Public Insight Network

Meg Cramer

There’s so much to know about what’s happening in the world around us, and that information gives us insights into patterns and changes that could have a big impact on our lives.

But finding these trends requires a lot of data – and somebody has to go out and get it.

Chris Kort is one of those people. He's an ecological surveyor counting trees in Detroit. For every tree he counts, Kort marks where the tree is, then he adds details like its size, species, and health.

Kort does this all day long, walking up and down Detroit streets, counting trees on city property.

“Since March, I have surveyed 13,468 trees. And counting,” he says.

The data from this survey will go to the city, the state, and scientists at the U.S. Forest Service. It will tell a story about what’s happening to trees in the city.

A database like this has to be built manually by people like Chris Kort, tree by tree.

Kort is like the human version of the Google street view car, roving up and down blocks and adding to his map. He notices details that most people miss. There are some things you can only find on foot. 

“I’ve actually been collecting pennies on the sides of the roads for, like four months," says Kort, "I cashed in 2,200 pennies yesterday. People just don’t pick them up anymore apparently.”

user Ed Yourdon / Flikr

This Memorial Day, Michigan Radio spoke with veterans who have served overseas about how today’s veterans might be remembered.

Brandon Van Wagoner of Flint served in the Navy from 2004 to 2008, including two deployments to Iraq.

He thinks it's still too soon to know how his generation of service members will be remembered on Memorial Day.

“I really think the way we're actually going to see the Middle Eastern combatants isn't going to be completely formed or shaped until later on,” he says.

user larrysphatpage / Flikr

This Memorial Day, Michigan Radio spoke with veterans who have served overseas about what the day means to a new generation of service members.

Kelli McKinstry of Flint joined the air force in August of 2001. She served in Iraq, and got out in 2007. Now she’s a student at the University of Michigan, Flint.

“I think people are just adapting to the fact that our generation is now war victims, versus Vietnam,” she says.

Josh Eikenberry

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. 

Josh Eikenberry writes:

Because I got through college, I’ll probably be slightly better off economically than my parents, who only graduated high school.

On the other hand, the generation after me is doomed; college tuition and a rapidly changing economy requiring less workers means no chance to improve or make money, and the (probable) lack of a social safety net just adds to the gloomy picture facing my generation’s kids.

A second income is essential to any household. We have three. I work, my wife works, and on the weekends I work as a photographer. I’m iffy about kids, primarily because I don’t think I could realistically afford them. Maybe someday I’ll have enough saved to buy a house, but I’m not holding my breath. 

All I ever wanted was an office job. I have that now, so now I just want to pay of my debt and enjoy my life with my wife.

 

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Angela Dugan

Michigan Radio is partnering with Changing Gears to share stories about how people are planning ahead and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession. You can read those stories here.

Angela Dugan writes:

I am doing better than my parents, mostly because I am not a stay at home mother like my mother was. I also make more money than my husband.

We are working on starting a family, and I am struggling with the decision to stay at home or continue to work. It is both a question of what’s feasible economically, and what is best for our children.

My biggest concern is being able to afford a lifestyle that we are happy with if I choose to stop working once we have children. I make more money than my husband, so it would be a big change unless he ends up being the one that stays home. We are currently renting a home we could not sell, but at a huge loss, and our new home needs a lot of repair work.

To some extent, I feel that even though I’m doing the best I can to invest wisely and save as much as I can, a lot of variables are simply out of my immediate control.

You can help us cover this topic by sharing your story. How are you planning for what comes next? Tell us by following this link.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. You can read more stories about how Midwesterners' expectations are changing at the Changing Gears tumblr blog, http://chgears.tumblr.com.

Here's what some Midwesterners are saying:

"I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but we couldn’t have just one source of income and raise a family. Our fix? I opened a day care in our home. I treat it as my small business – which it is - and raise our child along with 3 others in her age range." -Ella Bensen

Michigan Radio and Changing Gears are collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.

“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”

So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.

“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”

When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.

When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.

Preeti Upadhyaya

Unemployment numbers in the Midwest are bad. Not as bad as when the recession was at its worst, but there are still a lot of people looking for jobs. Even so, we keep hearing that some employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says in his state alone, there are more than 77,000 job openings that can’t be filled.

There is really only one way to bridge that gap. People need training. And the way people are getting that training is changing.

Wendy Whitmore is the CEO of EMR Approved, a company in Chicago that works with doctors and hospitals that are making the switch to electronic medical records.

