GEOGRAPHY OF POVERTY
About the Project:
More than fifty years after LBJ declared the so-called ‘The War on Poverty is’, more than 43 million people are still living under the poverty line in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on earth. At the same time, the share of income going to the top 1% of the population has more than doubled since the 1970s. At the very top, the richest 0.1% share of the national wealth has tripled.
For the more than two years, Magnum photographer Matt Black traveled over 100,000 miles across 46 states, documenting hundreds of the countries designated “poverty areas,” communities whose poverty rates are in excess of 20%. From the deserts of the Southwest through the black belt in the South to the post-industrial, rusting factory towns that dot the Midwest and Northeast this important project profiles the country’s most marginalized people and communities. The Geography of Poverty stands as a singular document of a time in the United States of unprecedented economic divisions, affecting the experience, prospects and outlook of millions who live in communities that prosperity has passed by.
In late 2014 Matt approached me about his project (he had already begun shooting in California's Central Valley and was publishing on social media but wanted to expand and grow the project to country wide). MSNBC.com at that point had not published a project of this nature, scope or depth and did not have a platform to support an ambitious, multimedia digital presentation I felt it needed to do it justice. Over the course of about six months, we worked towards creating an immersive long-form microsite entirely from scratch, launching the first chapter in June 2015 and publishing six more subsequent chapter for the next year and a half. We tailored the storytelling experience specifically for this project creating a unique, platform for the audience that features the photography, motion clips, interactive data visualization and geotagged maps of the journey with data points, poverty statistics and photographs linked to Matt’s Instagram where the audience could follow along in real time as he traveled across the country. The results are affecting: if photography can help to humanize facts and numbers, and the map emphasizes the scale of the problem, then the spotlight on individual plights becomes a floodlight on a country-wide issue.
In my role as the Executive Producer of this project I championed and persuaded the executives at MSNBC to support the work and to commit to developing a bespoke microsite, I worked with Matt and Trymaine Lee (the writer/reporter) on establishing a framework for the long-form (including the overall editorial premise, story structures as well as setting goals, timelines and the objectives for the project), I worked closely with the design and front-end development teams on both the aesthetic quality as well as the storytelling functionality, I helped secure additional funding and co-managed the outside project partnerships (with Magnum Foundation, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and The Economic Hardship Reporting Project), I directed and edited all aspects of the visual content (photographs and video), created a social media campaign across multiple platforms for the duration of the year and half long project building and sustaining an audience for the @msnbcphoto social accounts, and I conceived, initiated and led the production of a special edition print Geography of Poverty zine. Publishing this project was a collaborative effort and its considerable success is due to the contributions of the whole team that worked so hard to make it a reality.
MSNBC + TIME Magazine
Photographs by Matt Black
Written by Trymaine Lee
Designed by Mina Liu
W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, Matt Black for "The Geography of Poverty”, 2015
Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Matt Black for “The Geography of Poverty”, 2016
Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting
Economic Hardship Reporting Project