Trust Magazine

The Next Great Idea

Notes from the president

In this Issue:

  • Spring 2020
  • How States Are Innovating to Meet Today’s Challenges
  • The Loss of Local News
  • Wildlife Crossings Can Protect Migrating Animals
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic
  • The Next Great Idea
  • A New President and CEO for Pew
  • Noteworthy
  • In the Beginning Was the Word
  • How Autonomous Vehicles Could Affect State Budgets
  • Market-Based Regional Agreements Can Help Achieve Large-Scale Marine Conservation
  • Largely Unexplored Chilean Patagonia Needs Protections
  • Property Taxes Sink Farmland Owners
  • A Pledge to Do More
  • Why Public Opinion Polls Don't Include the Same Number of Republicans and Democrats
  • Successful Shark Conservation in the Pacific
  • Return on Investment
  • How the U.S. Changed Over the Past Decade
  • View All Other Issues
The Next Great Idea

Thomas Edison was America’s most prolific inventor of the 20th century, holding nearly 1,100 patents in the United States. This record of success seems to prove Edison’s maxim that “to have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

As the world confronts the effects of the coronavirus, it will take great ideas—a lot of them—to invigorate public health, rebuild economies, grow our investment
in science, and encourage innovation. In a series of stories that leads off this issue of Trust, we provide information that can help accomplish these goals: The Pew Research Center analyzes survey results showing the virus’s widespread impact on Americans’ daily lives, Pew biomedical scholar Marta Łuksza answers questions about how new viruses emerge and new vaccines are developed, and we report on how states can plan for the fiscal implications of the virus on their budgets and services.

This is not the first time Pew has recognized the threat of pandemics. Fifteen years ago, we made grants to the Trust for America’s Health to help key decision-makers at the federal, state, and local level develop plans to manage the effects of a major infectious disease outbreak. Those efforts included partnerships with the American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and educational campaigns that warned that in the time it would take to develop a vaccine to fight a new virus, hospitals would be overrun, ventilators and effective medications would be in short supply, and medical care would have to be rationed. Pew also worked with experts to develop a set of best practices for states, informing resources that are still being provided today by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

As Georges Benjamin, then the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a 2006 Trust story about those efforts, “It’s not a matter of if a pandemic flu will happen, but when.”

Today, unsurprisingly, states are at the forefront of efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak—and, concurrently, plan for an economic recession. Dozens of state and local governments—working with Pew—are using data to inform policy, make funding decisions, and help better manage everything from disaster response to expanding broadband and tracking infectious diseases, all things that will be especially relevant in responding to the pandemic, as we explain in this issue.

Still another challenge that states are confronting is improving transportation infrastructure. In an innovative attempt to protect people and animals, some Western states are investing in smart solutions to address the mass migration of wildlife across streets, bridges, and highways. As we report in this issue, environmental scientists and traffic engineers at the state level are finding solutions to a problem that costs more than $8 billion annually.

As the world confronts the effects of the coronavirus, it will take great ideas—a lot of them—to invigorate public health, rebuild economies, grow our investment in science, and encourage innovation.

Government innovation relies on open discussion and reliable information. But since 2004, 2,100 local newspapers have closed in the United States—and the number of newspaper employees has dropped 47 percent. As print advertising revenue has shrunk, digital ads have not kept up for many news organizations. Newspapers can try to make up for lost earnings, but, as the story “The Loss of Local News” reports, once a hometown paper shutters its doors, the communities it served cannot make up the lost attention to local government, civic life, and commerce. One bright spot is in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where a small group of local investors bought The Berkshire Eagle from a large out-of-state media company, hired additional staff, and launched new content. As you’ll read here, local ownership of newspapers is an old idea made new again, helping to rebuild the connection between a community and its paper in a modern, digital age.

Innovation also requires people trying new things in new roles. So I’m closing this column on a personal note: I’m transitioning into a senior adviser role at Pew on July 1. I’m delighted to say that our board found a new president and CEO very close to home: Susan Urahn, our executive vice president and chief program officer, who has been with Pew for more than 25 years. Sue is an ideal person for these times, with deep experience working with states and a keen appreciation for the environmental challenges facing the globe. I expect that, like Thomas Edison, she will relish the opportunity to find and develop good ideas—a lot of them.


Time Capsule

In the last decade of the 20th century, The Pew Charitable Trusts and its funding partners embarked on a new approach to wilderness protection, using land management tools to determine what areas were appropriate for conservation, forming partnerships with aboriginal communities and businesses, and focusing on protecting publicly owned and largely undisturbed lands. For example, Pew and these coalitions worked together to protect old-growth forests in the United States and Canada, such as the Hobo Cedar Grove in the St. Joe National Forest in Idaho. By 2000, these joint ventures had contributed to the protection of more than 100 million acres of forest.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Trust Magazine

A New President and CEO for Pew

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Trust Magazine

Susan K. Urahn will become the president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts on July 1, taking the reins from Rebecca W. Rimel, who is retiring after leading the organization for 32 years.

Also in this issue

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The Pew Research Center Remains Focused on the Facts

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How valuable is accurate information? Pew donor Roger Perry, a former circuit judge in West Virginia, would say it is extremely valuable, maybe even priceless.

A New President and CEO for Pew The Coronavirus Pandemic
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Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

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How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

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What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.