Why the New York Times’ “Degrees of Debt” is so good

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.

About Branden Andersen

Branden is a senior journalism major focusing on magazine journalism at the University of Oregon. He currently is the managing editor at FLUX magazine.
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3 Responses to Why the New York Times’ “Degrees of Debt” is so good

  1. tru nelson (A grandmother of 12) says:

    I have just finished reading your report on student debt. It is a really fine discussion of just how dangerous a huge debt can be for a student’s future now that our country is in such a precarious and frightening financial state. I don’t think that young people, not just those in college, realize the position our country is in. Unless we get a new administration with the knowledge and skills to turn this around, catastrophe awaits. And remember, one needs to read and study many publications to get the real picture. The New York Times is definitely left-leaning. Keep up the thinking. Our country’s successful future depends on our young people..

  2. Branden Andersen says:

    Absolutely, thank you for your comment and feedback. Right now, I’m diving into finding what is an effective way to grab readers’ attention on a subject that can bury them in statistics and jargon. But, you bring up a good point – it is important to get every voice in on this one. It could easily be seen as a narrow scope topic, but just like every important topic it is bipartisan at the least.

    Once again, thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. MB says:

    Reblogged this on We send them, yet ill equipped. and commented:
    Same everywhere around the world. $22 billion in student debt here in Australia this year.

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