Spain v. the New York Times

No Words

“In Spain, Austerity and Hunger” was the headline splashed across the front page of The New York Times on 24th September. The accompanying black-and-white photos portrayed dramatic scenes of a country in crisis: a man scavenging for food in a garbage bin, a family awaiting eviction, a government soup kitchen and angry anti-austerity protestors.

The photographs were taken by Samuel Aranda, winner of the World Press Photo of the Year award in 2011, and show the grim reality of the financial crisis, which has hit Spain especially hard: 4.8 million people are unemployed, 2 million families don’t have any source of income and half a million families have been evicted from their homes. There have been many reports of people committing suicide before being forced out of their houses.

Discontent has spilled onto the streets: two general strikes have been called in the last two months and colorful waves of demonstrators (teachers wear green, government employees wear black, social workers wear orange and health workers wear white) stage anti-austerity protests almost every day.

When The New York Times article reached Spain, it quickly became a source of controversy. The regional newspaper Ideal quoted a conversation overheard in a café: “There are lots of soup kitchens in New York for the poor to eat at, too, but that’s not the entire reality of the country”. The same newspaper found and interviewed the people in the photos for an article that pointed out the pictures were mostly taken in Jaén, a province with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (37 per cent; 12 points higher than the national average), and mostly portrayed day laborers, a group that already struggled economically before the crisis.

Meanwhile, the satirical website El Mundo Today reported that the American newspaper had published another article, only this time the images showed people “trying to survive” using old Nokia cellphones rather than iPhones.

Ideal and many other Spanish media outlets (which themselves are filled daily with disheartening figures) were discontent with the photos that, to them, only show half of the truth.

They decided to create #paraNYTIMES, a website where people have been sending pictures of hope rather than despair, with the aim of collecting them in a digital book and sending it to The New York Times newsroom. The photos of
pregnant bellies and grandmas cooking paella, kissing couples and fresh graduates form a sort of national photo album, in which each picture tells a story of ilusión, a Spanish word that, incidentally, can mean both hope and delusion.


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