Four years ago, EMR Approved didn’t exist. Back then, Wendy Whitmore was running SSG Consulting, an IT consulting firm that wasn’t doing so well.

So she decided to try something new, and she took 12 of her employees with her.

Whitmore still runs SSG Consulting, and some of her employees straddle both businesses, but what they’re doing now is totally new.

Rosalyn Park

When we asked what cultural traditions people have kept or lost, many wrote about the difficulty of fitting into American culture while staying connected to their own roots

As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousin’s famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings or any dish that your family has enjoyed.

We’re collecting recipes until midnight tomorrow. We’ll publish all the recipes. The winner will be chosen by the Changing Gears team. They’ll collect a grab bag of public radio goodies. Share your traditional family recipes here, and tell us a little bit about the story behind the dish. 

Today, Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard shares this recipe for Mazurek:

My father’s family, which is of French descent, has been in the United States for many generations, settling primarily in Massachusetts. But my mother is a first generation American. Her family came to the United States around 1905. Her father hailed from what was known then as Byelorussia --- present day Belorus, sometimes also called White Russia.

My mom learned European dishes from her mother and New England recipes through my dad, so we enjoyed a varied menu at home. I’ve always heard my mother say what a good cook my grandmother was. But, I didn’t know until this year that my grandmother was co-owner of a bakery in Grand Rapids. The Northwestern Bakery stood on Leonard Street, although the building is no longer there.

Each Easter, my family gathers for brunch, and Mazurek (pronouncd mah-ZUR-eck) is always the last dish that is served. We sit over coffee and tea and enjoy this dense, rich pastry, very much like a soft shortbread. My mom was always the Mazurek baker, until she offered to teach me. She also shared the recipe with my brother, who baked the Mazurek that you see above.

Want to add Mazurek to your repertoire? Follow this recipe.

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We're asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We'll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They'll also appear at changinggears.info and we'll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.

Jillian Jones Sisko writes:

Letter writing has always been an important part of my family's legacy.

My mother discovered her family origins through a letters written in the early 1900's that were found in a desk drawer in an attic in Epernay, France. The letter was written by my grandfather and addresses to his brother. When my mother discovered the letters, she started communicating with her family.

When my oldest sister left for college in the 70's, my father, Wayne Muren, began writing weekly letters just as my great grandfather did many years prior. The letters served as a source of inspiration for my sister and as well as a blanket of comfort.

After all five children grew up and graduated from college, several moved away. Wayne kept writing letters. To this day, 35 years later, I am blessed to still receive a weekly letter filled with newspaper/magazine articles. The no. 10 envelope that was once delivered to my college dormitory is now a large manila envelope packed with news and information.

The letters are sent to not only his children, but also to his 11 grandchildren. The letters are now mailed in large envelopes which accompany 10-20 newspaper clippings to keep the family up-to-date with current events as well as comic strips from a local artist.

This gift of communication is one that I hope will never stop arriving at my door for many years to come. This ritual is now our family tradition.

Fewer Americans are making long distance moves than at any point since the census started tracking the data in the 1940s. Overall, American geographic mobility is declining--except in the Midwest.

From 2007-2009, over 900,000 people left the region. A lot of them went to Texas

Michigan Radio's Public Insight Journalist, Sarah Alvarez, has been collecting stories from some of the people who left. Alvarez spoke with Jennifer White, host of Michigan Radio's All Things Considered, about what's driving regional out-migration, and about how Midwestern exiles feel about making the Big Move.

Through the Public Insight Network, a database of sources, Alvarez heard from about 200 former Midwesterners living all over the country--and the world.  

"We wanted to see if these people's stories matched up with conventional wisdom and statistics about why people left the region," says Alvarez.

Jurveston / Flickr

You’ve probably seen news outlets asking for your opinion, or asking you to share your story with them. More and more, media outlets are asking YOU for your personal stories to help them tell the news. Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project has recently started trying it out with the Public Insight Network. It’s all about using social media to reach out to you. The goal is to tell a more compelling news story because it includes examples and real-life experiences.

To find out more about this trend in information-gathering and whether or not it's a good thing for a news-consumer, we caught up with Cliff Lampe, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

Stephen Henderson / flickr

Michigan Radio is becoming a part of the Public Insight Network. Just what is the Public Insight Network?

Well, it's our way to give you a microphone and get your voice heard.

You might contribute to stories on Michigan Radio or those broadcast by  Changing Gears, a radio collaboration between Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago, and Ideastream Cleveland.