Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A New Deal for Ink-Stained Wretches?

I was about to write a blog item on the John Thain bonus controversy --now the subject of a New York Times editorial, which makes it an Official Controversy -- when I saw an article in the New Republic by Mark Pinsky entitled, "Write Now."

I kinda, sorta agree with the Times, which is against the bonus, just as I kinda, sorta agree with the Wall Street Journal's Deal Blog, which is for it. Both have good points but you know what? I honestly don't give a hoot. But Pinsky's article involves something that matters a great deal more to me than John Thain's net worth, or the implications of CEOs getting mucho gelt while their employees are let go.

Pinsky's article involves a subject that newspaper editorialists are loathe to mention: the desperate straits of the news business. Journalism was in the toilet even before the Tribune Company declared bankruptcy, and journalists are being thrown out of work.

At least journalists do, heaven knows. Pinsky's solution is a revival of the old Federal Writers Project.

Today, there are many dislocated "old media" journalists from newspapers, radio, and television on the street--here I declare my personal interest, as one of them--who could provide a skilled pool to staff a new FWP. But since these journalists represent only a fraction of the larger displaced workforce, it is fair to ask what the public benefit would be of money spent.

This time, the FWP could begin by documenting the ground-level impact of the Great Recession; chronicling the transition to a green economy; or capturing the experiences of the thousands of immigrants who are changing the American complexion. Like the original FWP, the new version would focus in particular on those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media. At the same time, the multimedia fruits of this research would be open-sourced to all media, as well as to academics. As an example, oral history as a discipline has made great strides in the past 70 years, and with the development of video techniques, the forum of the Internet could make these multi-media interviews widely available to schools and scholars, as well as to average Americans.
It's a corking good idea. Too many old colleagues of mine are struggling to stay afloat in marginal jobs or in p.r. It's a terrible waste of talent.

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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