Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Design of the “Invisible Child” series (part 1)

By Briana Whiteside

In December 2013, The New York Times published part one of a five-part series on homelessness in New York. “Invisible Child” focuses on a young African American girl named Dasani (after the water brand) and her family—seven siblings and two parents—who live in a homeless shelter. The series focuses on the effects of gentrification in New York and a family who has fallen victim to poverty among other things. Yet, the intricate layout of the series should be called to attention.

The first part of the series is broken into eight subparts with roughly 6,818 words. Each subpart is accompanied with photographs that act as visual referents to help readers connect emotionally with the piece. A total of 20 pictures ranging from close ups of the holes dug by mice in the walls, floor shots of baby Lele leaning over a broken and unsafe mattress barely covered with a sheet, to Dasani in dance class with a stained leotard, all function as inner stories of their own, some complimented with subtitles.

Despite the length of the article, and treatment of an important issue that plagues “22,000 homeless children in New York,” we must pay special attention to how journalist Andrea Elliot, photographer Ruth Fremson, and the Times design team presented their coverage. Usually when we think of homelessness, we think of individuals (mainly adults) asking for money on the streets. Yet, in the midst of such a touchy social issue, we are able to enter into the lives of one family, more specifically one girl, and catch glimpses of her experiences, her truth, and her possible future.

“Invisible Child” builds upon the legacy of exposing homelessness in America. The ability to examine such a huge issue as poverty, more specifically, homelessness that encompasses many parts, and refines it to focus on one family, one child, gives it a face. We can learn from the layout and story, of the promise of focusing on a smaller portion of an issue to address a larger one.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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