Thursday, October 17, 2013

Intern turned Coal Ash Queen raises money for film project

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Back in 2009, I hired Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman to work as an intern at Creative Loafing. One of the questions on her evaluation form asks to give some general comments regarding UNC Charlotte's internship program. I wrote, "Please keep sending me such enthusiastic interns."

Enthusiastic. If you've ever met Rhi, you know that's one of the best ways to describe her.

In the last two years, Rhi has dedicated her life to writing about coal ash. For CL, she penned the 2010 cover story "Is coal ash poisoning Charlotte-area drinking water?" and in 2011, "Fail: Government oversight remains 'grossly inadequate' in coal-ash waste control." She's been traveling the country documenting stories of coal ash, including sharing accounts from people who have been personally affected by its effects.

Currently, Rhi - who was dubbed the Queen of Coal Ash by the Sierra Club and was recognized by the Charlotte chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution Award for her environmental reporting  - is working with a team of 20 volunteers and contributors to produce a film that shares these stories. They have launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the funds to help make this project happen. The deadline to contribute is Oct. 24.

From the campaign's webpage:

We've taken on this massive task because people deserve to know what's in their water and air, what their options are, and because this is exactly the type of story that journalism is meant to shine light upon.

Our ultimate goal is to share information with the people of the U.S. so they can make wise decisions about how coal ash should be dealt with: Is it a hazardous waste? Does it present a real recycling opportunity? What should be done with all of the slurry ponds? And what about the people who are ill?

As Rhi's former editor, I'm proud to see she's just as enthusiastic today as she was four years ago as a student. Journalism can be a cold, cold industry. 

UPDATE (Oct. 18):

Outside of the IndieGoGo campaign, the Coal Ash Chronicles has secured a $10,000 donation from a private Charlotte citizen, in addition to a pledge of $5,000 from the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

"We're also working on an agreement with a prominent non-profit," Rhi says. "They will become our fiscal sponsor. That agreement will allow us to be treated as a non-profit when applying for grants and accepting donations (so folks will get a tax-deduction in future fundraising efforts); it will really open up some major doors for us.

"I'm so very thankful for every single person who has taken the time to share the link to our fundraiser and for those who have donated. The generosity of our now 70 donors - including the private donor and the Sierra Club - is uplifting to me. Even if we don't reach our goal, and it doesn't look like we will - not unless people rally around us in these final days - we will continue working on the film."

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