Dear Diary: It’s Been A While …

It’s been a busy month for me, having started to write for Earth2tech and the fab editor Katie Fehrenbacher, and working on new freelance gigs, including my first story for MIT Technology Review.  So the start of this post sounds somewhat like those personal entries that begin with, “Dear Diary, it’s been a while. Let me tell you what’s been happening in my life.”

But I won’t give you a laundry list. Instead, I’ll tell you two little stories.

Writing greentech stories daily forces me to closely track tech and policy developments, which then prompts me to be more critical about the incredible amount of information that spills all over the Internet. Earlier this week, the White House issued a report touting what it believes will be the impact of the stimulus money. In it, it talks about how the funding will make it possible to half the solar electric rates by 2015. The rates now are generally higher than prices for electricity from fossil fuel power plants. Katie looked at the claim and asked me to do a reality check – will the stimulus money really accomplish that?

I looked at the wording and the numbers and charts several times. There was no explanation how the government crunched the numbers to arrive at the conclusion. But then, the report was meant to be a quick snapshot of a variety of stimulus money-funded programs (and there are many). I then did some research and found a June 2008 government report, also from the U.S. Department of Energy, that predicted the same level of pricing drop by 2015. Except, the government issued this report before the Lehman Brothers fell apart in the fall of 2008 and before the stimulus package materialized in February 2009. Hmm.  So here is my story discussing the two reports and the funny business of making predictions.

Speaking of funny business, I witnessed some kind of power struggle or miscommunication between two solar companies over how to generate publicity this week. I was part of it only because Company A, a maker of copper-indium-gallium-selenide solar panels in Silicon Valley, approached me to write about its sales contracts with Company B, a project developer in Germany. I was set to write about the two deals when the woman who handled public relations for Company A told me at the last minute that there was a problem with the press release wording about the larger of the two deals and that the two companies needed to sort it out before the deal could be made public. Let me pause here to point out, for those who are not in journalism, that companies often approach reporters to write about their announcements and ask them to hold the stories until a particular time and day. This arrangement gives reporters the opportunity to do interviews and research ahead of the time. But it also means the media outlets don’t typically get to be the first to publish the news. There was something sketchy about this last-minute scramble to withhold the news about the larger deal, and I wondered whether it could lead to some confusion and some media outlets publishing about both deals at the same time anyway. The PR woman said the second deal would go public in about a week.

Guess what happened? One media outlet ran the story about the first deal hours ahead of others. Another media outlet ran a story about the second deal that same day, and Company B posted a press release about the second deal on its website around the same time. I found out about this second round of news hours later and only did an update to the previous story about the first deal. Then the media outlet that broke the embargo for the first deal contacted me to find out when and why the embargo for the second deal was broken. Then I heard that the PR firm was no longer working for Company A, which decided it would still run the press release about the second deal via Business Wire. So Company A was late to posting its own news.

Glad to be back doing daily stories.Edit

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