DIY film distribution? STAT tries a new revenue stream

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National site taking its award-winning documentary direct to its audience — for a price

Soon after he started work at the health/science site STAT, Alex Hogan began talking about his friends — the kids he played with on Little League or peewee hockey or goofed around with on the streets of Somerville, Massachusetts.

The thing was, nearly all of them were dead now. Of the same thing.

After yet another friend OD’d in late 2016, Hogan and STAT’s Matthew Orr returned to the neighborhood, looked up the living, talked with the relatives of the dead. They emerged in October with “Runnin’” — an amiably fearful 30-minute movie on how opioids take over a community.

Like “Heroin(e),” a searing Oscar-nominated film from Reveal and Netflix, “Runnin’” represents new ground for STAT, a national startup from the owner of The Boston Globe. After winning two regional short documentary awards and a National Headliner Award, “Runnin’” had two specialized sold-out showings around Boston.

On Wednesday night, the film is “premiering” at a sold-out New York venue. The next day, it will be “sold” at $9.99 a pop on the site.

“There has been a steady inquiry from folks who have been asking where they can find the film,” Orr told me. “We're at a point now where we want to make it available. Since we haven't been able to line up a distributor, we decided to do it ourselves.”

Rick Berke, STAT’s executive editor, calls it a grand experiment to find another way to support ambitious journalism.

“This is an important film, but it cost us tens of thousands of dollars to produce,” Berke said. “Our hope is that people will want to support this and future ambitious multimedia projects we are doing at STAT. Many people have emailed us saying, what can they do to support STAT beyond our subscription service, STAT Plus? This is one way.”

A quarter of the film’s proceeds will go to the Alex Foster Foundation, named after one of Hogan’s friends who died. The charity aims to help educate people who are touched by the opioid epidemic. A frame at the end of “Runnin’” puts the scope of the issue in perspective:

Screenshot

With his first-person narration and interviews, Hogan humbly, politely but persistently gets to the heart of the matter. The subjects bounce off touches of humor amid startling facts — stolen air conditioners from their homes, held-up pharmacies. Hogan has known these classmates, parents and siblings all his life; they know there is no evading the truth from a fellow Townie. It’s a worthy and accessible bookend to “Heroin(e),” which focuses on three women — a judge, a public safety official and a volunteer giving food and housing to at-risk people — doing their bit to save a West Virginia town from opioids.

One thing is clear: “Runnin’” — whether or not it gets the online payments, a distribution deal or more awards — is the type of journalism that 2018 journalism needs.

Quick hits

WHAT JOURNALISM CAN DO: New York City lied for years about conditions in public housing for 400,000 tenants. An investigation by the New York Daily News, begun in 2012, has led to the appointment of a federal monitor and the city’s agreement to pay $2 billion to fix the squalid conditions.

DOCUMENT MERGER: Document Cloud, a good idea long looking for sustainability, is merging with FOIA king Muck Rock, reports Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt.

BEE SUSTAINABLE: The Sacramento Bee would be fine if it could get 60,000 to subscribe to its digital work. Right now, it’s 15,000. Editor Lauren Gustus, acknowledging the California paper has not been transparent about its work, publicly laid out a plan to work smarter and more responsibly for its readers, even with fewer reporters. “We must,” Gustus says, “deliver a news product that 45,000 additional people are willing to pay for.”

SMEAR CAMPAIGN: That’s what’s what happened to Vox politics editor Laura McGann after she alleged sexual misconduct by The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush, McGann says. She also says the Times didn’t follow up on interviewees she suggested while the paper was doing its investigation of Thrush, who was suspended but not fired. Anna Merlan reports.

BACK: DCist, part of a chain of local news sites closed last year, began posting again on Monday, thanks to public radio station WAMU. Public radio stations in New York and Los Angeles in February bought and incorporated Gothamist and LAist.

DON’T BE THESE PEOPLE: A reporter and an editor talk about how they optimize celebrity deaths. Say a prayer if you don’t work at one of these click-o-meters, chasing lower- and lower-priced programmatic ads 2005-style, and can focus on serving readers in a way that respects and creates loyalty.

WHERE IS LAURENE POWELL JOBS GOING?: Education. Immigration. Sports. The Atlantic. Powell Jobs is doing something different with philanthropy, and The Washington Post’s David Montgomery tries to figure it out.

What we’re reading

TOO HORRIFIC TO RECOVER?: Two years ago today, these five were among the first responders on the scene of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Three have lost their jobs and all five have PTSD, ProPublica and WMFE report. “There are just some events that are so horrific that no human being should be able to just process that and put it away,” said Deborah Beidel, a University of Central Florida professor who runs a clinic that treats first responders with PTSD.

ICE CAME FOR THIS TOWN’S IMMIGRANTS. THE TOWN FOUGHT BACK: Morristown, Tennessee, is Davy Crockett’s boyhood home. The town is coming together after ICE arrested 97 workers and is threatening to deport them. That would take away a parent from 160 American-born kids in the town of 30,000. “It’s going to hurt their kids, our kids,” longtime resident Angela Smith tells the NYT’s Miriam Jordan.

NOTHING ABOUT EMAIL IS HEALTHY: The Atlantic’s Marina Koren on the most honest out-of-office message. Your morning columnist asks: Would you send this message if you could?

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