Jina Moore: Poor People Behind The News
Don’t let the strands of colorful beads from Rwanda, long brown hair, and dimples fool you. Jina Moore may look like a coed as she strides down the corridors at Boston University, but she’s a seasoned multimedia journalist whose specialty is gritty human rights stories.
Moore was among the 300 journalists and academics from nine countries and 27 states in Boston last weekend (April 5-7) to attend the university’s 4th annual “Power of Narrative” conference at which professionals in all media share the latest techniques and technologies for telling news stories.
The freelance reporter captivated a filled-to-overflowing lecture hall of professionals with her ingenuity and the hard research she invests not only in getting difficult stories, but also into tailoring amorphous issues to meet the demands of busy editors. Even after winning many awards, the writer says she is challenged to interest editors in her stories. They want action. War is action. Writing about the human condition is not. She succeeds, however, by taking big, abstract issues and showing how they “tangent” people’s lives. Otherwise, she feels “people say ‘so what.’”
Moore writes for National Public Radio and is a regular correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor Weekly. She is a multi-media producer and, among other publications, has reported on domestic violence for the Columbia Journalism Review, Holocaust survivors for Salon, and being a white correspondent in Africa for the Boston Review.
The New York-based journalist spends long stretches in Africa writing “about dirt, one of my favorite subjects,” she says. She is passionate about land issues and when speaking about them punches the air frequently to drive home a point.
With the help of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, she went to Liberia. She reported on the land rights grab and educated readers about the country at peace.
In Sierra Leone, she reported on natives threatened with losing their property rights because pre-colonial land ownership was not established by deed. When Moore first proposed the story most editors knew only about the war in Sierra Leone. It had been over since 2002.
On her blog she describes how Sierra Leone’s capital has changed. “When you come to Freetown – which you should, for the beautiful beaches and the delicious food and the people and the fantastic hand-dyed fabrics and expert tailors – you won’t notice the trash collection. Because to you, it’s normal.”
For a story about poor people, she returned to her hometown in West Virginia. She met with Linda, a day care worker who earns little more than $1000 a month. “I’m writing about poverty in America,” Moore said, “and how people cope with it.”
Linda told her. Linda stretches a roasting chicken for five meals, a pepper for two meals. She can’t afford many fresh fruits and vegetables, but she is permitted to take leftovers from the day care center. She particularly enjoys tomatoes so she grows her own in summer, but after the frost she loses that luxury until the next year.
Linda surprised Moore. She follows the grain market. “I knew people who watched the stock market,” said Moore, “but I never knew anyone who watched the grain market.” The day care worker explained. If the price of grain goes up, she worries that she may not be able to afford meat.
The 2010 census, documented 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, an increase of 2.6 million over the previous year, and the fourth consecutive year to show an increase. There is no evidence that the figure hasn’t increased since then.
Jina Moore writes about the people behind the numbers. She says, “These are stories that numbers can’t tell.”