Feeding the World – and Feeling Despair

Editor’s noteThe tragic news last week of suicides by creative celebrities Kate Spade and Andrew Bourdain captured headlines and emotions. But despair does not discriminate. Storyboard contributor Julia Shipley offers this view into the tragedy that stalks an everyday world we all depend on but sometimes take for granted.

In 2013, journalist Debbie Weingarten was in a dark place. She was a new mother and a farmer, living in an isolated rural area, doing taxing physical work and struggling with both her marriage and family finances. These stressors, compounded by the constant needs of her baby and her crops, fueled a deepening depression. But when Weingarten googled “free counseling for farmers”— her search came up blank. She kept hunting, and stumbled across a website for a defunct agricultural mental health program. With nothing to lose, she dialed the number listed on the site. Someone answered.

On the other end of the line was psychologist Dr. Mike Rosmann, who for the past 40 years has been fielding calls from thousands of farmers in duress.

What started with one farmer’s frantic search for help became a multi-year investigative project for Weingarten, who eventually left her marriage and her farm and began writing. In December 2017, the Guardian US published “Why Farmers Are Killing Themselves in Record Numbers” ­– an intimate feature that exposes the global prevalence of farmer suicides. The story prompted an outpouring of comments, which led to a follow-up story about the widespread response and to new legislation to support mental health services for farmers in crisis.

Recently Weingarten and her collaborator, photographer Audra Mulkern, founder of the Female Farmer project, received honorable mention from the National Press Foundation for this story.

Despite the embrace of the published story, Weingarten had trouble interesting editors in the idea. The local food movement was booming – and along with it, apparent interest in the world of farming and farmers. Yet Weingarten pitched her story to multiple outlets for more than two years, with no success, until it was championed by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit founded by activist and modern muckracking journalist Barbara Ehrenreich.

The nonprofit funded Weingarten’s reporting trips to Kansas and Iowa, and helped place the story with the Guardian for their co-published “On the Ground” series.

Read the full article here.

EHRP Fund Established to Pay for Stories From Laid-Off Denver Post Journalists

Denver Post journalists have been waging a war of words against Alden Global Capital, its vulture hedge fund owner, and given that the paper is still making millions despite layoffs targeting nearly a third of its newsroom staff, Alden appears to be winning. But now, those Post scribes and photographers who've been given their walking papers have a new opportunity to be paid to exercise their skills. The Economic Hardship Reporting Project has established a $10,000 fund specifically earmarked for recently axed Post employees.

"This isn't charity," stresses Alissa Quart, the project's executive director and editor, who developed the fund in conjunction with EHRP managing director David Wallis. "They're going to be writing for us. Journalists love to do what they do — and they want to work."

According to Quart, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project got its start in 2011-2012, when founder Barbara Ehrenreich "saw there was a huge number of journalists who were either suddenly out of work or having to work freelance, and their rates were stagnating or going down. Reporters were being laid off, photographers were being laid off."

In the meantime, Quart goes on, Ehrenreich was growing increasingly concerned that because of shrinking newsroom resources, important stories — particularly those dealing with poverty and financial inequality — were going uncovered.

"Her main line on that was, 'Why can only the rich afford to write about poverty?'" Quart notes. "So she focused on this urgent need to help freelancers tell these important stories."

Quart launched the project's current incarnation in 2014. "We had more funding and became a bigger organization," she notes. "Initially, the focus was only on writing, but we moved on to other media: nonfiction film, animation and more. We're now a pretty healthy organization, and our main mandate is to cover inequality and publish with mainstream media organizations that may not be covering it in quality ways as often as they'd like or as often as we'd like them to."

Approximately a quarter of the EHRP's grant recipients "are lower-income, and they're able to spend two weeks covering a feature, which used to be the norm but is now really hard to do for people who are living in $17-a-night Airbnbs and working as Uber drivers because they were laid off. This lets them continue to write, and to write about their experiences, as well."

The Denver Post fund isn't the first of its kind.

"When DNAinfo and Gothamist," a pair of New York City-area websites, "made an effort to unionize last year, their owner, Joe Ricketts, shut them down," Quart recalls. "So we created a $5,000 fund for them. When there's a bad actor involved, like Joe Ricketts or the Alden group, we hope to create emergency funds to help out the reporters who've been laid off."

