Back in March, I spent a month driving through Texas. It was the first of three trips I plan to take this year to set up Splinter’s “virtual bureaus” across the country, to meet writers who know their hometowns far better than coastal journalists. Much of this trip was spent in big cities like Austin or El Paso, which had tight-knit networks of journalists and photographers. Some of the people I met were seasoned reporters and essayists; others were still in college, hoping for their first big break; most were somewhere in between. Many a taco and frozen margarita were consumed getting to know these writers and talking about local ideas with national resonance, remarkably common in a bellwether state like Texas.
But a crucial part of this project—the part that can only be described as my own meta reporting trip—didn’t happen in the bigger cities. It happened in smaller pockets, like while driving through the Rio Grande Valley or having a beer in West Texas’ Presidio, places where there weren’t all that many writers but there were endless stories to be assigned. It happened when I was brought to a border town where virtually all the residents are undocumented, or when I was invited to a drag show at the oldest gay bar in South Texas, or when I went to the Selena Museum in Corpus Christi and unexpectedly met her entire family (they were all working the gift shop). These moments usually weren’t planned; when I was offered a chance to go off the beaten path, I took it.
It was incredibly worthwhile to get to know the state myself as an editor, rather than just taking writers at their word. It helped me come up with my own assignments and give them to other Texas writers (even if I couldn’t find a skilled investigative reporter in that particular town, Austin is closer than, say, New York). One of the true pleasures of editing a bunch of freelancers is the process of matchmaking the perfect writer to the perfect story idea. This trip made that possible.
Keeping this component in mind, I’m announcing my second “virtual bureau” road trip, this time across the industrial Midwest: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Again, I plan to hit up the big cities—Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee, among others, with a long weekend in Chicago—so if you’re a writer focusing on social justice issues in any of those places, I’d love to hear from you. (Here are our pitch guidelines.) But even if you’re not a writer, or if you live way the hell out in the country but want to alert me to a story in those states, or you feel like inviting me to a place that seems relevant to Splinter, I want to hear from you, too. I hope to get to know these states as well as I got to know Texas.