Six months ago, I took a buyout from a shrinking Los Angeles Times and wrote about it here. I didn't know what would come next. Certainly, I couldn't have predicted where that step would take me.
Now I'm across the country at an influential Washington D.C. think tank -- the Economic Policy Institute -- puzzling over how to pour two decades of newspaper experience into a new job of translating economic research and policy for a broad audience.
I'll still be writing. And in time, I hope to add context to the numbers coming from EPI's staff Ph.D.s with street reporting, just like the old days. But there's a key difference: My writing now will be unabashedly informed by a point of view.
Like the folks who started EPI in the mid-1980s as a counter to the reigning economic philosophy, I view the working and middle classes as the bedrock of the U.S. economy, and believe that government policies should do a better job of strengthening them. I also see a role for strong labor unions in balancing economic power, now so clearly out of whack.
In the artificial objectivity of modern journalism, which pits equally-weighted sides (i.e., labor and management) against each other, those sorts of opinions might be viewed as bias.
But through years of reporting on labor, trade and immigration, I've seen the consequences of an unbalanced economic culture that prizes cheap products and high corporate profits over stability and equitably-shared growth. It's not pretty and, as the numbers are increasingly telling us, it's not sustainable.
EPI has broken ground on these topics since the mid-1980s, documenting wage, employment and wealth inequality trends with impeccable research, building credibility in the face of skepticism and even hostility, and becoming an indispensable source to journalists covering workers and the economy.
Its work has quietly moved the political and economic debate, forcing recognition that free markets alone are insufficient to ensure a fair and prosperous economy. With political change on the horizon and cracks appearing in the conventional economic wisdom, the institute may have its best shot of influencing policy in years.
To take advantage of that opportunity, EPI is expanding, trying to find new ways to reach out beyond the beltway policy wonks and the shrinking number of elite economic journalists. As senior economist Jared Bernstein puts it, EPI is "going retail."
I was hired, along with author and speechwriter David Kusnet, is part of that effort. We're still working on the details, including a title (resident journalist? staff writer?). To a certain extent, this is a leap of faith, built on the idea that the old centers of information are being displaced by something new, and we want to have a voice in it.
I'm not alone in puzzling about how to proceed. As news organizations across the country push out experienced writers and shrink substantive reporting, more research groups like EPI are bringing their own journalists on board. We're reinventing ourselves as the world of journalism changes.
In my case, I'll continue to ask questions, to translate and explain, building on the careful research of economists I've learned to trust and respect. The difference is that I'll now be marshalling those facts to infuse the economic debate with I view as a long-missing dose of fairness.