This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.
It should not be all that difficult to report on economic inequality. It’s a fixture, after all, of modern American life. And yet, the journalism industry, charged with analyzing and conveying news of wage stagnation, persistent poverty, and downward mobility, has itself crumbled alongside much of the middle class. Over the past several decades, more and more journalists have been laid off, while the rates paid freelancers have fallen, too.
As the chasm of inequality has only continued to grow, the very journalists who cover it have not always been able to escape it.
In 2012, when the country was still reeling from the economic recession and when reporting about inequality was needed perhaps more than ever, author Barbara Ehrenreich started the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP). The idea was to change the media landscape, and support reporters—by then, many low-income and working-class themselves—writing about poverty and inequality.
“Most mainstream editors and gatekeepers are not people of very vast and diverse social experience,” says Ehrenreich. “They don’t know people different from themselves—they don’t know working-class people and poor people.” Stories about inequality and poverty that convey a deep familiarity with the people affected by it are few and far between.
As tabloid journalism—often written by and for the working class—began to disappear by the mid-20th century, mainstream journalism tended to skew upper-middle-class, white, and male. Today, people who grow up poor can find it difficult to break into journalism, particularly as the industry tends to offer unpaid or low-paid internships to those just starting out. People of color face particularly significant obstacles to entering journalism, especially those from the working class. And these trends have only been exacerbated as journalism jobs have come to pay less and less, or totally dry up.
EHRP is modeling a different path: supporting quality journalism about inequality while paying its writers what amounts to a living wage. Since its founding, EHRP has published more stories each year, in an increasingly diverse range of outlets. In 2017 alone, it published 118 stories, up from 101 in 2016.
Read the rest of the article here.
If you grow up in America, one of the things you're taught to believe is that there are no coincidences. This country's foundational mythology is premised on the idea that you make your dreams come true through determination and hard work; you get what you deserve. It's equally clever and cruel, this lie, but it's nevertheless persisted and proliferated, leading to a rancid reality, in which countless Americans feel they're entitled to every privilege they inherited, and that those who live in poverty (or suffer from addiction or never received adequate education) are similarly deserving of their lots in life. There's no such thing as the luck—or a lack of it—because, here, in the land of opportunity, luck is something you make, not something which makes you.
This American lie fuels the capitalist engine and perpetuates imbalanced, exploitative systemic problems in our country, like racism, sexism, and classism. We're taught to believe things are the way they are because hard work has gotten some people to where they are—the top of the existing power structure—and a lack of hard work has left others at the bottom. This narrative is one that is easy enough to believe, or at least accept without thinking too much about it, because it's rare that the stories of those people at the bottom are told—and rarer still that they're told from a place of, yes, empathy, but also integrity, free of the kind of "poverty porn" that has been known to happen when journalists and photographers and documentarians, all coming from mass media markets like New York City and Los Angeles, approach their subjects from an outsider's perspective.
Read the rest here.
Despite positive economic news, a new study finds 62% of U.S. jobs do not pay enough to support a middle-class lifestyle. Ali Velshi talks to Alissa Quart, editor-in-chief of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, who says jobs numbers don’t tell the full story.
Watch on MSNBC, here.
The EHRP-supported film, "Jackson," which New York Magazine said “comes at a pivotal moment for reproductive rights,” won an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Social Issues Documentary category. Director Maisie Crow's gripping film recounts how the radical pro-life movement pressures and recruits low-income pregnant women, keeping many mired in poverty.
Listen to Maisie Crow’s speech here.
On Monday, half of the New York Daily News' editorial staff was laid-off by its management, Chicago-based Tronc. Now the NY Post reports that while 45 journalists lost their jobs, a total of 93 employees were terminated company-wide.
The Economic Hardship Project has announced a $10,000 fund for laid-off News reporters.
While it’s difficult to point to positive emergences in 2018, Barbara Ehrenreich’s increased Twitter presence is certainly one of them. As the best-selling author of books like Nickel and Dimed and the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Ehrenreich often tweets about subjects like the various manifestations of American exceptionalism or the failure of welfare “reform,” but on other days, she’ll be demanding that men start acknowledging her as an “old lady.” Almost always, the tweets are long blocks of text, properly capitalized and punctuated, without links — succinct distillations of what Ehrenreich thinks of the Trump administration or, say, her physical therapist’s “advice.”
Read the full article in The Cut.
You’ve heard about fake news, but what about no news at all? That’s the phenomenon that authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Alissa Quart are battling with their nonprofit, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. If you worry that America’s end times will be covered solely by Facebook and Fox News, you’re not totally off base: Weekday print circulation in the U.S. has fallen from nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million today, the current amount for print and digital combined. Newsroom employment has faced a similar decline, down almost 40 percent between 1994 and 2014. And a recent study by researchers in The Journal of Politics found that there is a direct correlation between a healthy local news environment and civic engagement: After tracking newspaper coverage in every U.S. House district during the 2010 midterms, they found that people in those areas covered only by large-circulation outlets or with less hotly contested races “are less able to evaluate their member of Congress,” and “less likely to express opinions about the House candidates in their districts.” Most dangerously, as we approach another set of hugely important midterm elections eight years later, people exposed to less local news coverage, they found, are also less likely to vote.
