Category Archives: Public Interactive

Parting thoughts

Signs of the times

Signs of the times

Over the past 10 months, has featured some of the most poignant, informative and visual stories about communities coping in the ongoing crisis.

These stories are what make public media stand out – the voices featured from around the country and the innovative ideas that have inspired news stories.

It’s been so exciting to learn how the economy has changed over the past year – at times the stories have been hopeful and uplifting, often they’ve been upsetting and grim, but never boring.

Here’s a quick review of a few stories that continue to be relevant:

Book Club (4/12/2010) and Book Keeping (3/11/2010) Funny names of old financial texts, and a Paul Solman list of the best books on the financial crisis.

One Sixth of What? (9/22/2009) Back in September, before the health care reform legislation was passed, we examined what makes up the health care costs.

Trading Up (2/24/2010) looked at bartering’s comeback – from help with school projects to borrowing a rake from your next door neighbor.

Shifting Gears (4/2010): Tens of thousands of people work building vehicles in the U.S. And while Ford and GM are reporting that their books look better, many people are still riding the waves of the the hard transition in this industrial sector. That’s why Shifting Gears, a public radio special, will have relevance for some time to come. The latest EconomyBeat podcast features highlights from the program.

Pictures of Transition: One of the most popular aspects of the blog this past year was the weekly collection of user-generated images about the state of the economy. These powerful, witty and painful pictures illustrate the compelling drama of the recession that communities and individuals continue to navigate.

I can’t write about EconomyStory without including stories that came directly from readers, listeners and viewers in the form of comments, six-word memoirs and responses on Facebook and Twitter.

A comment from reader Carlos Tobin about bank size, one of many active discussions on Facebook:

Limiting the size of banks could hurt a innovative start up bank that wants to form and take out the banks that caused the problem. Legislation will just entrench the existing players, and stifle innovation.

And the Six-Word Memoir Project with SMITH Magazine, which collected creative tales of economic hardship. The most recent ones, posted on the SMITH site include:

Whitney Cole: Goodbye, economy. Hello, credit card debt.
Charles: Exchanged credit cards for library card
Kali: Buying a camper, not a house!

EconomyStory will continue to serve as a jumping off point for exploring all that public media has to offer. Projects like Patchwork Nation and Youth Radio aren’t going away, so the links on this site will still take you to the best coverage of the economy. However, as the EconomyStory collaboration comes to an end, this blog will no longer be updated. You can still follow the great work that the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) does at and you can follow my work on Twitter @laurahertzfeld. Thank you for all your support and input! And a big thank you to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for making this possible.

Cut it out

Coupons/ Credit: Flickr user sgrace

Coupons/ Credit: Flickr user sgrace

It’s always taken a bit of persistence and planning to save money on the things you buy, whether it’s religiously cutting coupons from the newspaper or saving up frequent flier miles. Last year, NPR reported on avid e-coupon collector April Englebert, who told Weekend Edition that she saves up to 80% using online coupons. But over a year later, it’s now easier and easier to save money online – thanks to sites like and GroupOn, as well as social networking sites like FourSquare and Yelp.

There are various models for online coupons. GroupOn provides limited-time deals that visitors sign up for using their local zip code for services like yoga studios, spas, and restaurants. aggregates deals from national chains and online retailers. FourSquare and Yelp provide money-saving incentives for sharing information about places you’ve visited.

I spoke recently with’s community manager Sara Dunham. She talked about the kinds of deals that people tend to search for online.

“I’m always surprised to see what people will buy,” she said. “Merchants are also trying to make it easier to buy online … Free shipping is one of the most searched terms for coupons.”

Dunham said that employees at are even required to use the available coupons to book their work travel.

Beyond coupons, social network FourSquare hooks users up with deals at the businesses they frequent most. WLRN and Miami Herald’s Niala Boodhoo wrote about “FourSquare Day” last week:

There’s been lots written about Foursquare being dangerous for privacy reasons (it’s easy to stalk or rob you when you’re always saying where you are…
But Foursquare promotes it as a way to discover new places to eat, shop, etc. based on what your friends say they are doing.
Here’s where the Foursquare Day part comes in. Some businesses are getting in on the game by saying if you “check in” on Foursquare today at their establishment during a certain time, you can get a deal.

The privacy concerns about online coupons go beyond the information you may provide for the FourSquare and other social social network deals. The New York Times reported on the information stored in the barcodes of online coupons and when consumers may want to be wary.

Using coupons to link Internet behavior with in-store shopping lets retailers figure out which ad slogans or online product promotions work best, how long someone waits between searching and shopping, even what offers a shopper will respond to or ignore.

