Outside the Frame: First-Person Recession

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Amanda Hirsch

Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame.

Back in the Great Depression, newspapermen (and I do mean men) were the only ones documenting the economic crisis and its effects — unless you count the private diaries of private citizens. Today, private citizens are going public, sharing their first-person recession experiences online.

Sign outside church: Pray for Vocation

Photo of a West Philadelphia church by Vangers on Flickr

Take, for example, the perspectives on unemployment emerging from the blogosphere. In this entry, a jobless woman from Kansas City hits bottom:

today was by far the lowest day i’ve had yet. i mean low. like crying a lot low. not eating low. wanting to start drinking at noon low…

… i’m so envious of anyone who has a job. and how all day, they get to be working. are you hearing me? they GET to be working. okay, see? this is where i’m at. and then how at night, if there is nothing to do but eat leftovers and watch crappy television, it’s okay, because their mind has been so challenged all day, and because they’ve attended so many meetings and have pleased so many people, they can just become a couch vegetable. and it is satisfying.
Pensive Girl

(I’m pleased to share that since writing this, Pensive Girl has gotten a job.)

Elsewhere online, comedians spin economic hardship into humor, with sites like Stuff Unemployed People Like — a riff on the popular Stuff White People Like site. Apparently, stuff unemployed people like includes:

#122 Receiving New Emails Even if They’re SPAM

#98 Doing Good Deeds for Reward Money

…and, of course:

#82 Blogging About Being Unemployed

Former Current TV staffer Anthony Ferraro found that getting laid off helped him get rid of stress — and debt:

A Funny Thing Happened The Day After I Got Laid Off from Anthony Ferraro on Vimeo.

Ferraro’s not the only one finding unemployment’s silver lining. For my friend Katie Kemple at Love Your Layoff, joblessness revealed the kindness of strangers, from the childcare provider who insisted on taking care of Katie’s daughter for free, to the anonymous friend who sent her a credit card pre-loaded with $500.

For others, the upside of unemployment is simple: daytime drinking.

As you may have noticed, the examples I’m highlighting skew generally to the experiences of middle- and upper-middle-class Americans. As Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich recently wrote on her blog,

The human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.

Or, as independent journalist Joe Bageant wrote on Alternet: “We’re starting to hear a little discussion about the white underclass. Mainly because so many middle class folks are terrified of falling into it.”

The Web has done a lot to democratize media; but we still have a ways to go.

What are your favorite resources depicting the human impact of our strained economy? What stories would you like to see about the recession that you haven’t yet encountered?

In my next post: how journalists (ladies included!) are integrating citizen-generated media into their recession coverage.

Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.
  • http://www.economystory.org Laura

    FOREIGNID: 19341
    Great post! The Wall Street Journal gave a great list of economics blogs recently for further reading on all this:
    also – http://www.economystory.org is aggregating public media coverage.

  • http://www.pensivegirl.blogspot.com pensivegirl

    FOREIGNID: 19383
    i’m glad you could find some interest in my post. however, as a fellow journalist, i’m inclined to think taking this excerpt without letting me know before hand was a bit unprofessional. i would have apprecitaed a heads-up.

  • Martin B.

    FOREIGNID: 19384
    Hack attack!

  • http://www.amandahirsch.com Amanda

    FOREIGNID: 19385
    Hi there,
    I’m so sorry to have upset you by featuring a quote from your blog. I can see how, given the subject matter, it would have been more sensitive to give you a heads up in advance.
    However, I have to disagree that it was unprofessional. Quoting and linking to a blog as part of original analysis (in my case, analyzing user-generated content about the recession) is within the realm of fair use. I clearly attributed the quote to you, and linked back to the source.

  • Dinosaur O Dell

    FOREIGNID: 19409
    And thanks to PBS, Pensive Girl learns an important lesson. Airing your every waking thought in a public forum is a great trade off, if you are not going to miss your privacy all that much. It\’s something the under 30 world has yet to learn.
    Also she is PR, not a journalist. Or, was.

  • http://www.pensivegirl.blogspot.com pensivegirl

    FOREIGNID: 19412
    dearest dinosaur,
    i’ve never been in PR.
    and i was born in the 1970s.

  • Ape O Apple

    FOREIGNID: 19413
    Ethics. It’s about ethics. Just have the common decency to contact your source if you’re a journalist doing a paid assignment.
    Also, she’s a journalist and a copywriter. Not PR.

  • http://www.amandahirsch.com Amanda

    FOREIGNID: 19419
    I agree it would have been more sensitive of me to reach out to @PensiveGirl in advance, to give her a heads up and make sure she was comfortable having such an intimate post featured so prominently. However, I do not believe that I did anything unethical. I didn’t exploit her or misrepresent the meaning of what she published.
    The fact that POV pays me to write for this blog is really irrelevant, in my mind. I’m not profiting from @PensiveGirl’s misfortune – my post isn’t sensational, designed to attract a ton of traffic at her expense. It’s a round-up of user-generated content about the recession, which fits into the theme of my column: exploring the intersections between documentary storytelling and the web.
    Sometimes, a blogger posts something upbeat; sometimes, that same person posts something that’s sad — just as sometimes, a blogger writes about culture, and other times, that same blogger might write about politics. In featuring a snippet of the spectrum of topics/experiences that a blog represents, I’m not suggesting, “this is representative of every single piece of content on that blog”…just as a quote from a book may just be a striking passage, versus a snapshot of the entire book’s plot or tone.
    Again, I sincerely regret that including this quote caused @PensiveGirl so distress. In the future, if I wish to quote an emotional passage from a personal blog, I will certainly consult with the blogger before publishing. I may have been insensitive – but sensitivity is not the same as ethics.

  • Joan

    FOREIGNID: 19421
    I’d be offended if I were PG, not bc this is unethical, jbut because I wouldn’t want my stuff part onf this story that makes no sense.

  • http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com Star

    FOREIGNID: 19458
    Her blog is out there–quoting is fair use. PensiveGirl needs to pick her issues better. I do a Coping blog, http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com. It’s a combo of info and pep talk–I post every weekday.

  • http://www.timestormcomm.com Ruth Ann Monti

    FOREIGNID: 19672
    Hi Amanda, great post.
    I have been looking for work–p/t, f/t, consulting, temp–since March. It is tough out there. But like your friend, I’ve been lucky to have good support.
    I have a scholarship that allows my son to continue camp and after-school care with the Boys & Girls Club, which is an excellent place for kids.
    I have friends who watch my son so I can attend networking meetings held in the evenings.
    People send my job listings they come across–even though I’ve already seen them on the various sites–but it’s still nice they think of me.
    And to keep my brain going, I blog about health care issues about twice a week on my own site at http://www.timestormcomm.com.
    I’m as pensive as the next gal but you do have to be careful about what you put out there if you don’t want it to be actually read!
    Goodl luck!