Taking on Chicken Little: Entrepreneurs Fight Doomsday Economic Predictions

Article ImageOver the past few months, from scattered corners of the web, the sentiment “enough already” has slowly emerged. Yes, we’re in a recession; friends and family members are losing jobs, retirement savings, and homes; people are scared and frustrated. But enough with apocalyptic forecasting—let’s move on to the question of how we’re all going to get through this. Sites such as Recessionwire, Economic TurningPoint, and the Reinventing America series of reports on MSNBC.com have launched with the goal of helping readers understand not only what is going on with the economy but what to do now.

This productive, solution-oriented spin was only natural, says Recessionwire co-founder Sara Clemence. “People want to feel like they’re not alone. Part of not feeling alone is having people to commiserate with, but you don’t just need someone to listen and confirm how crappy things are. At some point all of us—on a macro level and micro level—need inspiration, advice, and role models,” she says.
Clemence was laid off from Condé Nast’s Portfolio magazine last October. She quickly landed a position at fellow Condé Nast publication, Domino, only to have it shutter that day. A holiday party in December led to a conversation with the other two Recessionwire co-founders, Laura Rich and Lynn Parramore, both of whom had also recently lost jobs. As luck would have it, Rich and Parramore had simultaneously been buying up recession-related domain names, and the three women decided to launch a site dedicated to the issue—quickly.

“It became clear that we were not going to be the only people with a website dedicated to what was going on,” says Clemence. A soft launch on Feb. 2 was followed by an official launch a week later, and the site now has a stable of 20–25 contributors who cover everything from how to find shared office space to life after Wall Street and profiles of “lemonade makers” who are making the most of the current economy. Recessionwire’s tag line is “The upside of the downturn,” but the site does also feature items that aren’t as rosy, such as a daily Screwed report detailing what companies are laying off staff.

Economic TurningPoint, which launched shortly after Recessionwire, takes more of a big-picture approach. Site administrator Edward Thompson said, “We are facing a dramatic restructuring of our economy. The traditional steps for this process involve massive layoffs, stock sell-offs, crumbling consumer confidence, reduced spending, and then—after many years—a new economy rises from the ashes. What if we could sidestep most of that?” Economic TurningPoint is based on the premise that had the internet existed during the Great Depression, the access to information and collaborative thinking might have turned the country around more quickly, and the site seeks practical solutions to sizeable problems. Forums tackle issues such as Proposals, Solutions, and Strategies for Restructuring our Economy, Econ 101, and How can I help solve the problem?

Thompson is clear that visitors of any political persuasion are welcome, but an effort is made to keep the tone civilized and productive. “We are, first and foremost, solution-oriented,” he said when announcing the project.

While Economic TurningPoint is essentially a network of message boards allowing extended conversations and a variety of writing styles, both Recessionwire and Reinventing America maintain a set voice throughout. The Reinventing America series adds articles on career reinvention, the industries that are hiring, and lessons to be learned, from the Great Depression to the MSNBC.com mix of recession reporting. According to chief economics correspondent Martin Wolk, more than 2,000 people responded to an inquiry about how Americans are reinventing themselves to face the economic crisis.

“It sounds Pollyanna-ish, but the truth is that there are bright spots,” Clemence says. And for the Recessionwire founders, that includes a successful business venture coming on the heels of a job loss. According to Clemence, the site is generating revenue, primarily in the form of advertising, and the team is working on additional revenue streams.

“I never wanted to be a poster child for the recession,” she adds. But she, Rich, and Parramore determined that “something really big was going on and we wanted to be chronicling it. We felt like there was a big cultural shift taking place—not necessarily a bad one—and this could potentially be a very creative time, a very productive time, a great time to be inspiring and be inspired, and we wanted to be a part of that.”

(www.economicturningpoint.com; www.msnbc.msn.com; www.recessionwire.com)