0801TRIPcontain (250 words)
(CONTAINABLE SHORT INTRO FOR News+Views sectionfront.)
We’re hitting the road like millions of Americans enjoying vacations, seeking jobs, searching for new homes, hoping for a better future. All of us love our country, but we’re also worried about our families, according to a new survey of Americans.
This week, like so many other families, a father and a son are hitting the road for the Detroit Free Press. They will drive thousands of miles and meet hundreds of Americans.
You know this family. The father is former Detroit Free Press Religion Writer David Crumm and the son is Benjamin. For years, the Crumms also wrote father-son game reviews for the Free Press. Through August, they will report daily from the road about Americans and our often-conflicting values.
Why now? Because our country is closing out a decade that opened with “9/11” and ended in financial and environmental disaster. We need a new kind of national conversation to map a better future.
Our politics, our spiritual aspirations, our entire culture is changing rapidly—but the news is not dismal. Americans may think of the decade behind us as dominated by 9/11, but billions around the world see this as the handheld decade. Suddenly, our world is leaping into the palms of our hands. From street protests in Iraq to corners of Africa where families still lack running water, people are opening windows onto the world through cell phones.
You can follow these stories in print and, wherever you choose to receive your news, via www.FreeP.com
Come on along.
0801TRIP (1,000 words)
(MAINBAR FOR inside News+Views August 1 section.)
“Why We Love America”
On the road with Americans searching for values that unite us.
By David and Benjamin Crumm
Two things unite Americans now: We love our country and we’re scared we won’t be able to support our families. Throughout August, a father and his son are hitting the road to report this story, which really is our shared story as Americans.
On one level, this journalistic experiment is groundbreaking. We need a new kind of collaborative exchange of ideas open to everyone from wealthy and well established—to out of work and worried.
In this experiment, the Detroit Free Press is collaborating in new ways. Longtime readers know this father-son reporting team. From 1983 to 2007, David Crumm was the Free Press’ religion writer. Then, as newspapers nationwide were downsizing, David left the Free Press to co-found an online news magazine covering spirituality and diversity, readthespirit.com.
For a year, ReadTheSpirit has been planning a major reporting effort on Americans. The idea grew until two online publications—ReadTheSpirit.com and Freep.com—are jointly publishing the series and two Michigan universities are involved, as well.
“Wait a minute! The idea really started with me and my studies at Eastern Michigan University.” This is Benjamin. “In 2011, I’m graduating with a degree in History and Area Studies: Africa. I see the world differently than your generation. Already, I’ve traveled to Africa to volunteer in a Kenyan school; I’ve traveled up the Amazon in Brazil helping with a floating medical clinic—but I haven’t set foot west of the Mississippi River in my own country.
“Then last year, I discovered that my father got his first job as a newspaper reporter while still a student at the University of Michigan in 1976. As a senior project, he convinced professors to let him travel around the U.S. and write a newspaper column in the Bicentennial year.
“It’s time for my own senior project at EMU and I’ve convinced my professor, Richard Nation, to let me retrace that 1976 reporting trip. It’s a good time for this. So much is changing. My father agreed to come with me and, this time, we’ll have two perspectives.”
As it turns out, we’ll share lots of perspectives in this first-of-its-kind project—including a new wave of research on American values from University of Michigan sociologist Wayne Baker, head of the Americans’ Evolving Values Project and a blogger for ReadTheSpirit. Throughout August, you’ll read some surprising news about our American attitudes from Baker’s newest national survey.
Here’s the most surprising finding in Baker’s latest research: Virtually all Americans say we love our nation. Two examples: All of us say we feel pride when we see the flag (93 percent) and hear our National Anthem (94 percent). But, virtually everyone (99 percent) also says: We’re concerned about our family’s financial wellbeing. (The study’s margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.)
“I’m not surprised to find such universal agreement on pride in our country. Symbolic patriotism is a longstanding part of our American character, but I am surprised that everyone is worried about family financial security right now. That’s a high spike of anxiety,” Baker said. “No question: This is a fascinating moment to examine what’s going on in America.”
Throughout August, you’ll read news from all of these perspectives: two different news publications (the Detroit Free Press and ReadTheSpirit.com), two generations, two universities. In addition, the new survey data adds viewpoints from across America. Then, through our daily reports, you’ll find the fresh voices of people we meet along the road.
Such collaborations represent the future of news media as we close out this handheld decade. The world’s culture, from our newest political movements to our oldest religious traditions, is moving from print media and stone-and-glass buildings into handheld devices. How fast is this change? The iPod wasn’t introduced until October 2001. The iPhone didn’t arrive until 2007. The iPad, already in millions of Americans’ hands today, is only a few months old.
At the moment, Americans are behind on this global curve. In Africa, millions now use cell phones in areas without electrical lines or indoor plumbing. In Asian countries like Singapore and Taiwan, people own an average of two or more handheld devices. New Asian “newspapers” are popping up entirely reported-and-consumed via handheld equipment.
Benjamin again: “But, this is bigger than the future of news media. It’s about how we get things done in the world. People my age don’t understand why it takes people your age so long to accomplish anything. First, you make out a schedule. Plan an agenda. Then, you wait. We do things differently. We get connected, text, converge—and act. We’re done while you’re still sending memos.”
This road trip is unique, but it also draws deeply on American tradition. The journalism rests on a solid foundation from the Free Press’ Pulitzer Prize-winning record to the national reputation of readthespirit.com as an independent news magazine covering religion, values and culture. Neither of the universities, nor any other company or group, is funding this project. Baker is releasing his data as a public service. Our reporting rests on core values of accuracy, trust and fairness.
Benjamin: “That’s important to explain, but tell them about the other traditions for road trips like this.”
From TV, Americans may recall “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” recently released on DVD, or today’s “PBS’s P.O.V.” documentary series. From literature, think about Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Sherman Alexie or Bill Bryson.
Here’s a famous kick-off quote: It’s from a person who launched a historic road trip, declaring high hopes for “a rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye.”
No, Thomas Jefferson and the road-trip duo? Lewis and Clark.
“Enough for now!” Benjamin one last time. “There are lots of miles ahead of us. Just tell people to follow us every day. Now: Let’s go!”
(Jointly published in the Detroit Free Press and readthespirit.com)