Welcome to Changing Gears. We’re a public media project looking at the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest, telling the stories of the people that are living through that change. Changing Gears is shared by three stations: WBEZ Chicago, Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and ideastream in Cleveland. You’ll also hear our reports on NPR shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on Marketplace. And, our team members are often guests on programs such as PBS NewsHour, Talk of the Nation and The Diane Rehm Show.
Changing Gears has reporters in Chicago, Ann Arbor and Cleveland, as well as a Web editor, a public interest journalist, and our senior editor. We’ve reported from Minnesota to New York, from big cities and small towns, and we hope we’re capturing a region that’s going through a transition.
Below, you’ll find answers to some commonly asked questions about Changing Gears, as well as handy guides for starting your own discussions about our stories and a teachers’ guide with suggestions on how you can spur classroom discussion using our coverage.
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A Conversation with Senior Editor, Micki Maynard
Q: Why is a project like Changing Gears important?
A: Most news coverage comes in two types: national, and local. But people in different regions of the country, like the Midwest, the South and New England, have a lot in common with each other. Changing Gears is a rare opportunity for regional coverage that you may not find elsewhere.
Q: What do you hope to learn about this region?
A: A lot of people have preconceived ideas about the industrial Midwest, and many of them think the region’s best years are behind it. We’re looking for stories that tell the true nature of the region, instead of re-telling stories that may no longer be true.
Q: Can Changing Gears have an effect on economic development in the Midwest?
A: As journalists, we tell stories — we don’t advocate for investments. But we can spark a conversation about whether there are opportunities here.
Q: Have there been any surprises from the stories so far?
A: It’s been surprising to learn just how many people are trying to get the Midwest back on its feet. There’s a lot of goodwill and effort going on, and far more entrepreneurs than you might think. Another surprise is that people from other countries are playing an increasingly important role in bringing our region back to life. Finally, it’s been interesting to learn that not everyone embraces the idea of a regional identity. We aren’t sure what to call ourselves, let alone have a common outlook.
Q: Is there one story that has had a significant impact on you?
A: During the first week of Changing Gears, Kate Davidson reported on two-tiers, the new workers in car plants who are earning sharply lower wages than veteran workers on the same assembly line. The story really touched a nerve with a lot of our listeners. It painted a clear picture of what’s happening in the Midwest: jobs are being created, people are eager to get them, but nothing’s the same as it used to be.
Q: What do you hope listeners take away from this project?
A: Three things. First, the Midwest is an important part of the American economy, despite the impression that it’s dying. New ideas are being born here every day. Second, this is a richly diverse region, in geography, in outlook and in demographics. You can’t generalize about the Midwest any more. We’re not all Democrats, or farmers, or factory workers, and we might not even have been born here. Third, the old thinking has to go away if new opportunities are going to be created. The days when your dad could get you a job in a factory, or your company would keep you on for life, are over. You have to take charge of your own fate.
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Start your own Changing Gears Discussion Group
After listening to stories from the Changing Gears team you might have more questions than you started with. You might also feel the need to continue the discussion in your own community. The size of a discussion group is not important. We do, however, hope you continue the conversation about how this region is being reshaped economically. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Invite a small group over to listen to stories and share their own stories about how the changes in the economy have impacted their lives.
- Start a Facebook discussion group by linking to stories on the Changing Gears website and allowing members to share their thoughts, comments, and ideas.
- Partner with a local library to share Changing Gears stories (available on the website) and start a discussion group with other community members.
Share your story
We want to hear from you. We know there will be stories we don’t get to tell so we’d like you to share your story with us. You can submit your story of how your life and community has been impacted by the changes in the economy. Perhaps you find yourself embarking on a new career. Maybe you’ve relocated to follow work. Maybe you started a small business so you have more control over your income and employment. We want to know your story. Please be sure to share your contact information in the spaces provided below.
You can use stories from Changing Gears to spur discussion in your classroom. These stories also provide your students with the opportunity to understand how their lives provide context to the current economic changes being experienced in the Midwest and across the country. Have students interview each other about the economic climate in your community and how the effect it has on their lives. This same exercise can be used outside of the classroom by having students identify people in the community who they can interview. Sample questions are provided below.
- Does our community have a major industry or industries on which it relies?
- Has our community been impacted by changes in the economy?
- In your neighborhood, have you noticed changes that are impacted by the economy? What kind of changes have you noticed and how do you believe they are tied to the economy? Have your career plans changed because of the changes you see in the economy? Why?
- Do you know anyone who has been impacted by changes in the economy? If so, how?
- Do you know anyone who has had to relocate because of changes in economy? Explain the relationship between the economic changes and their decision to relocate.
- If you were the (mayor/governor/president/) what kinds of things would you do to encourage economic growth?
Historical context exercise
It is important that the changes in the economy be recognized as an event that is happening within a larger historical context. The exercise below can aid students in understanding that context.
- Have students identify a major industry in your community.
- Have students research whether that industry is declining or growing. What are the indicators of decline or growth in that industry?
- Have students look at other economic factors (both national and global) that have encouraged the decline or growth of that industry.
- Have students identify how the decline or growth of that industry has negatively or positively impacted the community.
Current events exercise
The challenging economy is a current event in and of itself. However, it also has a significant impact on other current events in unexpected ways. Have students identify and article and explain how the subject of that article relates to the economic shift.
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As always, we’d like to hear from you. You can post comments below, follow us on Twitter @ChGears and email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know how you’re using the Changing Gears project in your classroom. Do you have an innovative idea? Let us know so we can share it with other educators.