At a time when a cash-strapped media industry lacks the resources to monitor government spending, one recent Penn alum is using new media to fill this role.
Stephen Morse, an '07 College alumnus and a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, recently founded the Web site mytwocensus.com, which aims to act as the unofficial watchdog for the 2010 census.
The idea came to Morse one day as he was perusing craigslist for jobs to supplement his income as a freelance writer in San Francisco.
He said he noticed that in a time of apparent economic crisis, the U.S. government was looking to hire thousands of people in the San Francisco area alone.
Further research revealed that the U.S. Census Bureau has a budget of $13 billion - plus an additional $1 billion from the stimulus package - and aims to recruit a workforce of three million people in time for the April 2010 census.
What Morse found even more alarming, he said, is that the Census Bureau is operating with literally no oversight.
"Hiring three million people makes this the U.S. government's largest ever peace-time mobilization effort," Morse said. "And right now they have been given $14 billion to spend with no supervision."
He added that much of the workforce is also highly paid, with the most junior employees in the San Francisco area making $22 per hour - more than twice the legal minimum wage.
Morse said on his Web site that he realized "if you give people $13 billion to complete a task, they are likely to spend it without caution - both frivolously and haphazardly."
With newspapers under threat and more shutting down every day, investigative journalism is the first thing to get cut because it doesn't give instant results, Morse explained.
It is this gap that Morse wanted to fill.
And so, in collaboration with fellow '07 College alumnus and former DP editor Evan Goldin, Morse began to work on the Web site for a few hours per day.
He predicts that the site's traffic will increase steadily in the run-up to the census.
After graduating from Penn, Morse earned a Masters degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for a talent agency, and collaborated with Fox on a sitcom he wrote and freelanced.
However, he wanted to get back into the political journalism that had occupied so much of his time at Penn and sensed that San Francisco offered a better atmosphere for innovative journalism.
"Journalism as we know it is dying," Morse said. "But to me that just means that there are so many new opportunities out there."Comments powered by Disqus
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