Whether you’re covering a political campaign, a rock concert or the launch of a new cruise ship, one of the privileges of being a reporter is being allowed behind the velvet rope — to the front of the line, onto the stage or into the limo — to interview subjects. It’s not something I seek out (far from it), but as a business reporter who covered Wall Street and C.E.O.s for years, it came with the territory.
After being on the economics beat at The Times over the last five years, however, I’ve come to realize the real story in the American economy today is the velvet rope itself.
Sometimes, it’s a metaphor, as in the case of for-hire college counselors who can ease admission to Ivy League colleges. Or the butler-like Royal Genies on Royal Caribbean cruise ships who research your favorite scotch or vodka and have it ready before you board.
As a reporter covering factory layoffs in the heartland, I am often out of my element — and my comfort zone. I grew up in affluent, suburban Scarsdale, N.Y., a town sporting quite the selection of private golf clubs. And I studied at the University of Chicago, a cloister of academics and bookish young people that is a world away from the low-income neighborhoods nearby, or the city’s industrial roots.
I was keenly aware of all of this when I traveled to Indiana four times over the last year to spend time with some of the more than 2,000 assembly line workers who wound up at the center of debate in the presidential election.