Those interested in taking part in the project need to come armed with ideas. "Our work has appeared in a lot of major publications: the New York Times and The Atlantic, but also Vice, Cosmopolitan and Curbed, which is a real estate journal. So we do a lot of national stories, but we feel reporters from the Post have a special handle on Western or Midwestern news. There are a lot of news deserts out there right now, with skeletal local newspapers that kind of rehash feel-good local stories but don't really get into the gist of things. That leads to people not being informed about the places where they live — and we want to support local newspapers as much as we can."

Examples of work produced by the project include a series of articles grouped under the heading "On the Ground," including "Passive, Poor and White? What People Keep Getting Wrong About Appalachia" and "My Small Town Is Being Poisoned by Fracking Waste."

The Post fund came to fruition after the paper published an editorial package critical of Alden, and a few weeks afterward, Chuck Plunkett, the man who conceived it, resigned when an executive spiked another piece on the subject. Quart sees his actions, and those of other journalists at the paper who've spoken out against the hedge fund, as being "very inspiring and defiant, and the case they've laid out is really clear. These greedy hedge funds are the clear villain — and as every reporter knows, a really good story needs a villain. It's a powerful morality tale or, really, an immorality tale."

Laid-off Denver Post journalists interested in applying for grants can get more information at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project's submission page.

 

Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.

EHRP Establishes Fund for Fired Journalists

AFTER 21 YEARS at The Denver PostJason Blevins, the paper’s one-man mountain bureau, is now pitching stories as an independent journalist without the assurances of a full-time paycheck.

“In the past three weeks or a month I have been schooled in the realities of freelance, and it’s a hard gig,” says Blevins, who covered the outdoors for the Post. For Blevins—one of about 30 casualties in a recent wave of layoffs that crashed through the Post’s newsroom—there are health-insurance issues to navigate and a family to support. Blevins, sick of working for what he called the Post’s “black-souled owners,” volunteered to leave the paper:

It quickly became clear to him why some newly unemployed journalists might bolt the industry altogether for a more lucrative, stable job in content marketing or public relations.

The Post layoffs gave way to national coverage of that paper’s hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital—an effort encouraged by the Post’s own editorial pages. Less attention has been paid to the circumstances of individual journalists pushed out of the Post who hope to continue reporting.

Now, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project—a journalism organization focused on income inequality housed at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies—wants to help those journalists sustain their work. Alissa Quart, executive editor of the project, tells CJR that her organization is setting up a $10,000 fund specifically for ex-Denver Post journalists who recently lost their jobs.

Founded by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, the project supports independent journalists whose livelihoods have been imperiled by an upended media industry. Since 2012, the nonprofit has commissioned stories about income inequality and helped financially troubled journalists place pieces in magazines or newspapers like The Guardian and The New York Times.

The latest fund dedicated to former Denver Post journalists is something of a public statement, according to Quart. “We’ve been sort of focused like a laser [on] supporting staff that are being laid off when there’s a bad actor involved like Alden Global Capital,” she says. Last fall, when billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down local news sites Gothamist and DNAinfo after staff voted to unionize, EHRP offered a $5,000 grant to writers displaced from the sites. 

I’m sticking with journalism. I’ve been piecing together stories here and there just trying to fill in the hole. But at the same time, it’s a real challenge.

Quart likens the EHRP effort to literary social work. The $10,000 will fund up to eight ex-Post journalists to produce feature-length stories about economic hardship and income inequality. Each writer will be paid by the nonprofit project and again by the publication that ultimately runs the resulting story. They can also suggest outlets that might be interested or help place them.

The reporting does not necessarily need to focus on Denver or Colorado, but the project is interested in parts of the country—rural Colorado, say—that aren’t frequently covered by reporters on the coasts. Journalists for EHRP’s “On the Ground” rural reporting project cover communities in Montana, Iowa, and Oklahoma, and their work is cross-published at The Guardian and in local news outlets. Work from the Denver Post fund could potentially be part of that.

