Media World: Why the New York Times covered a homeless couple's wedding

When Robert Tobin, who runs an organization in Sacramento that provides services to the homeless, gets calls from the media, it's usually about drugs or violence. So when he was contacted by The New York Times looking for information about clients who were getting married, he was pleasantly surprised.

After getting over his initial shock, Tobin told freelance writer Francesca Segre that he knew of such a couple, Paul Sousa, 41, and Jennifer Keen, 26, former drug abusers who met at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. Sousa had been in an out of jail for one-fourth of his life. Keen got help for her drug and alcohol abuse after she was told she would lose custody of her daughter unless she got clean.

Sousa and Keen are not the type of highly educated, successful or well-born couples that people expect to read about in the Sunday Styles section. But not only did Segre write about the Sousa-Keen wedding for the June 28 paper, she also published a companion piece about homeless weddings. Interestingly, most of the letters from readers wished Sousa and Keen well, though one said he was "dismayed and disappointed" that the Times wrote about the couple.
In an interview, Sousa joked that people might wonder why a homeless ex-con and former drug addict was getting a write up in the paper's society pages. The answer, as Sousa and the Times pointed out, was that he had a compelling story.

" I was raised on drugs and alcohol," he said. "All I was shown how to do was to party hearty."

Tobin, who said he has difficulty attracting attention from the local media, was delighted with Segre's story about Sousa and Keen because it puts a human dimension on the area's homeless problem, which got national media coverage when a "tent city" sprung up recently. The region is at the epicenter of the subprime mortgage crisis.

"People never hear the success stories," Tobin told DailyFinance. "It showed some enlightenment on their part."

The Times gets hundreds of submissions for the 40 to 45 spaces devoted to wedding stories published Sundays, according to society editor Bob Woletz, who oversees the paper's wedding coverage. Woletz admitts that some readers believe that coverage of their family wedding "should be a reward for a life well lived." That's not how things work.

"This couple in Sacramento turned out to be a terrific interview," Woletz said. "Of course, their story was a searing one. . . . It's our job to report on them not to judge them."

Making the Times has not made Sousa and Keen rich or famous, but one reader from New Hampshire is sending them a wedding present.

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