Sometime last year I heard about Spot.Us, an organization that lets readers invest in stories they’d like to see covered by local journalists; print and online media organizations can run the story for free. (There’s more to it than that, but check out the site for more info.) The project got off to a good start with my friend Alexis Madrigal’s multi-part story on ethanol infrastructure in California (read it here), and I wanted to get involved. So I gave its founder, Dave Cohn, a buzz. While I initially expressed interest in pitching a story about recycling/zero-waste/garbage/etc., I got more excited about being a fact-check editor for the project. Now, I’m about to dive into my first piece. Aaron Crowe and I have never met, but we’ve exchanged a few emails and played a losing game of phone tag. Tonight, I’m about to open up his first draft of a story on making solar power affordable for Bay Area homeowners. Here’s his pitch:
The Bay Area is often a leader on emerging technology, so why doesn’t every homeowner in the Bay Area have solar power? Why don’t we see solar panels everywhere? Since the gas crisis of the 1970s people have been saying that solar power will eventually get cheaper. Is that time coming? How much does it cost to get solar power installed on the typical house? How long does it take to pay for itself in cost savings from PG&E bills? If the cost is low, or the return quick, why aren’t solar companies doing more to promote it? Maybe the move is just around the corner with the next president pushing for more alternative power, but as one of the more forward thinking states in the union, California should be leading the way.
I’m excited to get started, but wanted to just tease the project a bit here first.
I love checking out the Pitch page on Spot.Us and seeing that people (funders? potential readers?) have left comments for Aaron (and me!) about what they’re thinking the story should be. One of the best parts of being a journalist for me is coming up with a topic I’m curious about and talking to everyone about it — friends, people I meet on the bus platform or at a bar, coworkers, and so on — to build out a better perspective on the topic. I love the idea that projects like Spot.Us could help improve journalism before it happens by broadening that conversation. Comment threads on articles point out blind spots when they’ve already been missed — this could help writers identify them before they happen.
Now, on to the work.