A bulldozer pushes garbage to the top of a trash hill at the Simi Valley Landfill.
Photo by Olga Grigoryants

JOUR 596: Follow the Money: Business and Economics Reporting

Here is a series of stories students enrolled in: 

Everything is a business story. You just have to know how to look at it. It’s a mantra I repeat frequently to my students.

This past spring, I set out to prove it in my graduate business reporting class, Follow the Money. Our topic: the environment. Many think of the environment as a story about science, government policy, or society. For me, it’s always been a business story.

I asked the students all to answer one question: How is renewable energy changing the California economy?

What eventually emerged was a series of richly textured stories that examined different corners of the state’s green tech world, and the challenges involved in deriving more of our energy from renewable sources. One student looked at a plan to store energy by rolling trains up a hill. Another examined how California has kick-started an investment boom in building large batteries. And a student, in a piece published in the Sacramento Bee, probed whether California’s current boom in solar could turn into a bust. 

I knew there would be tremendous interest in these stories. So before the semester even began I forged a partnership with Pacific Standard Magazine, which agreed to publish a special digital section devoted to the issue.

It was a lot to ask of the students. Inside a 15-week semester they were required to learn the intricacies of business reporting, develop an expertise in the California energy market and come up with original, forward-looking stories.

But having all students focused on one topic also allowed them to share stories, leads and ideas with each other. 

“I discovered that this industry is seriously in flux, thanks to the growth spurt of wind and solar power,” said Daina Beth Solomon. “I learned as much as I could about what's going to happen next, and tried to find the most knowledgeable people to answer them, even if that meant dozens of emails and phone calls.”

That knowledge proved to be useful after graduation: Solomon worked on the business desk of The Los Angeles Times, where she produced stories about, among other things, the entrance of big tech into the electricity business.

One of the most significant experiences you can provide for students is to demonstrate to them that they are capable of producing high-quality work that can stand on its own in a respected publication. This takes lots of work and numerous edits. But in the end, that’s exactly what they did. 

- Gabriel Kahn