Photo by Meera Pal, Investigative Reporting Workshop

Protesters at Chase Bank in Manhattan, April 2010.

Experimenting with economic storytelling

Monday, February 7th, 2011 

Over the next year, this website will be the online home for What Went Wrong. We’ll be publishing deep-dig articles, from Donald Barlett and James Steele, of course, along with stories from me and the rest of our team (more on them later). We’ll be blogging about economic and financial issues and highlighting the stellar economic reporting going on in newsrooms large and small around the country. We’ll be looking at specific policies and their impact on people.

We’ll also be experimenting with ways to bring you thorough and thoughtful information on what is happening to working people in America and why. We’ll build glossaries of key terms for people new to the issues we’ll be discussing, or people who might need a little refresher. We’ll be unearthing and building data sets, and we’ll share them with you.  And — in what may deviate from most journalistic endeavors — we’ll highlight solutions to the problems we’re exploring from across the ideological spectrum. We’re going to break down policy briefs and think- tank proposals into accessible language, presented in what we hope will be creative and engaging ways. 

We’re aiming big, but we have an amazing team. Barlett and Steele, of course, are the core of the project.  As the economy staggered in 2009, they came to our executive editor Charles Lewis with a proposal: let’s collaborate on a follow-up to America: What Went Wrong. They’d write a new book, and the Workshop would build a website, contribute writing and research. Together we would dig into the deep history of the current crisis.  Lewis leapt at the idea, and the result is this project we’re launching today.

Share Your StoryTell us your story.
Lost a job to outsourcing? We want to hear about it.

Here at the Workshop, our staff includes researchers Samantha Zarrini and Valerie Wexler, video editor Jeremiah Patterson and reporter Russ Choma. Jacob Fenton is our computer-assisted reporting director and web developer, who, along with web designer Eddie Sutton and designer Lisa Hill, created our website. Julie Snider and Ruben Luong are behind many of our graphics, which are being researched by reporter Mia Steinle. Lynne Perri is a senior editor at the Workshop, and I’m Kat Aaron, the project editor. We’re partnering with a growing list of hyperlocal news projects, from Oakland to New Haven, to bring you the very granular view they provide (and which often gets short shrift in the national news mix).

We’re trying new things, and some of them will work great, and some of them might (will) flop.  We’ll be shaping this site with your feedback, so please give it to us. We also want to hear from you about your life, your community and your job.  We’ll ask you for your experiences on specific subjects, as we report on them, but we’d also love to just talk about your life and how you’re doing financially. 

I’ve been talking to people in cities and suburbs for a year, learning about their work and their families and their towns. As Barlett and Steele found two decades ago, there are common threads in these interviews: shrinking wages, shifting careers, plunging home values. And a sense that something is amiss, that the implicit American promise has been broken. The promise was simple: If you work hard and spend carefully, you will be able to support yourself and your family in modest but stable dignity. You can buy a home, send kids to school and retire.  The people I am talking to no longer believe that. We’ll be looking at how that promise was betrayed.

So contact us and share your ideas, your criticism and praise, and most of all, share your stories.  You can tell us what's going on generally in your town and your life, or you can share an experience of outsourcing or offshoring.  

Finally, the inevitable social networks plug: You can follow the project on Twitter, friend us on Facebook, and follow me and the Investigative Reporting Workshop on Twitter too.

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.