Enter the EHRP, which Ehrenreich founded in 2012 in the wake of the 2007 economic recession, when fallout in the industry began to show. “Quality journalism about inequality” is the organization’s motto; it commissions and places pieces of writing that “put a human face on financial instability.” Part of that is telling jarring, creatively reported stories from the margins—an analysis of the class politics of Marie Kondo–ing, for example—and another is helping writers who would otherwise not be able to afford to afford careers in journalism. Some of the work that EHRP has helped to produce has been nominated for National Magazine Awards, and been included in Best American Essays; they’ve since expanded to take on photography, video, and illustration. When New York City–based outlets Gothamist and DNAinfo were both shuttered in late 2017 by their billionaire owner, EHRP announced a $5,000 fund to be allocated to three reporters who had just lost their jobs.
Many of the stories that have come out of the project illuminate how women bear much of the brunt of economic hardship in America. Quart, EHRP’s current executive editor, just published a book on the country’s shrinking middle class called Squeezed. She met Ehrenreich after securing EHRP funding for a project she was working on herself, with photographer Maisie Crow, for The Atavist in 2014, about the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last abortion provider in Mississippi. Ehrenreich is a preeminent voice on America’s continued careening into inequality, starting long before the recession, most notably with her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed, in which the author chronicled various attempts to live on minimum wage. Her latest book, Natural Causes, was published in April 2018, and takes on the current cultural fixation on “wellness,” and the health-care system.
Ehrenreich and Quart are well aware that they themselves do not exemplify the most vulnerable Americans whose stories are increasingly getting lost as local news sources disappear. They see their primary role as kind of interlocutors between the journalism industry and the subject of inequality, facilitating writers of color, trans writers, and impoverished writers in voicing their own experiences. Often, that advocacy is an intervention; the duo is unafraid to offend those within media who consider the paper of record, for example, as the last word on most subjects, including inequality, or those who think stories on economic hardship must be told a certain way. They recently teamed up for a piece in The New York Review of Books on the subject of the #MeToo movement, on which The New York Times has been a primary engine of reporting, to restate that news outlets need to be committed to telling the full story of sexual harassment and abuse, which overwhelmingly affects working women, rather than concentrating attention on what they called “famous actresses—some of them better known previously for their not-so-feminist roles as cute witches and beguiling prostitutes.” Ehrenreich earned over 22,000 likes for a recent tweet in which she concluded that Samantha Bee was indeed right in using a controversial four-letter word to describe Ivanka Trump. But their tactics aren’t all confrontational: They see a revolutionary opportunity for the newly economically precarious creative class to partner in solidarity with working Americans.
Quart and Ehrenreich spoke with Vogue about their partnership, the future of journalism, cross-class feminism, and whether or not it’s okay to call Mitch McConnell “turtle face” (spoiler, it is):
Barbara, what inspired you to found EHRP?
Barbara Ehrenreich: In 2009, I convinced the New York Times to let me write a series of pieces in the Sunday Review (it was still called that then) on how the recession was affecting people who are already poor, because the typical New York Times story at the time was about people who had to go without their personal pilates trainer because of the recession. So I went out and did all this reporting around the country and realized somewhere along the line that I wasn’t even going to be paid enough [by the paper] to pay for my expenses, my travel. And that’s partly because I hadn’t realized how much the rates they were paying everybody had fallen in the three years since I had last written for them. I thought, Oh, well, I’ll do this anyway because I am noble and brave, and I will just swallow the cost. Then of course it occurred to me, Wait a minute, am I saying really that you have to be wealthy to write about poverty? That’s messed up. So that was the inspiration for me. A lot of people are not writing about their own experiences and the experiences of other people they live and work with, because they’re not going to be paid. They know that, and they don’t have the days or weeks it takes to write a piece without getting any money.
How has that phenomenon translated most recently in reporting on #MeToo?
Ehrenreich: We jumped on it to say the one thing that obviously had to be said: that sexual harassment is a problem, yes, for actors and glamorous people in glamorous occupations. But it’s much more of a problem numerically and statistically for working-class women like hotel housekeepers and even agricultural workers and cleaners of various kinds. So we kind of leaped on that right away. And I think we’ve had an effect, don’t you, Alissa?
Alissa Quart: We were among the first people to do that in the mainstream press. We’re really happy to see a lot of other people joining in—The [New York] Times had that great series on automobile workers, that was one of my favorites. Our more recent piece [in The New York Review of Books] was trying to continue that argument, so that, looking historically at things that sometimes went wrong around cross-class alliances, we would have those ghosts in mind when we go forward with #MeToo, to try to make it more inclusive.
Do either of you ever feel resistance to making those points? Like, “women shouldn’t bring down other women,” that kind of thing?
