Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear depressing statistics about the current (though hopefully improving) impact of the recession on everyday lives in the U.S. and worldwide.
In most cases, the facts are presented by the numbers, or by use of charts, or with detailed accounts of specific people who have lost their jobs or homes, suffer because they cannot afford health insurance, etc.
In the very best writing about such things, we are shown a glimpse of life in the homes and families of real people. It’s one thing to give employment or unemployment figures by the numbers — it’s entirely more effective to profile someone who’s lost their home or job and how they’re doing now, i.e., where they’re living, how they’re paying the bills, how the feed and clothe their kids.
I was thinking about this after watching part of “60 Minutes” on CBS last evening (December 20, 2009). The lead story on the broadcast was a revisit to Wilmington, Ohio, a year after the town lost something like 10,000 jobs in one swoop when an air shipping company closed down. They showed specific “before and after” pieces with individuals and their families. The news was not good. In fact, it made for a pretty grim broadcast for the last “60 Minutes” show before Christmas.
But it was griping and very effective. I’ll never think of unemployment/employment figures merely as numbers again. They are numbers based in the lives and fortunes of real men, women, and children.
Your most effective writing always should “show” readers what’s happening, not just “tell” them what you want them to know.