Telling the story of mortgage modifications

December 8, 2008

Melissa Townsend here. I produced a story airing today about mortgage modifications. I thought it be good to blog a bit about - why this story and why these people. Why this story? I'm getting the sense many folks are feeling bail-out fatigue. I mean enough already about the 700-billion bucks in federal aid going God-knows-where. There's a global crisis, a banking crisis, a housing crisis, and "the big 3" auto makers may soon be the tiny 2. It can be a full time job trying to keep up. So how do we journalists do an end-run around the fatigue and air something that makes sense? I wanted to find someone with a unique perspective I could honestly understand without having to Google 5 different financial concepts. (AP photo/file) Why these people? I liked housing counselor Liz Caton for this story because she has a personal take on a very technical, bland topic -- mortgages and how to modify them. She talks like some of my favorite teachers. She wants folks to learn something and end up in a better place with more knowledge. She doesn't pontification about unanswerable issues like who deserves help and who should have known better. When Caton began talking about payment option adjustable rate mortgages I thought well this is good background technical information that will never make it into the piece. BORING! She explained the complications of this kind of loan: link to Liz on POAL Then she began talking about 79-year old Ethel Mason"¦ and she got me. Homeowner Ethel Mason is a clear, true example of Chicagoans in this position. She owns a modest home in a low and moderate-income community. She's managed to hang onto her house through a combination of determination and skillful money management. And she spoke to me frankly. I had been hearing other reporters say they couldn't get in touch with people facing foreclosure because shame kept people from telling their stories. But that wasn't the case for Mason. Her story in all its detail bubbled out of her. I had one serious reservation before we put this story to bed. Would it lead listeners to think Mason and others in her shoes are stupid, helpless or somehow deficient? That's not how Mason struck me and I wanted to get it right. At the end of the day, I realized listeners bring their own perspectives to everything they hear. But to that point, I want to include here what Caton said on the subject: link to Liz- All Kinds.