Last year, EHRP writers placed a total 118 pieces—57 articles, eight films, 13 photo essays, and other multimedia reports—across a variety of publications. According to Quart, EHRP stories “tend to be kind of immersive features that are news centered, but they have strong characters and they’re very writerly and are 2,000 words.” She adds, “We like animations and cartoons, so we’re sort of open to other forms as well.” The group also tries to culture jam, attempting to place stories about inequality in food or real estate magazines whose readers might not typically encounter such reportage within their pages. Earlier this year, Curbed published a first-person reported piece by Joseph Williams, commissioned through EHRP, about being evicted.

Blevins’ decision to leave the Post, rather than being laid off, doesn’t interfere with his eligibility for support, says EHRP managing director David Wallis. “It’s not the letter of the law,” Wallis says about grant eligibility. “It’s the spirit of the law.”

Blevins hadn’t yet heard about the EHRP grant for Denver Post castaways when he spoke with CJR, but the idea is something he says he would consider. He’s still living in the mountains in Eagle County, Colorado, one of the most expensive places in the country for health insurance, hustling to find homes for his work. Blevins says he had “one of the best jobs in journalism” at the Post, and wouldn’t have quit if not for the Post’s owners.

“I’m sticking with journalism,” he says. “I’ve been piecing together stories here and there—columns, magazine articles—just trying to fill in the hole. But at the same time, it’s a real challenge.”

 

Corey Hutchins is CJR’s correspondent based in Colorado, where he is also a journalist for The Colorado Independent. A former alt-weekly reporter in South Carolina, he was twice named journalist of the year in the weekly division by the SC Press Association. Hutchins recently worked on the State Integrity In vestigation at the Center for Public Integrity and he has contributed to Slate, The NationThe Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him atcoreyhutchins@gmail.com.

Debbie Weingarten Receives Honorable Mention from Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting

CAROLYN C. MATTINGLY AWARD FOR MENTAL HEALTH REPORTING

The National Press Foundation has established a  journalism award to honor excellence in mental health reporting. The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, is called the Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting, in memory of the Potomac, Maryland philanthropist and activist. Mattingly’s family decided to establish the award in the aftermath of her tragic death in 2014. The award is open to any U.S.-based journalist at a U.S.-based news organization, including print, broadcast and online journalists. The award recognizes exemplary journalism that illuminates and advances the understanding of mental health issues and treatments for the illness.

John Schmid of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the 2017 winner of the National Press Foundation’s Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting.

Schmid combined data and storytelling to trace the aftershocks of Milwaukee’s collapsed manufacturing economy and the impact it had on generations of children.

NPF judges said: “The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put mental illness into rare perspective with a compelling explanatory project that illustrated the social and political costs of childhood trauma. Told through the lens of a young girl who is a survivor, “A Time to Heal” walked readers through the crushing litany of adverse childhood experiences that can harm and define children into adulthood.”

After the series was published, Oprah Winfrey highlighted Schmid’s work in a piece on “60 Minutes.”

The judges awarded honorable mentions to:

• ProPublica, for a harrowing account of a Mississippi teenager who was jailed in 2012 for stabbing his father’s girlfriend and then languished behind bars for 1,266 days waiting for a psychiatric evaluation.

• The Guardian, for reporting on mental health problems among farmers, who have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation in the U.S.

Barbara Ehrenreich Featured on WNYC

Americans are afraid of aging and death, but how much control do we have over these processes? Barbara Ehrenreich discusses this in her latest book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. Ehrenreich looks at aging on a cellular level and exhibits how little control we actually have over the aging process, despite fervent attempts like purchasing anti-aging products, undergoing cosmetic surgery, or eating more kale. 

Barbara Ehrenreich will be in conversation with Alissa Quart on April 10 at 7 pm at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble (150 East 86th Street).

This segment is guest hosted by Kai Wright.

A Personal Take on Storm-Torn Puerto Rico

While news photographers were documenting the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico in September, Joseph Rodríguez decided to take a more personal look at the human toll. He traveled to the island in October to shoot portraits and conduct interviews, and also document how residents were coping without electricity or enough food, water and shelter. A selection of the photos appeared with an essay by Ed Morales in The New York Times Sunday Review on November 5.