Ehrenreich: We didn’t slam in there and say, “This is a bunch of bourgeois feminist crap.” We said, “This is important, but”—
Quart: I mean we are bourgeois feminists, you know, on some level, even if our impulses may be—
Ehrenreich: We are?
Quart: We are middle-class, Barbara, socioeconomically, can we agree with that?
Ehrenreich: Oh yeah. But I’m just saying bourgeois feminism has a particular meaning.
Quart: I see, she’s right. We’re not bourgeois in the aesthetic and ideational sense, but we are actually middle-class. But we’ve experienced harassment—I experienced harassment as a contract worker when I was a lot younger and not so much younger, you know. One of the first pieces we did was to point out how much contract work and freelance work are part of this vulnerability. And that is an alliance between working-class and middle-class women, who are part of what I call the “middle precariat,” who are less secure. Because they have very little HR protection, people in their workplace don’t know their names, and also they’re very dependent on their relationships. So I think that’s something we should be thinking about as another point of solidarity between the unstable middle class and the unstable working class around gender. . . . We want to call for both virtual and real spaces where women of a range of class backgrounds can be in female spaces and tell their stories and communicate about all kinds of things, from bullying to sexualized violence. And those spaces don’t exist that much, and indeed part of what led to #MeToo’s visibility was that all these actresses are people who are really influential, and tech honchos and things, so the question is how are these other stories going to get out? And who is going to record them, and how are the women going to be able to acknowledge them among themselves? [In The NYRB], we pointed out things like The Wing are $3,000 a year, which is actually not horribly expensive. But it’s pretty expensive if you’re a working-class woman. What if we had places like that that were not The Wing? That were open to a range of women?
Ehrenreich: We both had the same reaction to the stories in The Times about The Wing: Alright, but $3,000?
There’s this question plaguing news outlets now about where to draw the line. Do they care more about being polite, telling “both sides,” than before?
Ehrenreich: This is not something where there are cut-and-dried answers. We are in total flux in this country. We have no idea what the standards are for civility, for example, and the boundaries of that. I mean whatever they are, the boundaries are violated every day by the president. We really don’t know. There’s a little tussle going on I just found out about with people chasing Mitch McConnell out of a restaurant and yelling at him. Most of the people were DSA, democratic socialists, and they were just saying, “Go away, don’t come back here.” And things like that. But there was a particular guy in the restaurant who was calling McConnell “turtle face.” And the DSA people got a little upset about that. They didn’t want to have anything to do with calling him turtle face. So that’s the kind of thing we’re negotiating now.
Are you pro- or anti-turtle face?
Ehrenreich: I think I’m kind of pro saying turtle face, but I could be talked out of it I guess.
You’re definitely not afraid to be shady on the Internet.
Ehrenreich: What does shady mean?
You’re not afraid to throw shade, which is being sarcastic or calling out assholes or whatever.
Quart: She claps back. She got into it with Samantha Bee calling Ivanka the C-word. Barbara might be a godmother of some of the better progressive, not-totally-civil tendencies that we need in some ways, it’s like street-fighting language. Is that fair, Barbara?
Ehrenreich: I don’t know whether this comes from an intergenerational difference, or that my class of origin is a little bit cruder than yours.
What’s next for EHRP, as we approach midterm elections?
Quart: We can’t be involved in political campaigns of any kind given that we’re a nonprofit, but we can report on them. We do this project with the The Guardian called On the Ground, which is journalism from the heartland South, like small towns, rural [America]. And hopefully some of those in the future will be stories about politics as they’re occurring in some of these places that we might not know about.
Ehrenreich: There are a lot of things we’re talking about doing, and it’s going to depend on whether we can raise some money to do them. We talked about doing a series of pamphlets that would be to aimed at poor and working-class people on a number of subjects.
Quart: In looking into the poorest counties we realized—it’s common knowledge, but we re-recognized that a lot of them don’t have good broadband and it’s not just digital natives. A lot of them couldn’t have access if they tried. And we’ve had traditional journalists that you might know, they’ve been able to write 3,000-word pieces, on a scale and depth that most people can’t anymore. That’s the tragedy that we feel like we’ve been trying to address. There’s been a 50 percent shrinkage of newspaper jobs since 2005, and 73 percent of the [digital] writing that remains is happening on the coasts, and not even like Washington state, just California and New York to Virginia. It’s definitely been interesting culturally to start to think more creatively and freely about what journalism could be as something that’s not like a hidebound profession, but is more of like a function or an activity that’s going to be dispersed. It’s going to be produced by NGOs, it’s going to be produced by data scientists. It’s already happening.
Published in Vogue.
Editor’s note: The 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.
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.
Images that tell powerful stories about homelessness, immigration and gun laws captured the top INN Impact Prizes for Nonprofit News Photos honoring photographers for their work in 2017. Winners were selected by a panel of three professional news photographers and photo editors based on the editorial and visual impact of the photos.
For a full list of winners, visit INN.org.
AFTER 21 YEARS at The Denver Post, Jason 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 Nation, The Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.