Musician Teodoro Cuevas waits for business in LA's Mariachi Plaza. Photo by Emmanuel Martinez/Neon Tommy.

Musician Teodoro Cuevas waits for business in LA’s Mariachi Plaza. Photo by Emmanuel Martinez/Neon Tommy.

In 24 Hours: A Day in the Working Life, 12 Los Angeles-area workers – including a stripper, deli waitress, bus driver, metal scrapper, and bathroom attendant – take us inside their workplaces to show us what they do and why they do it. 

The Labor Day special aired on public radio stations around the country yesterday. It was reported by graduate students at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC as part of a course taught by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan and Karen Lowe of the web and radio project Bending Borders.

Karen is an old friend of Homelands; as an editor for Marketplace, she worked on many of the profiles in our WORKING series.

24 Hours is a co-production of Homelands Productions, Bending Borders, and the USC Annenberg School. It is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).


For Valentines Day, WORKING goes deep into the world of love and marriage. Well, marriage, anyway. Hang Nga is a Vietnamese woman who works for a South Korean marriage agency. She and her Korean boss, Mr. Cho, organize three-day excursions for Korean men seeking Vietnamese brides. And they deliver. The marriage packages include everything from introduction and selection to rings, ceremony, cake, photos, and a half-day honeymoon on Ha Long Bay. There’s even a visit to meet the parents. Kelly McEvers went along, and found that for the happy couple, it’s not about romance. It’s about the numbers.

The profile of Hang Nga airs Thursday, February 12, on Marketplace. To see photos, hear audio, and learn more about all 24 of the WORKING profiles that have aired to date, visit the special WORKING section on Or check out the interactive Worker Browser where you can do all that and add your own voice to the mix.


P.S. I’m writing this from Nairobi, Kenya, where I’ll be based until mid-June. If you’re in the area, drop me a line!

One rap against cool web-based media applications is that they attract a disproportionate number of males and a disproportionate number of people who work in information technology. I just sorted the early discoverers of the Worker Browser tonight and found that we have 180 males and 19 females. We’ve hardly publicized the thing at all – these are almost all folks who have discovered it on their own. But it’ll clearly be a challenge as we move forward to reach out to women and to people who don’t spend their days online. Not that I have anything against males or cyberpersons!

While we’re talking demographics, since I reported on where folks are coming from, we’ve had participants from Brazil, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, and Romania. That makes workers from 29 countries and at least 37 states. Which is just so cool.


What a thrill to go online today and see that 164 people had put their profiles up on the Worker Browser! Up from just 15 yesterday. We’ve barely mentioned it to anyone, but apparently folks are finding out. Fantastic to see the entries of working people in Spain, Malta, Lithuania, China, Canada, Italy, UK, Bahrain, Indonesia, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Mozambique, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Serbia, Hong Kong, as well as many states in the USA. Lots of people who work online, but also factory workers, cashiers, teachers, technicians, students, librarians, and engineers. Every time I checked during the day another person or two had joined the mix.

Here’s a picture from 11 pm on 11/16:


I notice that very few have filled out the text boxes elaborating on their answers, and even fewer have answered the questions at the end (dream job, what I like about my job, what I don’t like about my job, how I define “decent work”). I hope people will go back and fill those in — for me, the explanations are the most interesting part!

If you visit the browser and fill out the questionnaire, please let us know how it went. We know there are bugs and we’d love to get ’em fixed before the big rush comes.


I hope you got to hear the latest WORKING profile. It was produced by Kelly McEvers and features a pirate, Agus Laodi, in Indonesia. Agus boards cargo ships in the Strait of Malacca, holds their crews at knifepoint, and steals the money from their safes. Then he spends his “earnings” on women and booze instead of sending them home to his family. He is not, I’d venture to say, a terribly admirable fellow.

I think it’s a fascinating, revealing piece of journalism. It’s timely (pirates have been much in the news lately) and it has everything to do with the global economy (cargo ships move 90 percent of all traded goods, and piracy remains one of their biggest challenges). It is also an intimate look into the life of a person who has chosen a path and who doesn’t seem capable of changing course. Kelly observes (keenly) but she doesn’t judge. The feedback so far has been very good. But some listeners have written to say that it was wrong to feature a criminal, or to call him a “worker.”

This is the second WORKING profile of a person whose work is illegal (the other was a prostitute in Azerbaijan). One of the first pieces in the series features a fixer in Lebanon who turns out to be a bit of a shady character; a more recent profile features a trader in Dubai who sometimes smuggles American goods into Iran despite a US trade embargo. (Hmm, all four of these have been reported by Kelly – what is it about that woman?) An upcoming piece, produced by Gregory Warner, profiles a human smuggler on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

I have been in favor of including all sorts of workers in our series, law-abiding or not. Illegal work (from trafficking in drugs, arms, wildlife, and human beings to extortion, insider trading, and email fraud) is a significant part of the global economy. For some people it’s the only employment available; others see it as the only way to get ahead. I figure an honest group portrait of the working world has to include some folks operating on the dark side. I’m curious what others think. Are we glorifying scoundrels by giving them their eight minutes of fame?


P.S. We are saddened by the passing of Studs Terkel, but joyful in the knowledge that he touched so many people over his long life, and that his good work will live on. Studs was convinced that everyone has a story to tell – that simple, subversive idea has been a major inspiration for our work.