Journalism Students Profile New Yorkers Coping With Tough Economic Times

Dec. 12, 2008Bookmark and Share

Many New Yorkers are facing tough choices in navigating turbulent economic waters. How far can they stretch a paycheck to cover expenses? With layoffs and rising food prices, how will many afford to eat or pay rent? These and a host of other questions are what students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism are asking New Yorkers in order to learn how their lives are being affected by the recession. 

Tough Times web site
Multimedia sites chronicle the personal side of the economic downturn.
Image credit: Graduate School of Journalism
The results of their reporting efforts are two multimedia projects—"Tough Times" and "Coping in NY"—that profile a diversity of middle-class New Yorkers who reveal their day-to-day struggles coping with the economic downturn.
 
"We need our New Media students to apply their technical training to real reporting," said Duy Linh Tu, assistant professor of professional practice and coordinator of the New Media concentration who helped lead the projects. "We spent the month of August training students on the technical skills, and we wanted to give them the chance to apply their learning to real reporting projects."
 
Students in the New Media Newsroom paired up and fanned out across the boroughs to spend time with interviewees, visiting their homes, talking with their families and even attending children's baseball games.
 
"Tough Times" looks at the lives of 21 people from different walks of life struggling to stay afloat, despite the loss of jobs, rising living costs and an increasingly uncertain future. The site features rich text narratives, audio slideshows and videos.
 
"Coping in NY" features profiles of eight city residents dealing with the economic crisis. The site features written narratives, audio slideshows, and interactive maps and features.
 
"The biggest challenge for students was that this is a difficult topic for anyone to discuss," said Tu. "Getting people to talk about money when times are good is hard enough, but getting them to talk about it during tough times is even harder. They asked questions like, 'How much money do you make? How can you afford to eat dinner?' These are not easy questions to ask—or answer."
 
One story by students Heather Grossman and Bilal Haye takes an in-depth look at the personal spending of Raquel Cion, a librarian and actor. "The interviewee didn't realize how much she was spending beyond her means until the students sat down with her to break it down," said Tu.
 
The students, many of whom also put together a live multimedia package covering Election Night, are working on news projects that are very detailed and "very hands-on."
 
"We teach them to write well and be fair," said Tu, "and that means using your own judgment as to what to include in your story to make it interesting, as well as what not to include, to protect your interviewee's privacy."
 
Both sites were designed and produced by Kenan Davis and Dave Mayers, New Media Fellows at the Journalism School and graduates of last year's new media program.
 
In addition to Tu, faculty advisors on "Tough Times" are Jen Brown, Sig Gissler, Rebecca Leung, Jennifer Preston and Nancy Sharkey. Faculty advisors on "Coping in NY" are Adam Glenn and Russell Chun.
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