“My way of working is to give it a closer look, and go slower and deeper, vis-á-vis portraiture,” Rodríguez says. Puerto Rico is familiar territory for him. For several years, he has been covering the island’s economic crisis and its impact on residents. His stories from that project appeared in The Times in 2015 and 2016. Rodríguez is known for other long-term projects, too. Those include one about Spanish Harlem in the 1980s, recently published as a book by powerHouse; and East Side Stories, a 1992 project about the Chicano gangs of LA that he revisited last year.

Because he is well known for his subject matter and approach, it took only a few phone calls to get a two-week assignment to photograph Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. His first step was to secure some funding from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. They had previously supported his work in Puerto Rico about the economic crisis, as well as the update of his East Side Stories project. “I said I wanted to go to Puerto Rico,” Rodríguez says, explaining that he didn’t have to make a formal pitch. “I’ve got their ear so I can call people.”

EHRP executive editor Alissa Quart says she and EHRP managing director David Wallis reached out to Rodríguez first. They were reading news reports about the storm damage in Puerto Rico. “I thought of him immediately, and said, ‘We have to get him covering this,'” Quart recalls.

EHRP provides funding to journalists to cover stories about economic inequality all over the U.S. Wallis says, “We’re trying to [support journalists] who really know areas of the country that are struggling, from Puerto Rico, to the heartland and the South. We want people who have lived there, grown up there, or spent a lot of time there.”

But EHRP’s funding is meant to supplement—not replace—fees paid by publications that don’t have the resources to cover in-depth stories on their own. Rodríguez says EHRP offered him about enough money for airfare and a rental car. “They said their only stipulation was that I had to get [a commitment from] a publication.”

Rodríguez decided to pitch it to The Times because the paper published his earlier Puerto Rico work, and because the paper has such a big audience. “They are the paper of record, and they have two versions—English and Spanish— so the audience becomes even larger,” he says. He made his pitch in a phone call to Jeffrey Henson Scales, photo editor for the Exposures column of the paper’s Sunday Review section.

“We have a working relationship. Joe just said, ‘There’s a story you aren’t getting, and I’d like to go down and get it,’” says Henson Scales. “He didn’t know exactly what he was going to get. You have to be open to following the leads when you get there.” He adds, “We just like his work, and I knew it would look different from [news photos] our national desk was shooting.”

Henson Scales declines to say what he paid Rodríguez, other than to say, “We don’t have a lot of money, but I like to give at least a few days’ rate. It depends on who the photographer is, [and] how much confidence I have. And it helps if they come with [funding], as long as it’s from a legitimate funding organization that I can vet.” EHRP meets the criteria, and has provided funding for a number of stories published in the past by The Times.

Rodríguez took a low-tech approach to shooting because “there was no fucking power. None. Everyone had to run to the convention center to charge batteries, or use cars or solar generators.” He shot 35mm and 120 film with a Leica and a Rolleiflex, respectively.

After two weeks, he’d shot 40 rolls of film. He delivered low-res scans to Henson Scales for the editing. “I’m looking for strong individual images and working with photographers to create essays of 14 to 20 images,” Henson Scales explains. With Rodríguez’s take, he was drawn to the portraits in particular. Among his favorites were one of a boy in the doorway of an abandoned house, and another of 86-year-old Felix Rafael Cordero, sitting in the wreckage of his former home. “It’s a lovely portrait of him in his yard,” Henson Scales says of the latter portrait. In addition to the portraits, Henson Scales selected images that underscored the damage and privations, such as a downed power pole blocking a street, and residents collecting water and standing in lines at banks and supermarkets.

“I mark the shots I like, and send [my selections] back to Joe. We do that once or twice,” Henson Scales explains. 

“He asks me if anything is missing,” Rodríguez says. “At this point, I just want to get the story out. It’s not my edit, it’s theirs. For stories, I leave it to editors. I’m not talking about books.” 

Rodríguez says Visura and powerHouse will partner to publish a book of his Puerto Rico work, including the stories dating back to 2015. For the book edit, Rodríguez says he’ll scan every image, make 5x7 prints, and then tack them up on a wall where he can study them, move them around, and winnow them down over a period of time. “I can’t edit on a plasma screen. Narrowing it down on a laptop, you miss things,” he says.

