(294) Poverty and the press

Medieval_printing_pressAmerican Vice President Joe Biden was quoted widely* last month saying that his countrymen no longer really worry about the economy.  He must not be getting out very much, either that or he feels part of his job description is simply to say positive things, to be a calming and encouraging figure.  The stock markets in the USA are doing well and fracking for natural gas and oil have led to some major claims of bountiful times to come.  Nonetheless, at suburban-poverty.com we prefer a measured approach.

Here is a thoughtful essay from the web site belonging to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.  The author asks why poverty is given such little consideration in the mass media in the United States.  According to research mentioned in the article sixteen percent of Americans live in poverty but 0.2% of coverage from 50 major news outlets between 2007 and 2012 was substantively about poverty.

This seems almost a defiance of lived reality on the part of the media in a country where evidence of hard times and middle class decline remains plentiful.  Additionally, it seems when poverty does receive media coverage the quality of it is too often shallow or confined to one-off reports which gain some temporary profile before disappearing.  Poverty is almost never a regular “beat” in journalism and those working the poverty file can find themselves starved of an audience beyond alternative outlets with small budgets.  When poverty moves to places where it is less visible there is a further complication.

This is unfortunate as the mainstream American media is not fully present in what should be a very important field of enquiry for a profession that still expects ethical approaches to matters of the common good.  A substantial example of journalistic work on poverty is provided by author Dan Froomkin via a multi-part print and online feature in the Springfield News-Leader.  Downward pressure on living standards and wages in the Ozarks region and the realities within that came to life in vigorous and respectful way through the series; much to the apparent shock of many readers.  The series launched in the fall of 2011 and a year later won an industry award and significant readership.

Apparently, Mr. Biden missed it.

It Can’t Happen Here. Why is there so little coverage of Americans who are struggling with poverty?

News-Leader poverty series wins top honors

*In remarks to the press at the White House on February 25, 2013.

image: Mediaeval printing press via Wikimedia Commons