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Longform Multimedia Writing Example -"In-Depth: Sequester Primer"

When a journalist writes a longform multimedia project, it's important to keep in mind both the attention span of the audience and the reason for this format of media delivery.

In the case of this project - an in-depth explainer surrounding the Congressional sequester February of 2013 - Shawn chose to break down the complicated topic through a series of questions and answers. This Q&A method allowed for answers that multiple listeners had asked to be answered once again, while using articles, videos, and links that Shawn and other members of the Randi Rhodes staff had collected over several days of on-air discussions. This method also allowed for the host, Randi, to refer listeners to the article when they would call with a question that had already been answered. That enabled the host to move on to another caller, and more interesting discussions with other callers.

According to a recent Pew Research poll, currently - less than a week before the sequester goes into effect - 72% of America has NO idea what the sequester is even about.

Considering that the sequester could result in as many as 2 million jobs lost, won't really reduce the deficit, and will likely throw America back into recession, we'd say it's pretty important to understand a few key facts about the sequester. So grab the primer below, click through the links and learn all about it.


1) What is the Sequester?

As Dylan Matthews of Wonkblog pointed out in his extensive ultimate sequester guide, the most basic description of the sequester is this:

"The sequester is a group of cuts to federal spending set to take effect March 1, barring further congressional action."

The cuts aren't just your average budget cuts, though. They're a package of across-the-board cuts to federal government programs and services, evenly divided between defense and domestic spending. Some items are being protected from these cuts, like unemployment payments, Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits. Most federal workers who handle all those programs will NOT be protected, though. Accoridng to the Pew Research Center, most Americans don't want to cut any of these services.

2) What's getting cut - and what's it mean to me?

Other than the few protected items, a huge list of jobs and services provided by the federal government will be cut - and the conseqences will be very ugly. Cuts will affect people from first responders, to teachers and military support personnel, to border patrol agents, cancer researchers and more. Christine Romans of CNN lays out some basic details in 90 seconds.

Even if program cuts don't directly affect you, aproximately 800,000 federal workers are likely to be forced to take furloughs - though unions are trying to soften the blow to federal workers and their families. Still, furloughs will effectively cut the paychecks of federal workers by a minimum of one day per week - which means that they won't be spending that money in private businesses either.

Those furloughs will also include air traffic controllers, meaning that any flight you might take will be delayed. Members of Congress may even be sitting right next to you in the terminal, though - the perfect place to tell them exactly what you think of their obstructionism.

3) Who's responsible for this mess?

Technically, YOU are, if you're one of the millions of people who voted for irrational tea party obstructionist Republicans or weak middling Democrats.

Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast made it very clear exactly who is responsible, politically, for the sequester cuts. Yes, President Obama may have come up with the idea, when the Republicans in Congress held him and the nation economic hostages in August 2011. That was the hostage situation that Republicans thought they won, when Speaker John Boenher said Republicans got 98% of everything they wanted.

That standoff ended with the Budget Control Act of 2011 - an act that an overwhelming majority of Republicans voted for, which also included the sequester penalty. To make things worse for Republicans, according to findings in a recent report by John Avlon, Speaker Boehner planned this sequester all along.

4) Does President Obama have a plan to stop this?

Contrary to what Republicans in Congress, and their leaders in right wing talk radio say, yes - President Obama has a plan.

You can even click on the image at right, and download for yourself President Obama's quick, single-sheet explanation of his plan. Or you can click here, and go to the White House website where you can read more extensively about President Obama's Balanced Plan to Avert the Sequester and Reduce the Deficit

The short description of the President's plan is this: $1.2 billion in cuts, combined with $600 million in tax increases, mostly on the wealthy. That's a 2-to-1 ratio of cuts to revenue - meaning that if Republicans in Congress simply declared they've won already, they could call this off anytime. 

Senate Democrats have also introduced a plan to stop the sequester. In fact, there have been four major plans proposed already: one each from House and Senate Democrats, one from President Obama, and one from the House GOP - though the House GOP plan is not a compromise, and is so bad, House Republicans admit they couldn't even pass their own plan to stop the sequestration.

5) If this sequester goes through, how will it work?

Ezra Klein, of Wonkblog at the Washington Post, had a great explanation in under two minutes, when he recently hosted The Last Word - so we'll let Ezra explain it you, quickly:

6) Once again, who do we blame if this happens?

As we noted in Section 3 (above), the sequester appears to have been a plan created by Speaker Boehner, and driven through Congress mostly by Republicans. And even though Republicans are desperately trying to blame President Obama and Democrats for the disasterous consequences of the sequester, Americans aren't buying what the GOP is selling.

According to a new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll, most Americans agree with President Obama on most major challenges facing our country, and how to solve them - and that includes the sequester. 

Not only do Americans agre with President Obama - they like him far more than they do Republicans. According to the latest Bloomberg poll, President Obama has his highest approval ratings in three years. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans' are experiencing record low popularity. 

7) What can we do to help stop this?

If you've got a phone? CALL. YOUR. CONGRESSPEOPLE. Remind them there's an election in 2014 - and some of them are on the ballot.

You've got three people that are supposed to be speaking for you in Congress - two Senators and one Representative. Call their offices and let them know - They MUST fix the sequester. NOW. The number for the U.S. Capitol Switchboard is below:

(202)224-3121

As we ALWAYS tell you, "Be polite - but be firm." You likely also want to be brief, since everyone else will also be calling their congressmembers, and just like you, urging them to get past this sequester. If you want more details on how to contact your Congresspeople, Congress.org has even more tips and hints.

Get in the game. Now.