Thursday, November 12, 2009

New York Times Turns In Wrong Direction to Take a Look at Effects of Recession

And the Main Subject of the A-1 Article by Michael Luo Agrees; When a Comments Section Actually Serves a Useful Purpose

The above-the-fold piece on the front of today's New York Times has a compelling headline: Job Woes Exacting a Heavy Toll on Family Life .
The copy editors did their job. But it appears everyone else involved with the story did not.
The piece by Michael Luo rests on the notion that the "greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological."
All well and good, except for the fact that Luo goes off the tracks when he focuses on a surburban Dallas man named Paul Bachmuth and his family. Luo adequately chronicles the trials and tribulations the family has experienced since he was laid off in December from a $120,000-a-year job as an energy consultant, including therapy and more than a few arguments and fights.
But the portrait is woefully incomplete, as evidenced by a photo cutline that says, in part: "Mr. Bachmuth ... at a job fair; he got a job offer last week."
Good for him. But why isn't that mentioned in the story? Is he going to take the job? Will the stress and pain that his layoff engendered now go away? Might there actually be a happy ending albeit one woefully inconvenient for the premise of the story?
We don't know, and maybe never will. The article enigmatically ends with a vignette about one of the daughters:

At night, she said, she has taken to stowing her worries away in an imaginary box.
“I take all the stress and bad things that happen over the day, and I lock them in a box,” she said.
Then, she tries to sleep.

If the Times could update the story in a cutline, it's inexplicable that it wouldn't update the story itself -- one that could have changed the story and most likely improved it. Someone else not impressed by how Luo handled the subject is none other than Paul Bachmuth, who in the online comments for the article gave some hint about how he was put through the sausage factory of newsgathering.

Michael Luo sent in an e-mail to a job networking group that I belong to. That is how he found me for this story. I had read a number of Mr. Luo’s articles on the recession and its impacts, and was very happy that someone out there was reporting on this important issue. I agreed to be the subject of this story in the hope that it might help others. However, I conveyed to Mr. Luo many times that I did NOT want the story to portray me and my family as “victims”. We are not. The last thing in the world I want is for people to “feel sorry for me.”

Given that Luo reveals how despite the fact Bachmuth's wife took a part-time job, but did little to help out around the house while idled that's unlikely. But I see his point.
It's a danger when the media tries to report on trends, or perceives a trend and tries to create one. There are no hard numbers on how widespread this problem is, and it might not be one, certainly in relation to the stresses that layoffs otherwise bring on.
No doubt, finding people to go on record to talk about something so difficult is not easy, and I have no doubt Luo labored to find the right subjects. But the Bachmuths weren't them. And the way the article ends it's almost as if Luo got up and left when a bell rang in the newsroom. Shift over. Narrative be damned.
In other words, we didn't get the whole story. When you charge at least $2 for a copy of the paper, it's not too much to ask for, especially when many people out of work can't afford that in the first place.

1 comment:

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