was inspired by Pietra Rivoli’s book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.

The campaign, NPR’s  first venture into crowdfunding, is unusual in two ways: It will run for two weeks, instead of the 30-day average for Kickstarter projects, and it offers only one contribution tier to backers – ordering the T-shirt, which costs $25.

“It didn’t seem like it was a project that needed a lot of time to catch on,” Planet Money Contributing Editor Alex Blumberg told Current, adding that the team saw crowdfunding as “a way of bringing people along on the journalism.” If the campaign fails to meet its goal, the project will not go forward, Blumberg said.

Planet Money has partnered with clothing company Jockey to produce the shirts. Jockey will likely direct reporters to its factories in Colombia and Bangladesh as they follow the shirts’ journey, Blumberg said. He compared the investigation to Planet Money’s 2010 series following the repercussions of the mortgage crisis, when the Planet Money team bought a toxic asset and followed its movement through the financial system.

In a memo to stations April 30, NPR said Planet Money will limit promotions of the Kickstarter campaign to its blog, podcasts and social media channels; it will not be mentioned during NPR news programs. The Planet Money blog is hosted on NPR.org.

Planet Money has been “very active in communicating all of this with the member stations,” Blumberg said, adding that he would welcome support and additional publicity for the project from stations.

The reporting and T-shirt production is budgeted at $41,000. Planet Money will put the remaining $9,000 and any excess funds toward a “news reporting boot camp” to bring station reporters to NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they will learn tricks of economics reporting from the Planet Money team, presuming the campaign hits its goal.

This article has been updated.
Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org
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