I’m a huge fan of both indie comics and indie journalism, so I was thrilled to see Pulitzer-nominated cartoonist Ted Rall start a Kickstarter project last month to fund his return to Afghanistan. I may not always agree with his politics, but I’ve found his long-form foreign reporting to be unique and thought-provoking.
He graciously agreed to an interview over Skype, which we posted late last week as the second episode of the Kickstarter Podcast. I thought it came out well, though I clearly still need to work on my audio mixing skillz (sounds better on headphones!) and perfecting my NPR voice.
You can stream and download the MP3.
Rall’s a controversial figure, especially reviled among political conservatives, even though he’s leveled some of his toughest criticisms at the Obama administration. While most attention’s focused on his syndicated cartoons, he’s also written six non-fiction books, half of those focused on his travels across the ‘Stans — Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In 2002, he published To Afghanistan and Back, a mix of written dispatches, cartoons, and a graphic novella documenting his experiences on the ground during the U.S. invasion after 9/11.
All of Ted Rall’s previous trips were funded by news organizations, but with budgets for foreign correspondents slashed, he’s turned to his fans to fund his return trip. We talk about the changing media landscape, his previous books, and what it’s like being a NYC cartoonist in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
The more things change…
“… Anyone who wants to can see a list of all the events you are planning on attending? It’s like a stalker’s delight.”
— Comment about Upcoming.org from September 23, 2003, six days after launch
“It’s bad enough we’re using real names and telling people where we’ve been. Now it’s like prepping someone for the best times to try robbing your apartment.”
— Comment from June 2005
Further back, from the Montreal Gazette, September 1983…
From 1977, don’t list your weddings or funerals in the paper, unless you want to get robbed…
While digging through some books, I stumbled on this DEN.net press packet from November 1999, six months before the notorious video startup’s collapse.
The packet’s a nice little time capsule of their dot-com excess, with promo materials, a breathless press release about their relaunch (“Youth Culture Network Creates Groundbreaking Content That Revolutionizes The Interactive Entertainment Experience”), and copies of articles from the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
They took the site down for three full days to launch their redesign, something you don’t see often these days. “DEN is here and we’re changing the face of entertainment for Gen Y audiences, bringing this age group an interactive experience unlike anything they’ve known,” said then-CEO, Jim Ritts. (He was ousted three months later after their IPO was shelved.)
For me, the highlight is an included copy of “The 4th Annual P.O.V. 100 Best Web Sites,” where they appeared at #4. Published by the short-lived P.O.V. magazine, which itself shuttered a month before DEN declared bankruptcy, it’s a nice artifact of the era.
All the usual suspects are there — Broadcast.com, hot off their $5.7B acquisition by Yahoo!, Third Voice, and Six Degrees, alongside webzines like Feed, Word, and Brunching Shuttlecocks and proto-blogs like Cardhouse, Obscure Store, and Jeffrey Zeldman Presents. Debuting on the list at #93, a new search engine named Google that “really works, scouring billions of links for junk-free matches — and it does so quickly.” #100 is Joshua Schachter’s Memepool, “an ever-expanding set of links from smart folks who exist only in cyberspace.”
Surprisingly, DEN.net is still online, an archive of some old videos and documents, with the intriguing tagline “We’re back…” But since it’s stayed exactly the same since August 2007, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a relaunch.