NYT’s Creativity On the Unemployment Story

The Times deserves a little something extra in its pay envelope for this morning’s unemployment package: a story based on a poll of the unemployed, a graphic, and, most affectingly, video interviews with out-of-work workers.

To me, the package shows a news organization trying whatever is on hand—a poll, a graphic, what have you—to tell a difficult story that’s already been told, yet one that remains probably the country’s top business story and will be up there for years. What’s more, everyone’s unemployment story is the same in a lot of ways: they’re out of work; it’s depressing and stressful; mundane matters—paying the mortgage, buying medicine—become major anxiety-provoking problems.

Fortune did a nice job on unemployment with photos and short profiles last February. The Times moves it up another notch here. Unfortunately, business journalism’s creativity will be put to the test with this particular story.

The video interviews are simple monologue, yet all the more moving for that. These clips really do help connect readers/viewers to the unemployed and them to us.

Marcie Gottlieb, assistant teacher, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania:

“The worst thing for me was the lack of self-esteem…What I want to highlight is the isolation.

Howard Whatley, construction project manager, Pilot Point, Texas.

We had to use your retirement to pay off our debt… The big deal, though, is healthcare. We can’t afford our medicine sometimes, and can’t afford our doctor visits. It doesn’t look like it’s getting any better soon.

Bill Grierson, former supervisor at Delphi Automotive, Dayton, Ohio.

Some of the stresses and problems since I lost my job have definitely been being behind on the mortgage. That’s a real uncomfortable situation. We’re about six months behind on our mortgage, and I really don’t have any idea how we’re going to catch up with the mortgage….Basically, when you have no job you have no money for any type of emergency situations…so you’re just always hoping that everything goes well and just praying and hoping that nothing bad happens…It’s also been kind of depressing and/or sad not to be able to provide for your children the way you’d like to. We had to pass on a lot of opportunities for our children. They play sports and there’s certain things they just haven’t been able to do, equipment or whatnot…Not having insurance: My children pretty much grew up having insurance so it’s an odd situation to have some kind of ailment and not to be able to go to the doctor….

I find the laconic language especially moving: “That’s a real uncomfortable situation….It’s kind of depressing and/or sad … It’s kind of an odd situation….”

Thanks, BizDay.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.