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.

A matter of trust

The banking industry looked pretty ugly in the hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday as Senate leaders on the left and the right slammed Goldman Sachs for allegedly defrauding investors.

In case you missed it, PBS NewsHour analyzed the proceedings and this short video from The Huffington Post mashes up the hearing into five minutes of accusations and rebuttals… you’ll get the gist.

But the kernel that the industry has to take away from the screaming matches in the news today is that trust is all but gone between consumers and the traditional banking system. So how can the finance industry move ahead? Perhaps the answer rests with consumers taking more responsibility for their own financial future. This was one of the themes of a conference I attended this week called The Future of Money and Technology. I moderated a panel at the San Francisco event, where I met leaders in the financial and tech worlds who are working on creative, innovative ways to improve and expand on how consumers and companies manage their money.

Former Union Bank executive and entrepreneur Arno Hesse spoke about Bernal Bucks a new project in a San Francisco neighborhood that encourages people to spend money in their community and reinvest in businesses they know and frequent.

A fellow at the social entrepreneur organization Ashoka Bruce Cahan is creating GoodBank, which aims to put a mirror on investors and show them where their money is really going. Do you actually support the causes you say you do? GoodBank plans to serve as a moral compass for your money:

Rob Garcia, who won the Twitter “Shorty Award” in finance, discussed his company Lending Club, a site that allows people to borrow money from people they trust, resulting in lower interest rates and a community of smart investors.

While gaming might be seen by some as frivolous, especially when it comes to money, John Bates talked about Entropia Universe, the only cash –based virtual game, which allows players to invest in a virtual world and see actual monetary results. Bates reminded the panel that the future of banking doesn’t have to be so serious; it can have a fun element to it as well.

Some of the biggest issues that came up with each of these diverse projects were around defining community, creating sustainability for these new projects, and determining what the needs in the market will be to gain investors’ trust in these new ideas.

Are you more likely to invest in organizations that you have a direct connection with, like the coffee shop on the corner, or is your community more broadly defined by people who care about similar philanthropic causes? What kinds of parameters need to be put in place to regain trust and share financial information online?

Six words across America

Jobs, health care, finances, credit, mortgages, recession. These are just six of the many topics EconomyStory has covered on the economic crisis. As our project is coming to an end soon, we’ve been asking for your six-word memoirs about how to cope in the current climate.

This week, Smith Magazine, the originators of the six-word memoir, is working with us to share even more of your stories.

Recently, we asked what happened to your career in the crisis and asked respondents to submit their stories in six words. Minnesota Public Radio got some great responses:

Mike Rose: Got work but wants more. Unlikely.
J. Wagner: On food stamps, Americorps, Future M.D. :-D
Jay: Career long in tooth, got yanked.
And a hopeful one from Steph: In three words: I found happiness.

A few more were posted on the EconomyStory Facebook page.

Lost two jobs gained an LLC

Take work when you’re offered it.

Adjust to reality, give up dreams.

In an earlier post, we asked about your experience with health care. MPR mapped the responses to show where listeners were live. They received stories from across throughout their listening area, all the way to the Canadian border.

Here’s one of my favorite health care responses:
Bill Kelso: Eyes popped out. Both of them.

What is your six-word memoir on the financial crisis? Share yours here and at Smith Magazine!

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?

All about the Benjamins

New $100 bill

New $100 bill

The new $100 bill design was unveiled today, and will go into circulation next February. The new $100s are aimed at preventing counterfeiting. NPR’s Planet Money reports:

The $100 is a favorite of counterfeiters, for obvious reasons, and the government’s rolling out new bills to try and make life harder for them. It seems like the old antibiotics-versus-bacteria thing, where the pathogens/counterfeiters are always catching up to the drugs/government.

Watch the unveiling of the new bill, complete with patriotic theme music: