Kickstarter Is Funding Investigative Journalism (About a Failed Kickstarter)

The company has commissioned a journalist to investigate what went wrong with a drone that raised more than $3.5 million on the site.

Dec 8 2015, 10:28pm

Image: Zano

Kickstarter has commissioned tech journalist Mark Harris to investigate and report on one of the company's most high-profile failed campaigns to date: the Zano mini-drone, which raised over $3.5 million and was Europe's most funded project ever.

Last month, Ivan Reedman, the CEO developing Zano, abruptly resigned, citing "personal health issues and irreconcilable differences." The company had already been way behind in developing its product, and it appears as though the drone will never ship.

On Monday, a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School found that 9% of all Kickstarters could be deemed "failures." (Kickstarter invited Wharton to conduct the study, but did not fund the research.) For the purposes of the study, a campaign was termed a "failure" if backers never received their promised rewards.

Kickstarter is generally not legally liable in the event of these failures, but nevertheless the company seems interested in analyzing how and why these implosions happen. It's asked Harris to probe into what went wrong, asking him to examine what, if anything, Zano's creators could have done differently to keep the project from being a failure. As Harris wrote in a post to Medium:

"The company wants to help the backers of this failed project get the information they are entitled to under their agreement with the project creator. They would like to uncover the story of Zano, from its inception to the present, and decided that the best way to do that was to hire a journalist...I will also be looking into Kickstarter's role in the project, and whether it could have served Zano's creators or backers better throughout."

Harris says that Kickstarter will be able to read his piece before it's published, but says the company will not be allowed to make any changes to his story. He says he's been paid up front and that he has no personal connection to either Kickstarter or Zano (other than the fact that Kickstarter is now paying him). Kickstarter says that it's generally interested in learning more about why this massive project failed.

"It's okay for Kickstarter creators to take on big ideas and fail, but we expect transparency and honesty along the way," Kickstarter spokesperson David Gallagher wrote in an email to Motherboard. "[Harris'] work should also be helpful to our wider community, particularly hardware creators tackling ambitious projects. In general, we think transparency around the ups and downs of the creative process helps us all build a more creative world."

It sounds like the piece will sort through Zano's history more than Kickstarter itself, but it's notable that Kickstarter is initiating the probe, considering how tech startups are usually reluctant to disclose too much about their inner workings. In general, Kickstarter is interested in new models of funding—if Harris is allowed to remain truly independent, I guess the company can add journalism to its list of projects.