By: Nu Yang
As many journalists head out on assignment for this year’s presidential election, freelance journalist Chris Killian is embarking on his own expedition — visiting 11 swing states and reporting the stories of everyday Americans in a project called Swing State Stories (swingstatestories.com).
The 33-year-old Kalamazoo, Mich., resident has been a journalist for almost eight years, freelancing at the daily Kalamazoo Gazette and the now-defunct Michigan Messenger.
Killian said he started Swing State Stories because he felt coverage of the presidential election was filled with “talking heads” and “negative campaign ads.
“The election should be about people,” he said. Traveling the entire country solo wasn’t financially feasible, so he chose to focus on the swing states, because “they are going to decide who is president.”
Killian set off on his road trip at the end of August, driving a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon camper, which he named Harry after his grandfather. He spent part of the summer and some of his savings fixing up the van. Killian’s first stop was Nevada, then Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and finally Florida in early November. He said he plans to stay in each state five to six days.
In July, he launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign seeking $2,500 to cover gas, a video camera, and food. A month later, he had almost $4,500 in donations, thanks to national attention from other journalists and media blogs. Killian said to see this amount of support from friends and total strangers told him “there was a lot of interest to get this type of story done.”
Instead of partnering with a traditional media company, Killian said he chose to set out on this project alone, because he wanted to have the “autonomy” to “do the kind of reporting I wanted to do.
“I’m at the point in my career where I can create quality journalism on my own,” he said.
Throughout his reporting, Killian said his questions will focus not only on the election and the direction voters believe the country should go, but also on the American dream. “Is (it) still alive? It is obtainable? What are the hopes and dreams of these families?”
In each state, he said he wants to collect a diverse sample of answers to keep his reporting fair and balanced, because “everybody has a voice.”
In addition to blog posts, Killian will be updating the website with video and audio clips as well as connecting with readers through Facebook. He will also use his van as a mobile newsroom, living and working out of the vehicle.
Killian said his goal for the project is to show that “we’re not as polarized as we’re told we are … we share more in common than we have differences. At the end, I hope my hypothesis is proven.”
On a more personal level, he said the project is also about professional growth and exploration. “Journalists should always push themselves and test their limits. I don’t want to be that guy in a city newsroom working on the same beat for 20 years. That’s not what I want to be.”