At Priceonomics, we have more ideas about interesting topics to write about than we have capacity to investigate them.
The world is an interesting and confusing place, which means there are ample opportunities to clarify and entertain using good writing and data analysis. We’d like to work with freelance writers who share our interests and style.
In the past, we’ve tried a few different freelance programs to supplement our staff writers, and none have worked exactly how’d we’d like. The main problem is that we have idiosyncratic taste, and it’s difficult for an outside freelancer to guess which ideas would interest us. We’re weird.
So, we’re trying something new. We’ll just tell you topics we’d like to explore.
Today, we’re publishing some “requests for articles.” If you’re a freelance writer and you find these topics interesting, you can pitch us on taking one on. (You can find more details below; pitching us should not take more than half an hour.)
If we work together on an article—we’ll provide editing assistance—we’ll pay you from $250 to $1,000 depending on your experience and the depth of the article.
Below, you’ll find some topics that interest us. Some of these topics are wild speculation; others we’ve done some research on already. In both cases, we don’t know what the story will look like. In our experience, once you start investigating a topic, something interesting comes up—and it may confound your expectations.
Here are the topics. If you’re interested in covering them, the instructions for contacting us are below.
Do our Elected Leaders Increasingly Shirk Military Service?
The decision to go the war and put people’s lives at stake is a huge one. Are our leaders becoming more or less connected to what it’s like to be a soldier?
The centerpiece of this article would be to calculate the percentage of members of Congress who served in the military. How is this percentage changing overtime? What about for the president and secretary of defense? Does this matter?
Why Are Rotisserie Chickens So Cheap?
Sure, they might be a loss leader at places like Costco. But rotisserie chickens are pretty cheap even in fancy grocery stores in San Francisco. How did they get to be so cheap?
The Founding of SimpliSafe
SimpliSafe, a company that sells burglar alarms, advertises on Facebook a lot . The advertisement typically centers around the founder’s “origin” story. But there are weird inconsistencies in the ads.
Here’s Advertisement 1:
Here’s Advertisement #2:
What’s going on here? Which story is true? Why did it get changed, and why is the Yale Engineering department getting snubbed? And what larger meaning can you glean from this flexibility with the truth?
Airbnb and the Great Purge of New York Listings
Earlier this year, Airbnb released data about how many listings in New York City were from “professionals” versus people making extra income through house sharing. The week before Airbnb released the results, however, the company reportedly “purged” over a thousand listings to make the data appear more in line with the company narrative—and New York City law that bans many short-term rentals.
Consider the perspective of the “professionals” who got purged from Airbnb. Who are they? How do they feel about the purge? Did they violate Airbnb’s terms of service? Why do they believe that Airbnb allowed them to use Airbnb before the purge—despite their listings violating New York City law—and why do they keep using Airbnb?
To do this well, you’ll probably need to talk to at least one Airbnb host who was purged.
The Cult of the Volkswagen Westfalia
These camper vans, made by Volkswagen in the 1980s, have a cult following. They are 30 years old and costly to maintain, but people seem to love them. What’s the deal with the Volkswagen Westfalia?
What Happens if the American President Decides not to Uphold the Constitution?
What if we elected a president who chose to simply not uphold the constitution? What safeguards are in place to prevent that from happening, and how likely are those safeguards to be circumvented by either 1) a complicit Congress or 2) the President’s standing as the commander-in-chief?
Fires in San Francisco Apartment Buildings
Is there any data showing that apartment buildings in San Francisco tend to catch fire more often when rents are higher?
We suspect that when landlords want to get rid of rent-controlled tenants, they stop maintaining their buildings properly, which can lead to fire hazards.
This is a morbid thought, and just a hypothesis. What does the data say—if it’s possible to assemble?
Investigate a Specific Fire in San Francisco
After the fire, the owner did not fix up the apartment. Instead the owner neglected it for a year until it fell into a further state of disrepair. Then, last week, another fire broke out, effectively condemning the building. This meant the owner would not have to let the rent-controlled tenants back in.
Investigate this story using good, old fashioned, local reporting.
Hello Kitty Economics
Hello Kitty is crazy popular, and has been for decades. How does the Hello Kitty licensing work? What is the history of this brand? And why is it so enduringly popular and visually appealing?
How to apply
To apply, we need you to do four things. It shouldn’t take long—we are looking for people with a demonstrated background in publishing this kind of work. You could have published something on Medium or the New York Times. It doesn’t matter where really as long as it is good.
If one of these topics interest you, please apply with the following:
1. A pitch for one of these stories. You don’t need to have conducted interviews or written an outline. What we’d like to see is 1-3 short paragraphs that show you have thought about the topic, have a hunch for what may be interesting about it, and have an initial gameplan for how to investigate.
2. A little blurb about you. Who are you? Feel free to add a link to your LinkedIn or website.
3. The link to the most popular thing you’ve ever published online.
Using Facebook’s API, we’ll check how many times it was shared and liked. (It’s an imperfect measure of popularity, but the best that’s publicly available.) We’ll also check Twitter to see if people have shared it and what they said about it. We don’t care about popularity persay, but we want to see a demonstrated ability to write something that will make an impact on the Internet.
To find out how many times your articles have been liked and shared—and to find your most popular one—you can do the same thing using this tool. Having over 1,000 likes/shares on an article is pretty popular—although it depends somewhat on where the article was published.
4. The link to the best thing you’ve ever published online.
Here’s the application link.
We’d like to work with you on one of these stories. If it goes well, you can pitch us other ideas you’d like to work on.
And if you’re a reader of Priceonomics and you really, really want to see one of these articles published, send us a message and we’ll let you know how you can help fund the article.