Mark Pinsky over at The New Republic definitely has a great idea for the incoming president:
Barack Obama sounds like he wants to reach back to the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration to jump start the economy with an economic stimulus proposal featuring infrastructure repair. If so, it may be time for the man who would be FDR to take a look at another successful–but largely forgotten–jobs program from the Depression era: the Federal Writers Project.
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.
How would it work? Administering the new FWP as an individual grant program through community colleges and universities could minimize bureaucracy and overhead. In consultation with the Obama administration–perhaps through the National Endowment for the Humanities–and Congress, guidelines could be established and a small staff assembled in Washington to oversee the projects, in the form of grants, rather than hourly wages. Projects could be pitched locally to colleges, or suggested and posted by them, vetted preliminarily and then approved or rejected by the national staff.
I think the benefits of such a program would be tremendous, especially considering the technology available to tell these stories. In a world where people are reading less and less, it would seem to be a great way at getting people to learn more about our less visible areas of society and culture, and also as a way to keep a large set of very talented writers and journalists occupied until they are ready to make the necessary transitions into other professions or retirement, or back into the journalistic profession, whatever that may be.