Reporting On The Shutdown, One Facebook Post At A Time

Shutting down the government is nothing new; Congress did it 18 years ago, suspending federal operations for three weeks.

History suggests Americans will accept the inconvenience for the duration, and Congress eventually will find a compromise.

But what if history is bunk? What if what we think we know about government shutdowns doesn't apply to this one?

The current shutdown is very different from the Clinton-era event in two important ways.

First, this government disruption stems from a profound policy disagreement: Some conservatives want to defund or delay the nation's new health care law and Democrats object. In 1995, the shutdown was tied to a simple disagreement over dollar amounts — an easier problem to solve if you are trying to meet in the middle.

And second, back in 1995, the story of the shutdown was being told by traditional media outlets. TV news shows, newspapers and magazines sent reporters out to cover the shutdown's impact. The outlets reported whatever could be learned from the reporters they could afford to pay.

But this time, the story is being covered for free by millions of Americans posting photos and comments online. On Facebook pages, people are sharing photos of themselves being turned away from national parks and walking away from empty federal offices.

Parents are using social media to fret about their college-age children getting thrown out of federal internships. Eighth-graders are using texts and Twitter to discuss the cancellation of class trips to Washington.

No government shutdown has ever been covered directly by the people, for the people. In such a radically different media environment, how will this story play out? Will the winners and losers turn out to be quite different from those whom the political experts now expect?

Is history any guide at all when the people writing that history are doing it on smartphones?

Below are just a few of the reports Tell Me More got Tuesday from average Americans. The stories people are telling each other may reshape our political debates in ways yet unimagined.

Here are their voices:

Stories From Around The Nation

  • Matt Dufresne — Castle Rock, Colo.

    Matt Dufresne

    hide captionMatt Dufresne

    Courtesy of Matt Dufresne

    I am the primary income earner for my family and live paycheck-to-paycheck, like so many others in this country. This could have very devastating financial effects on my family. Now take my situation and multiply it by the numerous others in similar circumstances, and it's downright scary.

  • Caitlin Younts — Silver Spring, Md.

    Caitlin Younts i i

    hide captionCaitlin Younts

    Courtesy of Caitlin Younts
    Caitlin Younts

    Caitlin Younts

    Courtesy of Caitlin Younts

    I'm a graduate student in biology at Johns Hopkins University, but I am completing my thesis research at the National Institutes of Health. Although I'm paid by the NIH, I receive a fellowship, not a salary. I'm not actually a federal employee. This means that even through the shutdown, I still get paid. However, I am not allowed to continue work during the shutdown, since even though my stipend isn't affected, all of the lab work I do on a daily basis (the microscopes, the animals, the pipets, the computer I process data on) is part of the NIH budget and, therefore, the federal budget.

  • Craig Thoricht — Doylestown, Ohio

    Craig Thoricht's wife, Linda. i i

    hide captionCraig Thoricht's wife, Linda.

    Courtesy of Craig Thoricht
    Craig Thoricht's wife, Linda.

    Craig Thoricht's wife, Linda.

    Courtesy of Craig Thoricht

    My wife and I are on our way to Acadia National Park. From NE Ohio, this is a bit of a trek. We are going there to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. We will still be staying in Bar Harbor. We still will have a special day. But this is a bitter pill to have to swallow. As a veteran and a taxpayer, I am sick with how this situation with the ACA is being handled. Thanks for nothing, Republicans.

  • Gretchen Merrill — Salem, Ore.

    Gretchen Merrill's son Ben (center). i i

    hide captionGretchen Merrill's son Ben (center).

    Courtesy of Gretchen Merrill
    Gretchen Merrill's son Ben (center).

    Gretchen Merrill's son Ben (center).

    Courtesy of Gretchen Merrill

    My oldest son, Ben Merrill, is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. He has been with his village for over a year, and is actively involved in several projects, including a well project. He is not only getting the well in, but is providing guidance on how to continue funding it in the future. He is the first PCV in his village in years, and has gone a long way towards establishing goodwill with the folks there. He and all his fellow PCVs represent the United States in such a positive way. Our Congress is certainly not doing that.

    While the Peace Corps is not moving anyone yet, we will probably have to wire him money, so he can buy food and pay his rent.

    This is a very small part of the shutdown, but gosh, it sure sends the world a really negative message about the United States. I am a proud American, but this Congress embarrasses and enrages me. All for their ego.

  • Matt Dell — London

    Matt Dell i i

    hide captionMatt Dell

    Courtesy of Matt Dell
    Matt Dell

    Matt Dell

    Courtesy of Matt Dell

    I'm an American living abroad. The government shutdown is turning into a positive for me. It's giving me the best exchange rate I've had all year against the Great British pound — nearly the best it's been in the past four years. The falling of the dollar is making it easier to pay my bills back home, but it certainly can't be helping my home country pay its debts.

  • Susan Taylor — Estes Park, Colo.

    Many residents in Estes Park, CO, have had to shut down their businesses while they repair damage from flooding a few weeks ago. With road closures affecting how many people commute to work, they have had to take leave of absences. Now, with a government shutdown, thousands of NPS employees are not working. And how many tourists are going to come to the town that is the "gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park" when you can't enter the park?

  • Anne Vandeven — Takoma Park, Md.

    I run a bed and breakfast. This is now my family's main source of income. We have lost two bookings so far as a result of the shutdown. Most of our guests come to see the sights on the National Mall. Lost nearly $1,000 in income so far. This is a disaster for us. The name of our B&B is Takoma Bliss.

  • Angela Saylor — Mesa, Ariz.

    I am embarrassed and disappointed that I will have to tell my uncle this Saturday he will not be checking off "Grand Canyon" from his bucket list. "Sorry Uncle Bob, but our government is so dysfunctional that they shut down. All state parks will be closed until further notice. I apologize that the money you saved up to take a trip of a lifetime will simply get you an experience at touristy shops in Scottsdale and a glimpse of Sedona." What unfortunate timing to be 85 and travel across the world to not be able to experience one of the seven wonders of the world.

    Truly disgusted with our government in Mesa, Arizona

  • Michael Schoenewies — St. Louis

    I am getting married on Friday, Oct. 4. My soon-to-be wife and I have booked a nine-day adventure for our honeymoon, which includes national parks. We are both photographers, and we wanted to experience and document the beauty of the American west. We are flying into Las Vegas and plan to drive through Death Valley National park (including staying in the park), and make our way to Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park (including staying in the park), and flying home out of Los Angeles. More than 75 percent of our planned honeymoon will be impacted by this. I spoke to the hotels in the parks and they will offer refunds, but there are multiple hotels that we booked along the way that are not as receptive to giving a refund, much less the airfare that we paid for. I know many other people will have much worse impacts than this. It's sad to see that a small handful of politicians can affect such a wide range of people in far-reaching ways that I don't think they've even considered. This will hurt us financially if we are not able to refund other hotels and/or airfare, or have to book other locations last minute.

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