As many of you are probably aware, I’ve spent the last couple of months working on the Interactive Innovation Project for Fall 2009.  This is the capstone project of my year at Medill.

The project has been about obituaries in print and online, and about how obituaries drive readership to local media outlets.

One of the two major pieces of the project was to produce a report on the state of obituaries in America these days.  I had a pretty large hand in this aspect of the project, as I was one of the primary authors of the report.  I’m happy to say that today, that report has been released.

From the obitresearch.com blog about the project:

“To better understand the nature of our project and the role of Legacy.com in today’s obituary publishing industry, the Fall 2009 Interactive Innovation Project team at the Medill School of Journalism has been diligently researching the history and trends of American obituary writing. We have summarized our findings in a report that we have released this morning. In this report, we examine the nature of the contemporary American obituary, a phenomenon that constitutes an important content category for modern newspapers – and, increasingly, for publishers in other media.”

Read the full post here.

Download the report (PDF).

UPDATE: Oh, hey, look at this — we got a mention on the Washington Post Post Mortem blog!

UPDATE 2: Another mention, from an Editor & Publisher blog!

UPDATE 3: An article about the report appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

UPDATE 4 (12/8/2009): A story about the report appeared on the Northwestern University website.  We also got a link from Romenesko on Poynter.org

UPDATE 5 (12/11/2009): The AP wrote a story about the report, mentioning me by name.  That AP story has gotten republished all over, and even ended up on NPR’s Morning Edition.  Today, Michael S. Malone did an opinion piece for ABC News, which also mentions our report prominently.  Another article on Canada.com.  Oh, hey, look at this!  My buddy Jeff Billman wrote it up for a blog on the Philadelphia City Paper.  Here’s another article on Examiner.com.

Another thing that came my way via the excellent Overcoming Bias site.

The author of this piece, Paul Starr, is a professor of Sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, and he floats the idea that public subsidies of investigative journalism might be one way to combat the deluge of journalists that have given up investigative reporting, and are now turning their skills to trade pubs and special-interest public relations.

It’s an interesting idea, and I don’t entirely disagree, but I need to think more about it before I’m sure.

“Curiously enough, government subsidies that are viewpoint-neutral and that do not give officials any discretion may be a less constraining method of supporting journalism than leaving it to dependence on patrons. Today, any such subsidies should be not only viewpoint-neutral, but also platform-neutral. We need the modern equivalent of the postal subsidies of the early American republic, except that there ought to be no bias in favor of publications that appear in print.

At this point, I am not advocating any specific form of subsidy — only that we should be open to the idea. There may be lessons for America in the experience of countries that have subsidized the news media without controlling them. Many European countries, for example, exempt news publications from the value-added tax; we have no VAT, but we do have a payroll tax, and one possibility might be to exempt not just newspapers, but all recognized news gatherers from that tax in whole or part.”

Via Cato-Unbound.org .  The whole article is worth a read.

On Wednesday, Louis Uchitelle, economic reporter for the New York Times, told an audience of nearly 90 faculty and students from the University of Illinois at Chicago that layoffs had gotten out of hand in the United States, and that the consequences of mass layoffs extended far beyond the corporate bottom line.

Beyond the immediate financial impact to laid-off workers, psychological consequences can linger long after a laid-off worker has found a new job, according to Uchitelle.  “Layoffs in themselves are a truly damaging situation,”  Uchitelle said.  “In America, they’ve gone far beyond what’s necessary.”

Uchitelle said he was drawn to explore the psychological impact of layoffs as he researched his book, “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences”.  “I consulted psychiatrists,” he said, “and they said, yes, layoffs are traumatic experiences.”

That impact can be seen in workers who give up on finding new employment or settle for any job at all, often undermining the benefits of advanced education and experience.

Uchitelle said for every three people laid off, two years later one of them had dropped out of the job market, one had a job that earned 20 percent less that the job from which they were laid off, and one had a new job making as much as their previous job.  According to Uchitelle, 19 percent of laid off workers take jobs for which they are overqualified after being laid off.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks layoff events involving more than 50 employees.  According to seasonally-adjusted BLS statistics, there were 2,227 layoff events in January, involving nearly 238,000 employees.  That represents a 50 percent increase in layoff events, compared to the previous year.

However, Uchitelle said those numbers don’t take into account buyouts and early retirement, often proposed as alternatives to layoffs.  Uchitelle said that if those numbers were included in the calculations, it might be that 7 to 8 percent of all adult full-time employees suffer from the effects of layoffs every year.

Uchitelle said that it’s important to recognize the people laid off that aren’t getting jobs, and to think about the damage that causes, including the psychological as well as the financial ramifications.

“Skill is part of your sense of self,” Uchitelle said.  He said layoffs tell employees that “your skill doesn’t have value.”  Workers who have been laid off sometimes drop out of the job market completely.  “People felt so burned, they didn’t want to get back into the job market,” he said.  Uchitelle said that workers that had committed themselves to a career were more vulnerable to the psychological impact of layoffs than younger workers just entering the job market.

Uchitelle also criticized President Barack Obama’s address to Congress on Tuesday, and said that the only solution presented by the President was to replace jobs lost to layoffs with newly created jobs, a solution he said was an extension of the policies of prior administrations, and an inadequate solution.  He said that newly-created jobs aren’t equivalent to skilled positions that have been lost.

He said that he was worried that, “when we really start spending money [on economic stimulus projects] we won’t have the skilled labor to do it.”

Possible solutions that Uchitelle said should be considered included encouraging employers to cut wages across the board as a substitute for layoffs, tax credits to companies that avoid layoffs, and government wage subsidies for companies that agree to forgo layoffs.

“That debate isn’t on the horizon,” Uchitelle said.