Help Wanted: My March Contributoria Project

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
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A mural on a Head Start  preschool in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
A mural on a Head Start preschool in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

One of the most common challenges writers and journalists face is that of funding the research phase of their work. Unless you’re on staff (and even then, there’s no guarantee), it can be tough to cobble together the money that allows you to do the work that’s necessary to investigate and report a story responsibly and thoroughly. All too often, we pay out of pocket in the hope that our investment will pay off– that we’ll be able to sell the story once we’ve committed money and time into writing it.

It’s a gamble I’ve made time and again, but one that has become harder to make now that I have three children and more financial responsibilities. Investing money in a project that may not have a sure outcome isn’t the best business strategy when you’re a writer.

That’s why I’ve been very grateful for Contributoria, a platform that supports journalists and writers by funding their project proposals. I’ve been able to research and report two stories thanks to their support, one of which has been republished in The Guardian, which is a partner of the platform.

The way Contributoria works is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t pledge any of their own money to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to “back” projects they want to see funded by the site. You sign up for a free account at www.contributoria.com and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.

My March 2015 project is about c-section rates in Puerto Rico and requires quite a bit of backing– about 200 more supporters by the end of the month… which is just a few days away. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it if you feel so inclined. You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word! I’m @collazoprojects on twitter.

Thank you.

Upcoming Project (And How You Can Help)

Text:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
One of the most common challenges writers and journalists face is that of funding the research phase of their work. Unless you’re on staff (and even then, there’s no guarantee), it can be tough to cobble together the money that allows you to do the work that’s necessary to investigate and report a story responsibly and thoroughly. All too often, we pay out of pocket in the hope that our investment will pay off– that we’ll be able to sell the story once we’ve committed money and time into writing it.

It’s a gamble I’ve made time and again, but one that has become harder to make now that I have three children and more financial responsibilities. Investing money in a project that may not have a sure outcome isn’t the best business strategy when you’re a writer.

That’s why I’ve been very grateful for Contributoria, a platform that supports journalists and writers by funding their project proposals. I’ve been able to research and report two stories thanks to their support, one of which has been republished in The Guardian, which is a partner of the platform.

The way Contributoria works is akin to crowdfunding, but supporters don’t have to kick in any of their own funds to back a project. Instead, they use their monthly allotment of 50 points to “back” projects they want to see funded. You sign up for a free account and allot your points as you wish. Contributoria doesn’t send out any spam and neither do I– just a monthly notification when I’ve listed a new project proposal and when I’ve published a project.

My newest project is about c-section rates in Puerto Rico and requires quite a bit of backing– about 200 more supporters by the end of the month. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my proposal and back it if you feel so inclined. You can sign up for an account on Contributoria’s main page.

And feel free to spread the word!

Thank you.

Daily Outtake: Working on Oso Blanco

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
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One of the subjects in which I have a profound interest is preservation.

Preservation of all sorts, really, but especially the preservation of places. This interest is inextricably related to my desire to rescue “quiet” stories, the impetus behind so much of my work… and definitely my best work and that which I enjoy the most. There’s that desire, always, to inscribe in our collective memory the stories of what happened there, wherever “there” is, and anytime a “there” is obliterated, its stories tend to go with it. It’s as if the physical place has to exist for the bulk of our memories to persist.

This garita (or sentry box) is not a part of Oso Blanco, but it's part of a structure that has been deemed worthy of preservation. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
This garita (or sentry box) is not a part of Oso Blanco, but it’s part of a structure that has been deemed worthy of preservation. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

One of the “theres” that is of ongoing interest to me is Puerto Rico. Having lived there for 2.5 years, I was always fascinated by how sites of history were preserved and how they were wiped out, and how value was imposed upon a place, often by the weight and perceived significance of the stories that transpired there. The forts in Old San Juan? Saved. Colonial era houses? Saved? The wall surrounding Old San Juan? Also saved, at least for the most part.

But Oso Blanco? Well, that’s another story.
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Oso Blanco was a state penitentiary that opened in 1933 and operated until 2004, when it was shut down by authorities because the retrofitting needed to bring it up to code was deemed too expensive. It would be cheaper to move inmates to other facilities or even construct a new facility. For nearly 10 years, the prison, certainly the largest structure from the Art Deco era in Puerto Rico, sat unoccupied, its eventual fate a subject of unresolved debate.

But then, earlier this year that debate picked up steam and suddenly, everyone seemed to have an opinion about what should be done with the massive building. Architects and preservationists insisted Oso Blanco shouldn’t be demolished. Politicians and commercial developers insisted that the cost of rehabbing it was prohibitive and that simply letting it crumble into eventual oblivion on its own was a waste of perfectly viable commercial space.

And so, it was decided that Oso Blanco would be tumba’o.

I’ve been following the story for a while and wanted to look at an aspect of it that hadn’t really been covered in the media, especially in the United States, and so I’ve been researching for a few months. Today, I wrapped up that research with a couple of interviews and I’ll be filing the piece for Latin Correspondent in the morning. Hope you’ll head over there to read it.

Coming Soon: Puerto Rico Restaurant Week

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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UPDATED ON MAY 21, 2014: RESTAURANT WEEK HAS BEEN EXTENDED UNTIL SATURDAY, MAY 24!
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The dates for the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week have just been announced, and this year’s line up of participating restaurants promises to be the best yet. The event will take place May 14-20, and will feature prix fixe lunches ($14 or $19) and dinners ($28 or $38) at some of San Juan’s top restaurants.

Organizers have also partnered with some new, big-time sponsors, including JetBlue and several local hotels, so keep an eye on the event’s website for announcements of special accommodation deals.

Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.
Santaella, one of the restaurants participating in the third annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week, May 14-20.

Francisco and I have been writing about and photographing food and culinary culture in Puerto Rico since 2005. If you want to know more about what’s in store for you as you eat your way around San Juan, the island’s capital, check out some of our recent articles about Puerto Rico’s current food scene:

Puerto Rico in 10 Plates: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico Farm to Table: Bespoke Magazine

Puerto Rico’s New Culinary Superstars: The Latin Kitchen

Puerto Rico’s New Cheese Movement: The Latin Kitchen

And while you’re there, check out the recently protected Northeastern Corridor, which I wrote about for National Geographic Traveler.

Eiffel beyond the Eiffel Tower

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Luis Pedro Arroyave for Wikimedia Commons
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The Eiffel Tower turned 125 years old on Monday, which, of course, prompted a flurry of “Here are my memories of the Eiffel Tower and Paris” blog posts, photo homages, and the inevitable listicle-style article.

The best among the few pieces of any sort that I read was Robert Kunzig’s piece about the backstory of the design of the tower, which he wrote for National Geographic, and which starts like this:

“When you read biographies of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and his famous tower, which turned 125 yesterday, you’re struck at first by a paradox: How did something so daring, so beautiful, so outrageous—in 1889 it outraged many—come to be built by such a colorless little dweeb?”

Funny. I’d just started researching Eiffel last week. While working on a fact-checking project about Mexico, I had run into a curious detail that made me want to learn more about the French engineer, who was born in 1832 and died in 1923: On Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, in the town of Santa Rosalia, is a small church that was designed by Eiffel in 1884 and set up in Santa Rosalia in 1898.

Church of Santa Barbara in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, designed by Gustave Eiffel.
Church of Santa Barbara in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Yes, I said “set up.” Santa Barbara was a pre-fab structure lacking every bit of the grandeur that compels us to love the Eiffel Tower. Made of metal, it looks, to my eye, like a gussied-up barn. It wouldn’t have been out of place, aesthetically; Santa Rosalia was a mining town and the mine bosses didn’t seem to prioritize community beautification projects (a fact that’s also reflected in the interesting names of Santa Rosalia’s neighborhoods, one of which was called “Purgatorio,” or “Purgatory.” Yikes.).

Apparently, Eiffel had designed the church for a destination in Africa, though it never ended up there, according to María Eugenia De Novelo, who wrote a history of the town for a 1989 issue of The Journal of San Diego History. De Novelo wrote that Eiffel intentionally built the church of metal, rather than wood, because he believed the latter material would be less resistant to the climate and threats to architecture (ie: insect pests) that he believed existed in Africa.

I added Santa Barbara to my growing list of Eiffel spots I want to visit and eventually write about, a list I started several years ago. Eiffel–or at least his work–had made it to other unexpected places, which I’d learned about on a variety of other projects, none of which were ever related to Eiffel himself. In fact, I realized, I knew very little about him, and was (and remain) curious about his background, his life, and, in particular, his travels. Did he, for example, ever make it to the mainland of Puerto Rico or its outlying island of Mona, where a lighthouse he designed still stands (albeit in disrepair) today?

It has been somewhat of a surprise to me that for an engineer and architect who was so prolific and whose influence and reach were so geographically vast, especially for his day and age, the information about him and a complete list of his work is actually rather scant. This compilation of his structures and projects, for example, doesn’t include the Santa Rosalia church, nor the Mona lighthouse. I haven’t begun digging around in earnest yet, but it’s exciting to think about what may still remain to be learned–or at least, shared more widely-about a man whose name we know so well.