Obama should bail out journalists next

Rick Moran
Sometime soon, we should expect to see ice cream truck vendors lining up for a federal bailout. After all, it's winter and the economy has hit them pretty hard too. Besides, think of the kids.

I had this thought after reading this plea in The New Republic for Obama to revive the Federal Writers Project - a New Deal-era make work program for writers.

America's newspaper industry has been imploding in the last few years, a development that predates the Wall Street collapse but has been hugely accelerated by the economic meltdown, forcing thousands of journalists onto the street. Hundreds more have now joined them from retrenching magazines and faltering websites, bringing the year-to-date total to 14,683 according to the tracking website Paper Cuts. Hundreds more have now joined them from retrenching magazines and faltering websites. Every day the journalism clearinghouse Romenesko links to stories of layoffs and downsizing--Gannett has been cutting 2,000 jobs across the chain, and Newsday has just announced another five percent in the last week alone. Any federal effort to put back to work the hundreds of thousands thrown out of work in the nation's hard-hit industrial, construction, airline, and financial sectors should consider displaced news media workers--including those newly laid off from the publishing industry--as well.

The Federal Writers Project operated from 1935-1939 under the leadership of Henry Alsberg, a journalist and theater director. In addition to providing employment to more than 6,000 out-of-work reporters, photographers, editors, critics, writers, and creative craftsmen and -women, the FWP produced some lasting contributions to American history, culture, and literature. Their efforts ranged from comprehensive guides to 48 states and three territories to interviews with and photos of 2,300 former African-American slaves. These are preserved in the seventeen volumes of Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.

As a writer, I obviously have a personal interest in such a program. But this is so patently stupid that one wonders if there is a liberal in the US who can say where the line should be drawn. Are we all to be dependent on Uncle Sam for our paycheck?

Not only that, but as the author notes, the problems in the newspaper business considerably predate the recession. What point do we use as a cut off for eligibility? How do you decide if a journalist is laid off because of the recession or because his former employer were incompetent boobs?

Maybe the author thinks Obama owes the journalists something for going in the tank for him? If so, why bother with the rigmarole of setting up a federal program? Why not just divvy up the $30 million he has left in campaign kitty? After all, the journo's could be construed as working for his campaign anyway.

The author mentions a few notables who emerged from the FWP to go on to great careers. Bellows, Terkel, Cheevers, Steinbeck are some of the greats who drew a federal paycheck during the depression.

But considering the number of hacks who also took part, the program was a waste. The projects the author mentions that writers had a hand in - like the oral history of slaves - had been underway since the Smithsonian began to record these histories in the early part of the century. The idea that they would not have been completed without the writers is a dubious claim .

The fact that 14,000 journalists are out of work is sad. The idea that the federal government should employ them is wacky. Chances are, those jobs are gone for good and that any "Federal Writers Program" will be a permanent opportunity for those not good enough to work in the private sector to leech off the taxpayer. Not everyone has the talent to be a working writer. With a FWP, that will no longer be the case.





Sometime soon, we should expect to see ice cream truck vendors lining up for a federal bailout. After all, it's winter and the economy has hit them pretty hard too. Besides, think of the kids.

I had this thought after reading this plea in The New Republic for Obama to revive the Federal Writers Project - a New Deal-era make work program for writers.

America's newspaper industry has been imploding in the last few years, a development that predates the Wall Street collapse but has been hugely accelerated by the economic meltdown, forcing thousands of journalists onto the street. Hundreds more have now joined them from retrenching magazines and faltering websites, bringing the year-to-date total to 14,683 according to the tracking website Paper Cuts. Hundreds more have now joined them from retrenching magazines and faltering websites. Every day the journalism clearinghouse Romenesko links to stories of layoffs and downsizing--Gannett has been cutting 2,000 jobs across the chain, and Newsday has just announced another five percent in the last week alone. Any federal effort to put back to work the hundreds of thousands thrown out of work in the nation's hard-hit industrial, construction, airline, and financial sectors should consider displaced news media workers--including those newly laid off from the publishing industry--as well.

The Federal Writers Project operated from 1935-1939 under the leadership of Henry Alsberg, a journalist and theater director. In addition to providing employment to more than 6,000 out-of-work reporters, photographers, editors, critics, writers, and creative craftsmen and -women, the FWP produced some lasting contributions to American history, culture, and literature. Their efforts ranged from comprehensive guides to 48 states and three territories to interviews with and photos of 2,300 former African-American slaves. These are preserved in the seventeen volumes of Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.

As a writer, I obviously have a personal interest in such a program. But this is so patently stupid that one wonders if there is a liberal in the US who can say where the line should be drawn. Are we all to be dependent on Uncle Sam for our paycheck?

Not only that, but as the author notes, the problems in the newspaper business considerably predate the recession. What point do we use as a cut off for eligibility? How do you decide if a journalist is laid off because of the recession or because his former employer were incompetent boobs?

Maybe the author thinks Obama owes the journalists something for going in the tank for him? If so, why bother with the rigmarole of setting up a federal program? Why not just divvy up the $30 million he has left in campaign kitty? After all, the journo's could be construed as working for his campaign anyway.

The author mentions a few notables who emerged from the FWP to go on to great careers. Bellows, Terkel, Cheevers, Steinbeck are some of the greats who drew a federal paycheck during the depression.

But considering the number of hacks who also took part, the program was a waste. The projects the author mentions that writers had a hand in - like the oral history of slaves - had been underway since the Smithsonian began to record these histories in the early part of the century. The idea that they would not have been completed without the writers is a dubious claim .

The fact that 14,000 journalists are out of work is sad. The idea that the federal government should employ them is wacky. Chances are, those jobs are gone for good and that any "Federal Writers Program" will be a permanent opportunity for those not good enough to work in the private sector to leech off the taxpayer. Not everyone has the talent to be a working writer. With a FWP, that will no longer be the case.