Every once in a while, a piece of journalism hits you right in the gut. Enter the New York Times’ recently published long-form read, “Invisible child – Dasani’s homeless life.” Released in five parts alongside some pretty poignant photography, the series stands at an astonishing 28,738 words; the longest investigative project the paper has printed all at once in its history. I had no idea what I was in for. While I’ve always been impressed by the Times’ dedication to powerful feature reporting, what I wasn’t expecting was for this story to somehow eclipse anything else I’ve read on this topic in its ability to shock, captivate, and completely undo me.
Documenting the life of a homeless family in Brooklyn, NYC, from the perspective of 12-year-old Dasani, Andrea Elliott’s searing report of life in a shelter leaves you with a ‘20 thousand feet’ perspective on the causes of cyclical poverty. The series features everything from interactive maps detailing the City’s income inequality by suburb, to Dasani’s own family history, to the impact of public policy and the education system on families like hers. And while Elliott’s critics claim that the piece intentionally casts outgoing NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a less than favourable glow – comments on his homelessness policies considered – it’s definitely well worth the read whatever your political stance.
We all know that when it comes to topics like poverty, it’s easy for us to feel paralysed by the magnitude of the problem to the point that we’re rendered utterly inert. The complex causes of poverty and the sheer number of differing voices in the conversation often make the ‘Too Hard Basket’ a convenient place to file our concerns away ‘for now.’ Immersing myself in a feature like this helped me to put human faces to policy outcomes, and forced me beyond a purely fiscal or economic reading of the story.
And while I’m sure I will have lost many of you at “28,738 words” to a serious case of TLDR, I’d recommend starting with Part 1 of the series and seeing if your own attention span surprises you. I know I’m not alone in stating that this is the most compelling thing I’ve read in a long time.
Image by Ruth Fremson, NY Times