CARGILL Local news organizations have a special authority in the communities they cover. They know the big employers, the community groups, the state and local policies that make all the difference for people seeking unemployment. We thought they could bring some of that depth at the individual scale.
I got to make the initial call to a lot of editors. Some of our partners were navigating furloughs and even layoffs in the course of the reporting. That made it very real to me how important it is that we invest in local news.
With more than 12 million people unemployed in the nation, why did local reporters return to the same dozen — often over a few months — at different stages?
YANG The idea was to capture not just one snapshot but to do more sustained work tracking a person’s highs and lows. For anyone who’s ever lost a job, it can be such a grueling emotional experience, with very bad days followed by a day where everything turns up for you. We wanted to show that larger arc, and maybe stick around with some long enough that they actually found a job.
CARGILL One of our subjects, Marina Moya in Victoria, Texas, talks about having a tire blow out shortly after she was laid off and her husband was furloughed. No money coming in, and unforeseen expenses: That is what joblessness looks like. It’s a compounding problem. Evetta Applewhite talks about the toll it took on her sense of self-worth. That is what unemployment feels like. You can scratch at the surface of those issues in a single conversation, but we want readers to feel it on a deeper level. That’s why telling these stories over time is so meaningful.
You chose to preserve their words instead of folding them into a traditional news article. Why?
YANG As a reader, I have been struck by how often I am moved by hearing someone’s voice more directly, and in longer waves than you sometimes get with a quote here and there. During a time when so many of us are isolated, it felt like this format would feel more intimate, too, like sitting in someone’s living room hearing them talk about what was happening in their lives. I have been craving that kind of emotional connection in stories right now: that sense of deep listening.
What do you hope readers get from this project?
YANG At a time when we are so cut off from one another, I hope readers feel a sense of empathy and connection. For those who have been blessed enough to keep their jobs, I hope they get a better sense of what it feels like for those who have been less fortunate. For those who have lost work, you are hardly alone.