Need to Know: Help Wanted – A Q&A with Executive Producer Marc Rosenwasser

October 7th, 2011

Marc Rosenwasser

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with Marc Rosenwasser, Executive Producer of Need to Know. The series recently changed its format to a half-hour program focused on the 2012 election and all the important issues that come with it — from the economy and jobs to the environment. Here, Rosenwasser discusses “Help Wanted,” a new series that takes an in-depth look at the job crisis and its impact on Americans across the country.

Need to Know airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN. “Help Wanted” premieres tonight, and will continue the first Friday of every month through the election. Learn more about the series and watch featured segments here.

Inside Thirteen: What issues and trends will be covered in “Help Wanted”?

Marc Rosenwasser: We’re going to be reporting “Help Wanted” from all around the country over the next year. In our first “Help Wanted” special, we are shooting in Cuyahoga County in Northern Ohio with John Larson. The reason we went there is because we hope to actually revisit that in the next 15 months to see how these people are faring and to see how their situation is affecting their thinking about the presidential campaign next year. So, we have a sampling of different people of different political stripes, but more importantly, we ended up with a sampling of people who actually have jobs, who are totally insecure. So when the unemployment numbers are released this Friday (they’re released the first Friday of every month) – since we air on Friday it’s easy enough to do, and it makes the show, we hope, extremely timely. We’re going to Northern Ohio because it’s actually not a worse-case scenario, it’s actually a typical place. It has a lot of different kinds of jobs, and Ohio is a critically important political state; they’ve voted for the winner every single time since 1964. What we’re ending up with this time is a piece that’s actually about people who have jobs who’ve had their hours reduced, their benefits cut, or they’ve had to take different jobs at lesser pay, so the point of that all is that even though they’re under great stress, they’re not even in the official numbers.

The second piece, which is about minority unemployment, especially among young black males, which is a huge problem going back for a long time; we’re actually working with the author David Simon of The Wire, he wrote a book in this series 15 years ago called The Corner, and we basically went back with Scott Simon to a corner in Baltimore to see what all those young men are doing. Very few of them have work, and very few of them are counted in the numbers because they’ve long since stopped looking for work. So, what we’re ending up with on this first edition of “Help Wanted” is a show that makes a point that as troubling as the official statistics are, they don’t even measure by a long shot the full extent of the problem. The only time we get close is by including “underemployed workers” – these people are not going to be in either one of these categories and they’re under tremendous stress, but they’re not counted.

IT: Are there any angles of the country’s job crisis that you feel have not been getting enough media coverage/attention?

Photo courtesy of Need to Know

MR: Honestly, I think all of it. I think by every measurement, it’s the issue that matters most. Hopefully what we can bring to it is a much greater depth and context to the issue. Also what we’ll be doing, not in this show but in the future, we have pieces in the works about innovative solutions to try to solve the job crisis. So, at least to, if not solve it, to potentially make it less of a crisis. For instance, we have a piece in the works from Oregon about a program that enables you if you are unemployed, instead of spending the number of weeks that you’re without benefits looking for a job, this program (which was created by NAFTA) actually enables you to start your own business during that time. So instead of just looking for work, you’re actually able to try to initiate a business plan and start a business. The advantage of that of course is that if it succeeds, and they do have a high success rate, you’re actually over time able to hire other people; so it’s not just a walk for a walk, hopefully it generates several jobs from your own success. So our goal is to broaden that discussion and make people aware of these innovative programs.

IT: What do you hope will differentiate Need to Know’s election coverage from other news organizations?

MR: PBS features wonderful, mostly studio-driven analysis of issues. What we hope to do is, just so we can create our own identity, and carve out a place that we hope makes us valuable, is to do much more of a field approach. In the past three weeks we’ve done case studies that illustrate bigger issues, which is what we want the model to be – character-driven stories that illustrate an important issue. From Greenville, Michigan, from Endicott, NY; this week we’re going to Cuyahoga County in Ohio and to Baltimore – so that will be our approach. We’ll probably be doing one-topic shows that will be piece-driven, that will often but not always include an interview. And to go deeper into that, to devote all 30 minutes to one topic…we think we can bring greater depth to whatever topic we’re covering, and to do it from the eyes of real people who are affected by the issue.

IT: Who is on your wish list of guests/experts to interview on the show?

MR: It really depends on what issues we cover. When we book major players, what we’re hoping to do is share them with shows like the NewsHour, so that we would do a big segment and hopefully give them part of it – that would be useful for them and useful for us as well.

Watch last week’s episode of Need to Know, which goes to Michigan to explore the challenges faced in creating a new economy for “green jobs”: