July 12, 2007

Hard Times

The New York Times today published the third article in a series on New Orleans and its residents and former residents. It begins with the story of an unemployed woman stranded in a Louisiana trailer park where the public bus only stops four times a week. Unsurprisingly, she's unable to get a job.

I'm glad the Times is doing this series. The ongoing tribulations of Katrina evacuees have become the kind of story that's the hardest to write under the conventions of mainstream journalism. Nothing has really changed; the subjects' lives are slowly getting worse due to obvious or predictable causes. For precisely these reasons, though, the subjects need more, not less, attention. One way of getting around this is for media organizations to invest real time and resources into such stories, so that they're not easily overlooked. A good example is the Washington Post series on the neglect of soldiers at Walter Reed. A few journalists had written about this before, and many more had done pieces on the numerous difficulties faced by returning soldiers. But when the Post allowed some of its best reporters to spend months on the piece, and shaped their reporting with strong storytelling, the result broke through public indifference.