What do you want me to do?

Back when I used to be an editor, my favorite question was a simple one: “Who cares?” It was the way I tried to separate those stories that have some meaning from those stories that are done simply because we’ve always done them. If a press release comes into a newsroom tomorrow announcing 10 layoffs at the Layoffs ‘r Us store, it’ll get a fair amount of attention because we need to tell you just how bad the economy is. As if you didn’t already know.

At what point does the news do you no good if all it does is tell you what you already knew?

These days, I ask myself a new question: “What do you want me to do about it?” It’s one of the reasons behind the News Cut on Campus effort. Documenting what some people are doing about it, shows that people are…doing…something… about…. it.

From what I can tell from all of the economic stimulus package coverage last week, lots of money is heading our way, but only a few pennies are coming to us directly. The state has its hands out. The cities have their hands out. The counties have their hands out, and all of them are in no mood to do any more than they’re already doing and, in many cases, less than that.

So it’s unclear what I’m supposed to do now as a member of the U.S. economy.

The front page of the Star Tribune tells me today that nurses, recently in short supply in Minnesota, are now being laid off because the state is cutting reimbursements to hospitals (again), and people are putting off elective surgery. It’s enough to make me feel I’m not pulling my weight because I feel fine today. It’s a terrible thing — nurses being laid off and all — but what can I do about it?

MPR tells me that Duluth is bracing for local government aids cuts, but I already figured that because there’ve been stories for three weeks that local government aid was going to be cut under Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s plan. Most cities that get LGA are cutting back. What am I supposed to do? I’m not the governor, I’m not a legislator, I’m not a mayor. It’s the reality that leads people to throw shoes.

“You know what you people can do?” a man said to me as he picked up chairs last week at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. “You can stop telling me how bad things are: It’s just making it worse.”

It’s an opinion that is gaining some traction and it doesn’t mean people want the news media to pretend everything is great. It means people want people like me to stop telling you how bad things are, and start telling people what they can do about it?

Nobody is telling me what that is.

Susan Brown of St. Paul had a suggestion in her letter to the Star Tribune today:

Here’s a request to all those whose jobs are secure: Don’t pretend to be hurting if you’re not, or hold back on spending because it seems like you ought to. It doesn’t have to be lavish or extravagant, but go out for lunch, shop at Target, check out the skyways, go to the mall, go to a play or concert, consider a spring break vacation, throw a dinner party and maintain your charitable giving. It’s the right thing to do!

Is she right?