By: Branden Andersen
The New York Times is one of the most widely read and accepted publications of our generation and generations before us. They have access to nearly every state in the union and beyond.
Therefore, they are the perfect publication to come out with a series about student debt that reaches beyond the typical, “here’s someone who has a lot of debt and they are dealing with it this way.” Their series, “Degrees of Debt” highlights and focuses on multiple angles of the current financial crisis, rather than just the narrow scope that many other publications have used before.
In this particular article, titled “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” the Times profiles previous students of Ohio universities who all have a jaw-dropping amount of debt and are working day and night to get it paid off. But, what really makes this different than other stories that march to the same tune is that they don’t only look at recent grads who can’t find work. Rather, they look at people who dropped out of college after accumulating tens of thousands of dollars who realized that they wouldn’t be able to pay it off if they continued on their path.
Discreetly, the reporters for the story (Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren) drop in facts, numbers and trends in a way that is comprehensible to someone who isn’t a economics major. Typically, when reading a story that is number-heavy, readers can get lost in percentages or estimations. But, Martin and Lehren pepper them in with relation to the story that they are telling. For example:
Here at Ohio Northern, recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees are among the most indebted of any college in the country, and statewide, graduates of Ohio’s more than 200 colleges and universities carry some of the highest average debt in the country, according to data reported by the colleges and compiled by an educational advocacy group. The current balance of federal student loans nationwide is $902 billion, with an additional $140 billion or so in private student loans.
“If one is not thinking about where this is headed over the next two or three years, you are just completely missing the warning signs,” said Rajeev V. Date, deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog created after the financial crisis.
For me, a person who is slightly number-illiterate, I was able to read through this and fully grasp the idea that the authors are attempting to get across.
All in all, I believe that the important thing that made this article so good is that they didn’t simply throw ideas or facts in the story for the sake of throwing ideas and facts into the story. They included enough to inform the reader, and just when it seemed like it could be too many numbers, they inserted anecdotal information that brought it back down to an informal, emotional story. They were secretly educating their audience by masking facts with relocatable stories. That’s why “Degrees of Debt” is so good.