New NYT column looks at working in New York

In her new weekly column for The New York Times, Rachel Swarns zooms in to tell stories in miniature, informed by the larger economic picture of the city and the country, but focused on the people impacted by it.

Swarns’ column, “The Working Life,” debuted Monday and introduces Marianne Scarino and the big and small details of her life post-recession.

From the outside, the financial fissures in Marianne Scarino’s life are easy to overlook. She still steps out the door most weekday mornings in her tailored trousers and kitten heels.

She walks with the confidence of the successful professional she once was, the corporate manager with the office overlooking Times Square, the six-figure salary and those late-night glides back to Staten Island in that sleek company car.

Look closer, though, and you’ll notice the peeling paint on her front porch, the crumbling chimney, the dilapidated garage, the telltale signs of a downsized life.

Each week, Swarns plans to write about people who have reinvented themselves, people who have fallen out of the workforce and people who are struggling to stay in. To find those stories, she has reached out to groups that work with economic issues and how they impact people. She recently spent time with retail workers in a seminar aimed at helping them improve their skills.

“I’m hoping that people will reach out to me, too,” she said in a phone call with Poynter. “I really do want to hear from people.”

Swarns, who moved back to New York City this fall, previously spent a decade reporting from Washington, D.C., where she wrote about immigration, the Obamas and politics. She also reported from Russia, Cuba and southern Africa, where she worked as the Times’ Johannesburg bureau chief.

The thread that connects her work, Swarns said, is “writing about people and making them real and tangible to our readers.”

Swarns plans to tell new stories each week in her reported column, writing about what it’s like for people, she said “and really exploring what people are experiencing, good, bad, complicated. And the picture is pretty complicated.”

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