Swing state stories: Freelancer gives voice to the ‘backbone of our democracy’

These days, journalists looking to sink their teeth into a juicy assignment don’t wait for publishers to fund their pet projects. Instead, they’re turning to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where users fund creative projects that spark their interest.

One such project is Swing State Stories, a website where freelance journalist Chris Killian plans to document the political perspectives of Americans in swing states leading up the presidential election. The project surpassed its $2,500 funding goal on Kickstarter earlier this month.

Chris KillianIn anticipation of a heated campaign season, Ebyline recently chatted with Killian, whose work has appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette, The Michigan Messenger and on the WMUK Radio website, among other places. Below is an excerpt of that conversation, edited for clarity.

Why did you start Swing States Stories?

A lot of political coverage does a disservice to the country [by] not focusing on what the elections are really about, and that’s people. The more we can listen to each other, and consume stories about each other’s lives, the more connected we can be as a nation.

I didn’t see any media outlets really wanting to do a comprehensive look at where people are in the country, what their lives are like, what their ambitions are, and where they want the county to go. I decided to focus on the swing states. Those are the states in where the election will be decided.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

I hope to provide a platform for everyday Americans and freelance writers alike whose stories—about their lives, what they view as the appropriate role of government, and where they want to see the nation head—are routinely lost in the gaffe-driven haze that descends on the U.S. during the last few months of an election year. Everyone has a story to tell, a belief that they want to communicate. I view this project as trying to give those voices a place to be heard.

What states will you be visiting?

Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

What equipment will you use on your reporting trip?

I will be using a smartphone as a hotspot to get online in my van, doing work on my MacBook. With help from the Kickstarter drive, I have purchased a Canon flip HD camcorder. I also have a Tascam stereo recording device. Video clips will be edited with iMovie. Power will come from a deep cycle battery (which also runs a high efficiency fridge). Additional power comes from an 85 Watt solar panel mounted on Harry’s roof [ed. note: Harry is Killian’s 1984 VW Vanagon].

What’s your distribution strategy?

I will distribute content through my website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. I am also going to be dropping press releases to local media outlets in towns and cities along the way, hoping to get exposure to the aforementioned content platforms.

What advice would you give to other journalists on starting a successful Kickstarter campaign?

Be open, honest, and transparent with your backers about exactly what the project is and how their help will yield tangible results. But do not sacrifice your editorial autonomy for the sake of financial backing. In other words, do not let a potential backer try to push a certain reporting angle with their money. Above all else, a reporter is tasked with being fair and unbiased. Do not make any promises to report this way or that way. If your idea is good enough and you explain it clearly enough, people will recognize its worth and will more than likely help you out.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Some say that one of the casualties during a heated presidential election season is the truth. But another casualty exists that is hardly talked about: the stories of average Americans and their struggles, ideas and hopes for the future. Elections are, at their core, about people. And as the ever-increasingly gaffe-driven political environment we live in saturates the airwaves with the day’s sexiest mistake or biggest flub, these important, grassroots stories are sure to go under-reported, if they are reported at all. But they need to be told. These folks – the backbone of our democracy – need to be given a voice and a platform. I will give them that platform.

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