Tuesday, June 21, 2011

USA Today: Illness and Injury can cause 'ruinous' consequences for those with student loan debt

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Here is my latest piece over at USA Today


Anonymous said...

God, you're an awful writer. I mean really, really terrible.

The tragedy is that these stories are straight out of Kafka, but unless you're already familiar with the student loan regime you'd never know that.

Please become more effective. And soon.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

So, wait . . . I am confused.

Am I (a)awful; (b) really terrible; (c) or really, really terrible?

Thanks for clarifying!

Paul said...

Great piece, Cryn. It illuminates another tragic side of this major problem. That woman must be kicking herself for not taking the full tuition scholarship at UCSB, and opting for debt-hell extraordinaire, NYU.

@10:01- your comments were written so poorly (you good writer, you) it is impossible to understand what exactly you take issue with in Cryn's style. Don't shoot the messenger.

Anonymous said...

The USA Today article is a complete piece of trash. No wander you feel scammed: you went to college and cannot even write a short article.

JDpainterguy said...

I post the nasty comments too Cryn. I don't know why.

I seem to get a surge in traffic to my blog whenever your USA Today articles come out, in much the same way I had a lot more views when the NY Times article about Law Schools came out last January.

Which tells me that you are being widely read.

I, for one, really appreciate everything you do, and you are an excellent writer and Human Being.

Anonymous said...

I agree with JDpainterguy. And you, Anonymous 11:57, don't even know the difference between wonder and wander! Jesus . . . Talk about trash writing.

JPR said...

First step: cause the collapse of the banking sector through DEBTORS' REVOLT: an intentional default-en-masse. Just stop paying your student loans, etc. If enough people - doesn't need to be everyone, just a critical mass, say 25% - intentionally default, the financial sector will spiral into a desirable collapse.

DJ said...

Cryn, here are some constructive comments, from someone who is sympathetic to your cause.

Your article needs some statistics to back up your claims. You talk about one person (Schutz), and then claim "Schutz’s story is all too common." But you don't give any facts to back that claim up. What you need is some sentence like "According to the Department of Education, X percent of borrowers are in default, and Y thousand of these borrowers have experienced a catastrophic medical event in the Z years prior to default." Sure, it takes work to find this information, but without it, your claims are easy for the skeptics to dismiss.

It's quite possible that the information you need doesn't exist. (For example maybe no one has done a study on the proportion of student loan defaults due to medical bills.) In such cases, I suggest that you avoid making the claim. Even if the claim is true, it's no good if you can't prove it. You may have to rewrite parts of your article in order to emphasize other aspects of the problem that you can quantify. It's a tough balancing act, but one which all writers must face.

Later in the article you repeat the same mistake when you discuss Cowin and then claim "there are a growing number of cases, like Cowin's, ..."

You are the writer. You are trying to convince the reader of your position. It is your responsibility to substantiate your claims. How many such cases are there, and how did you find out what this number is (i.e. what is your source)? Honestly, I read your article to the end, expecting you to present some numbers at some point, and you never did. That's the main thing your article needs: statistically representative facts (not anecdotes) that convey the scope of the problem in quantitative terms.

A second area where your article could be improved is in providing background information to the reader. Long-time readers of this blog of course know the basics about student loans, the lack of bankruptcy protections, and so on. But a standalone article is going to attract many readers who are less informed about the issue. With all the experience that you have in outreach efforts, I'm sure you know by now exactly what aspects of the student loan problem are most likely to be confusing to a new reader. It's worth including a short paragraph explaining these points. Keep it short so that people who know the stuff already can just skim past it. Make sure the paragraph is situated strategically; for example you might discuss the lack of bankruptcy protections while talking about Schutz, as a way of explaining why the family doesn't just declare bankruptcy. Every article that you write needs to mention these basic facts. There can never be too much education on this topic -- I know in my experience that everyone I talk to is simply amazed (and, at first disbelieving) when I explain just how heavy-handed student loans are.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

@DJ thanks for the unsolicited advice. I have written countless papers and articles that include quantitative facts. There is also a matter of space limitations, too. As a writer, I am aware of these things, as you probably are too. The piece is different than the deeper, longer work I have written. It's a different style, and many have appreciate the content. Having spoken to thousands of debtors, I don't think my work is based on anecdotal evidence.

Thanks again.

DJ said...

I understand the problems of space, but the article is long enough that I think it would have been more effective to fit in at least one sentence each on numbers and background, even if you have to get rid of something else.

Alternatively, if you're really aiming for some sort of distinct writing style that avoids numerical comparisons, then just remove the claims involving numbers, or at least soften them up ("Although no information is available on the exact scope of the problem, there are surely a growing number of cases..."). This wouldn't hurt that style, and in fact would probably help it. (The capsules of background information that I mentioned, however, still deserve to be there, I think, regardless of the writing style.)

Anonymous said...

@DJ While you might be right about Schutz, Cryn does provide a link to a piece by Pro Publica for Cowin.

JDpainterguy said...

DJ sounds almost like a lawyer, and I think DJ's advice is very good for my writing.

I was terrible at legal writing, and even when in College, I remember writing a paper that I thought was a completely new idea or way to analyze a novel.

The Professor returned the paper, with a grade of B, telling me that many of the claims were: "Cast in a vacum"

In other words, I had no other scholarship to refer to in order to back my claims up.

But there were no secondary sources either.

But I'm going to print out DJ's remarks go over them.

It never hurts to get feedback on one's writing, and I have had people e-mail me and say I am too cryptic or an "acquired taste" which tells me I am losing the reader.

But that is just me, and like I say in my profile, my renewed efforts at writing after a long lapse are only 8 months old or so.

But then again, I remember a quote by Tennis player Arthur Ash that said something like: "Don't take the compliments to heart, because then you will by necessity have to believe the negative or pejorative remarks." Something like that.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

I doubt DJ has seen all of my work, and how I go about writing on the subject of the student lending crisis (for instance, I have been published in a scholarly journal on the subject). A good deal of my research relies upon quantitative research. However, another portion of my work - like this piece - is qualitative. That does not diminish the findings. I was trained as a social scientist, so I understand the distinction. The piece has received a great deal of praise from notable scholars in the field.