Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boomers focus of Ohio statewide "Aging America" series

By Alan D. Miller

Ohio news organizations took the challenge from APME and AP editors to get involved in the national Aging America reporting project, and they ended up with a three-day series on the topic that published last week.

The national project is focused on baby boomers, who make up the largest demographic group in U.S. history, and how their move into retirement will affect society.

Mark Miller lost his job last year.    (Gus Chan | Plain Dealer)

The Ohio project focused on the tens of thousands of baby boomers whose lives were upended by the recent recession.

The series showed that the recession was worse for older workers than any in memory. While boomers make up less than half the people on unemployment in Ohio, they dominate the ranks of long-term unemployed. The reporting showed that those who are 50 and out of a job are struggling.

But reporters learned that many unemployed boomers are remaking themselves. They are going back to school, retraining, retooling and taking the challenge to build new lives rooted in new careers, even if it means settling for a smaller paycheck.

AP moved parts of the series on the national wire.

“The play has been terrific, with the national story appearing on 12,000-plus websites including ABC News, San Diego and Anchorage, Alaska,” Nancy Nussbaum, Ohio and Michigan assistant bureau chief for the AP, said in an email. “The other stories also appeared on dozens of websites across the country, including USA Today and NOLA.com.”

The oldest among the boomers, ages 45-65, are at retirement age, and there are millions to follow. Through the national Aging America project, news organizations are examining the impact — costs, strains and positive influences — that this so-called “silver tsunami” is having.

Since the project began last July, the AP and members of the news cooperative have delivered about 30 stories on the topic, many of which have been picked up by AP members for print and online.

Representatives from the AP in Ohio and each of the state’s eight largest newspapers — The Akron Beacon Journal, The Repository of Canton, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, The Blade of Toledo and The Vindicator of Youngstown — met in Columbus in December to begin planning the project and spent weeks via conference calls honing it and making assignments.

Many people in each newsroom were involved in the project, including reporters, editors, photographers, data analysts, artists, page designers and online producers. Collectively, the news organizations leveraged their limited resources to cover a lot of ground in a short time, all to provide a statewide perspective on how thousands of baby boomers are facing an uncertain future as they enter retirement.

Nussbaum said her office has heard from editors in other states asking how they can do such a report.

The AP is looking for partners in this ongoing project. If you’d like to get involved, please contact your local AP bureau chief. Or contact Alan Miller (amiller@dispatch.com), the APME liaison to AP for the project. National AP contacts are Carole Feldman in Washington at cfeldman@ap.org or Terry Spencer in Florida at tspencer@ap.org.

Read more about the project, go to www.apme.com and click on “Reporting projects.”

Alan Miller is managing editor / news for The Columbus Dispatch and an APME board member.

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