Road Trip Follows Crash: Hard Times in America

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By: Dexter Hill

As journalists investigated the effects of the nation’s economic crisis, it became clear that millions of everyday Americans are being badly hurt ? not just those with Wall Street ties. In early October, McClatchy’s Washington Bureau teamed up with the American News Project and went on the road to see just how the troubles on The Street are affecting the lives of ordinary folks.

For its “Fallout on Main Street” project, consumer economics reporter Tony Pugh went to bureau chief John Walcott with the idea of visiting Dayton, Ohio, to report on recent plant closures. To Pugh’s pitch, Walcott responded, “I’ll see you and raise you one,” and the project became a road trip of visits to nearly a dozen places around the country, from Connecticut to the Midwest and down through the Southeast. In each location, Pugh would interview residents whose incomes, living arrangements, and other factors were affected by the continued economic turmoil.

“We’re trying to capture the personal side of this phenomenon,” Pugh says, “to talk to business owners and people who can talk about how all this Wall Street stuff is affecting people’s lives.” For some of these people, he adds, “this is their Great Depression.”

Pugh worked with American News Project Executive Producer and Emmy Award-winning journalist David Murdock, who headed the project’s multimedia component. At each stop, Murdock would shoot video and edit it for both organizations’ Web sites.

The first stop was Greenwich, an affluent Connecticut town that would seemingly be immune to an economic epidemic. Not so. Murdock’s video on the project’s pages (seen at www.mcclatchydc.com/mainstreet) featured a real estate agent showing one of her listings facing a pending foreclosure; gold-plated silverware and a family photo are among the items left behind in the house. Throughout the video, Pugh can be seen taking notes and doing other reporting for the related stories.

To begin and end the video sidebars, Murdock assumed the role of reporter, leaving the commentary to Pugh. “[Murdock] got in the car, turned on the camera, and started asking me questions,” says Pugh. “It was a surprise attack,” he jokes, adding that the partnership was a unique reporting experience.

Though Pugh can produce a solid print or Web story from man-on-the-street and phone interviews, Murdock had different needs in order to produce quality video for the Web. “David’s pretty much an artist with this stuff,” Pugh adds.

Murdock preferred doing the on-site interviews, where he could capture the documentary-style nuances of the people and places about which Tony wrote. When the team spoke with the keeper of an upscale shop, there was a moment after customers left when she whispered to Pugh, “I didn’t want to scare people off” by being too candid about how the latest economic fallout slowed foot traffic in the Greenwich shop. (It made the video anyway.)

The Washington Post launched a similar multimedia report, titled “Hard Times,” to find out how other Americans have been affected by the economic downturn. Emmy Award-winning producer Travis Fox visited the West Coast, Southwest, Midwest, and Washington, D.C., investigating the effects of the economy on the minds of voters before going to the polls. Their stories were shared through articles, photos, and video on the Post’s Web site.

Both projects revealed that the economy has dealt similar challenges from city to city. For Murdock, the goal was “to leave readers and people who came to the Web with a real sense of having experienced something along the way, that they’ve come along on the trip with us ? and that they got to meet some of the people that Tony’s writing about.”

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