In the New Republic Online this week, there is a post by Mark Pinsky
("Write Now" Dec.8, 2008 http://tinyurl.com/... that calls for a
new Federal Writer's Project to aid the journalists recently thrown
out of work. I urged a similar creation of a new FWP at the Obama
site, Change.gov, so this article rang a bell with me.
Here is a slightly edited version of what I wrote in response. It
addresses some of the article's suggestions and the rather feisty
credits that appeared in the comments section. I'd love to know
what others think of the idea and how they might refine it.
I'm not sure the emphasis should be on hiring primarily journalists as
part of a targeted journalists' rescue package. Many of those who
participated in the original FWP were folklorists and anthropologists,
creative writers and others used to exploring the individual and
cultural uniqueness of informants and their social context. One ideal
collector from the 1930s was Zora Neal Hurston who did important work,
drawing on both her scholarly training, her understanding of
African-American traditions, and her sensitivity to oral language and
The important caveat for this sort of undertaking is not to impose a
story on those who have their own stories to tell. This will satisfy
those who worry that this could be a liberal scam-- when done well,
the many points of view of American communities and their citizens are
I would recommend administering these programs, with some national
oversight, through the state and regional Arts and Humanities
Councils. This moves such a project beyond the exclusive realm of
academia, whose departmental prerogatives and standards could slow
down and stifle work of this sort.
America's Arts and Humanities Councils are already doing similar work,
often supervised by state folklorists. They are structured and well
equipped to supervise the grant-making process, and they reach out to
potential arts workers from diverse cultural and creative backgrounds.
Often projects under their aegis are supervised by folklorists and
other professionals but draw upon the skills and talents of citizens
belonging to the communities being covered. This can yield fascinating
insights and narratives not usually available to those outside the group.
For those who wonder why the tax payer's dollars are being syphoned
off to work of this sort, I can only say that a people's history has
immeasurable value and that a society also benefits by nourishing its
writers and scholars and, yes---journalists-- through good times and
bad. A project of this sort will give voice to those who work at the
trades and services but often lack the leverage to get their stories
told and read by future generations. This is all about the arts in
service of working people and their stories.