Some 71,000 people in Knox County live below the federal poverty line. Starting Sunday, the News Sentinel will be profiling a few of them, a task that proved more challenging than we expected when we started the project.
Three News Sentinel journalists — photographers Amy Smotherman Burgess and Michael Patrick and writer Kristi Nelson — determined more than a year ago to focus fresh attention on the plight of the poor in our community. They began spending an hour or two, here and there, shooting photos, collecting stories.
But poverty carries a stigma, and many people did not want their stories told, especially if they had school-aged children who might be taunted. Folks living on the edge also have other things to worry about than getting in the paper. Time and again, the journalists hooked up with someone to profile only to lose track of them. Their phones were disconnected. They moved without notice. They missed appointments for reasons unknown.
Sometimes, too, the journalists had to break off contact if the facts they needed were not forthcoming or the subjects proved deceitful.
Many agencies that interact with the poor were not helpful, either. Protective of the privacy of their clients, they were unable or unwilling to connect the journalists with people who wanted their stories told. One notable exception was the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee.
Ultimately, though, several gutsy individuals agreed to share their stories, and the result was the “Struggling to get by” series that runs Sunday-Wednesday.
The purpose of the timing is twofold. As we consider our blessings the week of Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate that we also think of those who are less fortunate. On Thanksgiving Day, too, the News Sentinel kicks off its annual Empty Stocking Fund campaign — for the 102nd year. It will be just one of many opportunities that people will have this holiday season to act on behalf of those who are in need.