Reporting the Economy in Orange County

Take a look at some of the things the Orange County Register is doing with its economic reporting.

Here’s a blog called “Handling Hard Times” that’s kind of a one-stop shop for news about the battered local economy. Out-of-work folks used to pick up the paper to get the classifieds. Mary Ann Milbourn’s blog allows the Register to serve a big portion of its readers with more in-depth news and information and to target prospective ones

A story on a local company hiring twenty people might not make the paper, but it works as a blog post here, alongside posts on the 200,000 Californians who are now 99ers and the 130 workers an O.C. firm is hiring—in India.

This is the kind of aggregation mixed with original reporting that newspapers need to be doing.

The paper is also doing some fine reporting on the unemployed. It’s started a multimedia series called “Work,” by Peggy Lowe, which you can find here. Here’s a well done piece on a family that went from six-figure income to living in their van:

Allen applied at Target and Wal-Mart, but got no response. He’s walked into a few fast food places, like Jack in the Box and Taco Bell, but managers weren’t interested because he doesn’t speak Spanish. He briefly held a low-paying job at Von’s, but didn’t pass probation. He thinks it’s because he asked too many questions about trying to improve operations.

The couple’s biggest fear is that their van – their only home – will be impounded because their license plate tags are eight months overdue. Just last week, they got a ticket, and combined with a couple parking citations they’ve already racked up, that could also lead to losing their vehicle. To avoid scrutiny, they always back in to parking slots, so the cops can’t see the expired tags. They also worry that the bald back tires will blow at any time and Regina has tried to repair them with bicycle patches.

Read the whole thing. It’s excellent stuff.

I got a jaunty ad from Lexus when I watched the good video slideshow the paper put together. That was jarring. But I don’t care if the Register has to print a yachting special section. Whatever it takes to support this kind of work is fine by me.

And come to think of it, it’s almost art to see the jaunty Lexus ad juxtaposed with the depressing reality of life on the streets in Orange County.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.