Have you used online coupons to save on goods or services? What kind of deals have you received?

A light in Detroit

The woes of the auto industry have been well-publicized throughout this recession, and with good reason. But there are projects that show some hope in the embattled Michigan city.

WNYC’s Soundcheck music program visited the Detroit music scene and how it’s changed in the past year. Soundcheck host John Schaefer reflected in a blog post about how an arts scene can flourish in a bad economy, and the challenges existing art institutions face.

Unfortunately, the things that allow a musical underground to form don’t usually work as well for bigger arts institutions, like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or the Detroit Institute of the Arts. So the question is, what to do about these institutions. If you just let them disappear then it becomes much harder for younger generations to acquire a taste for the so-called fine arts. Plus, there is evidence that a high-profile arts scene can be help drive a city’s economy: the so-called “Bilbao Effect,” named after the Spanish town where Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum transformed the city into a major destination. And if the auto industry isn’t doing it for Detroit, something has to fill that void.

One developer in Detroit is reinvigorating interest in the area by recruiting “inchvestors” – people who are giving a small amount to one project and in return giving them a small piece of ownership in the land. Michigan Public Radio reports:

Some inchvestors have sentimental ties to the city, and they just liked the idea of having a physical stake in the place where they or their parents or grandparents grew up. But a lot of them are attracted by the project’s virtual possibilities and say Loveland is sort of like the SimCity computer game, but with real land.

PRX and public radio stations KCUR-Kansas City, WDET-Detroit, WUNC/The Story-North Carolina, WFPL-Louisville are getting ready to launch a new nationwide program, Shifting Gears, which will explore issues in the auto industry. Have a car photo or story of your own to share? Submit it to the Flickr group .

Shifting Gears will be available free for broadcast to public radio stations. More information is here.

Health care reform around the country

It was hard to miss: The White House confab this week with the warring sides in Congress meeting over the heated issue of health care reform. National shows and local stations each weighed creative approaches to coverage:

KQED in San Francisco (home city of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has been a leading advocate of health care reform), put together a page for comments and a live blog of the event. The Sunlight Foundation provided a tool to track donations to members of congress Congressional representatives as they spoke during the summit.

Tennesee had three representatives in their delegation: – two republicans and one democrat, some open to compromise on the health care bill, and one, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who made the case as other Republicans did to “start from scratch,” as WPLN in Nashville, with Capitol News Connection reported .

Nashville is a hub for the health care industry, which doesn’t seem to be hurting as the health care reform debate continues. WPLN reported that four major health are providers in Nashville, including HealthStream, posted positive year-end financial results.

But the urgency of health care reform certainly hasn’t gone away with a few hours of debate at the White House. As WAMC in Albany, NY found, thousands of people in New York alone are at risk without some serious changes:

The failure to enact health care reform this year will lead in the next decade to approximately 13,900 premature deaths of people between 25 and 64 years old in New York according to a report released today by the consumer health group Families USA.

Similar stories are cropping up around the country. For a full video roundup of health care coverage, PBS has a collection of clips from Frontline, NewsHour and more.

Recalling the recall

Lawmakers in Washington are hearing from Toyota executives and auto industry experts this week to determine why some models have uncontrollable acceleration problems and whether Toyota tried to cover up flaws on the many thousands of vehicles that have now been recalled.

Capitol News Connection’s Matt Laslo was at today’s congressional hearings and has been tweeting updates. A snippet of what he’s seen today:

Some conservative members of Congress were more hesitant to slam Toyota outright. Capitol News Connection’s Sara Schiammaco noted in a roundup of opening remarks:

Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., scolded her colleagues on the panel who she said came in during the eleventh hour of the congressional examination to politicize the issue. “This should not be a trial, but rather a hearing to get to the bottom of safety issues,” Blackburn said. “This is a serious issue that has resulted in the loss jobs.”

Michigan Public Radio followed the state’s delegation at the hearings in Washington:

U.P. Congressman Bart Stupak is chairing today’s hearing. He suggests Toyota executives may be trying to hide problems with their vehicles.

“A staff analysis of the documents Toyota provided to the committee, shows that roughly 70 percent of the sudden, unintended acceleration events, recorded in Toyota’s own customer call data base, involve vehicles that are not covered by the floor mat or sticky pedal recalls,” says Stupak.

But the problems for Toyota run even deeper than Congress’s questions. PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill spoke with a reporter in Detroit and analysed the criminal charges Toyota could face if a federal grand jury finds its executives at fault.

Toyota’s complete list of operations and plants in the U.S. can be found here. Take a look and see how your state is being represented at the hearings. If there’s a plant in your area, how has the recall had an impact locally?