The publisher powerHouse hasn’t announced a release date. “It’s a long-term project that
we just started talking about,” says publisher Daniel Power.

 

For the full story, visit PDN Online.

2018 Erasmus Prize Awarded To Barbara Ehrenreich

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Acclaimed journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, 76, has been awarded the 2018 Erasmus Prize. The annual prize, which includes a € 150,000 in prize money, is given by The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation to a person or an institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts. His Majesty, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, will present Ehrenreich with the award at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam on November 27, 2018.

In a statement, the Foundation praised Ehrenreich for her courage in putting herself on the line in her journalistic work. By leading the life of people in precarious situations, she gives a voice to groups in society that would otherwise remain unheard, and she lets us see life as people on the underside of society live it.  A major voice in the current debate surrounding the search for truth, she is an advocate of critical thinking and fact finding. Motivated by empathy and social engagement, she brings statistical data to life—for example concerning conditions at the bottom of the labor market. In doing so she embodies the Erasmian ideals championed by the Foundation.

The Foundation will organize a varied program of events about Ehrenreich and "The Power of Investigative Journalism," this year's theme.

"I'm proud… and kind of overwhelmed by the Dutch—and I'm not just saying this because I want to apply for asylum," said Ehrenreich at The National Press Club.  

About Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich's international breakthrough came in 2001 with her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, for which she spent months trying to survive on her earnings from what society calls 'unskilled work'. In her subsequent work she often applied this technique of 'immersion journalism', as it is now known, for instance to highlight the obstacles encountered by the American middle class in scaling the social ladder. Ehrenreich also founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a journalism nonprofit that examines inequality in America, in 2012.

For further information please contact Dr. Shanti van Dam, director of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation. Tel. 020-6752753 or 0031-653134878
E-mail l.aalbers@erasmusprijs.org 
Website www.erasmusprize.org

SOURCE The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation

EHRP-Supported Article Nominated for National Magazine Award

For the second time in four years, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP) has supported and co-published work that is among the finalists for a National Magazine Award, this time as part of a package from Oxford American magazine.

The 2018 nomination in the General Excellence in the Literature, Science and Politics category recognizes Oxford American’s work across three of the magazine’s 2017 issues. Highlights include a nearly 12,000-word EHRP-supported feature, “The Socialist Experiment,” by Katie Gilbert. Gilbert’s article profiles Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of Jackson, Miss., and his vision for a progressive local government.

In 2014 the EHRP-supported multimedia work “The Last Clinic,” published by The Atavist, was nominated in the video category. Read more here.

On The Ground Named Among Top Journalism Collaborations of 2017

There’s no question that the ranks of local journalists have been decimated in the United States over the last decade. As local newsrooms have been gutted, the concentration of journalists in this country has shifted to the coasts — and that was a big part of what led to the huge gap in media coverage (i.e., the media bubble) around the 2016 presidential election.

That’s why The Guardian teamed up with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project to launch On the Ground. Read the full story in Media Shift.

CBC Radio: Why Low-Wage Workers Are Being Left Out of the Sexual Harassment Conversation

In an interview with CBC Radio, EHRP founder Barbara Ehrenreich worries that the uproar over sexual harassment in the workplace has yet to be heard in low-wage industries.

Worker Abuse Is Rampant, and Sexual Harassment Is Just the Start, Ehrenreich Tells Slate

While reporting her landmark book Nickel and Dimed, EHRP's founder routinely fended off sexual harassment. "A waitress," she recalls, "has to be prepared basically all the time to hear remarks on her body." Read the full interview in Slate here.

EHRP Announces Fund for Reporters Axed by DNAinfo and Gothamist

ATTENTION EX-DNAINFO, GOTHAMIST JOURNALISTS: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP) “has established a $5,000 fund to assign feature-length articles to three reporters” hailing from the recently shuttered sites. “This is the least we can do to support journalists who have been suddenly deprived of their livelihoods by the capricious actions of an anti-labor billionaire,” Ehrenreich said in a statement. Apply here.