CARGILL Local news agencies have special authority in the communities they cover. They know the big employers, community groups, the state, and local policies that make all the difference to people seeking unemployment. We thought they could bring some of that depth to the individual scale.
I was able to make the first call to many editors. Some of our partners were navigating time off and even layoffs during reporting. It made me very real how important it is that we invest in local news.
With over 12 million unemployed in the country, why have local journalists returned to the same dozen – often in a matter of months – at different stages?
YANG The idea was to not only capture a snapshot, but to do a more sustained job of following a person’s ups and downs. For anyone who has ever lost a job, it can be such a draining emotional experience, with really bad days followed by a day where everything is happening for you. We wanted to show this bigger bow, and maybe stay long enough for them to find a job.
CARGILL One of our subjects, Marina Moya in Victoria, Texas, talks about having a tire exploded shortly after her layoff and her husband on leave. No money coming in and unforeseen expenses: this is what unemployment looks like. It is an aggravating problem. Evetta Applewhite talks about the impact it had on her self-esteem. This is what unemployment looks like. You can scratch the surface of these issues in one conversation, but we want readers to feel it on a deeper level. This is why telling these stories over time is so meaningful.
You chose to preserve their words instead of incorporating them into a traditional newspaper article. Why?
YANG As a reader I have been struck by how often I am moved to hear someone’s voice more directly and in longer waves than you sometimes get with a quote here and there. At a time when so many of us are isolated, it felt like this format would also feel more intimate, like sitting in someone’s living room hearing them talk about what’s going on in their life. I wanted that kind of emotional connection in the stories right now: that feeling of deep listening.
What do you hope readers get from this project?
YANG At a time when we are so cut off from each other, I hope readers feel a sense of empathy and connection. For those who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs, I hope they get a better idea of what it feels like for those who have been less fortunate. For those who have lost their jobs, you are hardly alone.