“Why is there so little coverage of Americans who are struggling with poverty?”
The article has several linkups to studies and op-ed pieces, and poses this question:
What are you reading and watching on poverty in America? And what are your thoughts about media coverage of poverty?
In addition to this post on NBC‘s Facebook:
Poverty coverage takes up less than one percent of the news content in the nation’s major news outlets. Why is that?
As we continue our year-long report focused on Poverty in America, we want to know what you are reading and watching on the topic? And what are your thoughts about media coverage of poverty?
By the time I saw that Facebook discussion, there were about 150 comments and just as many shares. I posted this as a comment on that thread:
Poverty doesn’t get ratings? In a half an hour, this linkup has gone viral on Facebook. I’m a personal finance writer and social media team member for a Michigan newspaper – commenting here via my blog / column Facebook fan page. We know – it’s been proven over and over – that the most popular headlines and blog posts on my site include those that discuss food stamps, public assistance, living wage and minimum wage issues. We also see that on the newspaper site.
Wowza. I just read the comments on the NBC site and its Facebook page and I don’t even know where to start. I’ll discuss more in detail after I collect my thoughts. I will tell you that the most popular posts on Monroe on a Budget for the past two years have been on food stamps, minimum wage, living wage and related issues.
To be fair, I didn’t realize NBC was doing such a project. I’ll add it to my blogroll. But I have been following Michigan Radio‘s State of Opportunity project, which is specifically about poverty in Michigan, in addition to MLive newspaper network’s Job blog, which takes on some related themes.
So what are the challenges for the news media in covering poverty?
They include finding people living in tough financial circumstances who are willing to go public and talk about it. This is not an off the cuff comment. Given the incredibly nasty comments that get posted on the Internet about people on public assistance – including a photo of a bumper sticker I saw on Facebook this morning, posted by someone I know, before this story broke – it takes a really unique person to admit they are on the public dole.
Perhaps you’ve heard me tell the story about the time in the early 1990s when I was a single / divorced mom trying to make ends meet. I applied for help from Department of Human Services, only to be told I made too much money.
I tell that story now because it is part of the backstory of what led to the launch of Monroe on a Budget in 2007.
I mentioned it to NO ONE at the time.
Another challenge is that people in financial crisis situations are in survival mode. They’re looking for resources, services and answers to problems. Those referrals could come through word of mouth, a hotline such as the United Way 211 service, a community reference site such as Julie’s List for southeast Michigan, or a social worker who will take lead them through the bureaucracy.
But telling one’s story to the public? It’s hard to see what resolution that might bring to the immediate problem, if they even think anyone would listen.
The third challenge is that while local / community journalists in particular are more accustomed than you might think to living on tight budgets, as journalism has never been a high-paying career, those of us in the news media also doing so with the advantage of an education and a college degree. That means we know how to research, ask questions and get answers.
What if you had dropped out of school before finishing college, or even finishing high school? The navigation of the social safety network, much less the process of climbing out of it, is a lot more challenging.
Now here’s an interesting development:
As the computer skills gap that was once nicknamed the “digital divide” fades away because of services such as free computer labs at the public libraries, the increasing use of social media for people to stay in contact with loved ones, and services such as Comcast Internet Essentials help bring the Web into lower-income homes, …
Those who are in poverty are starting to do their own writing, commenting, researching and networking on questions and issues they have.
This is particularly noticeable among the demographic of people who formerly were self-sufficient, only to be thrown into financial struggles because of a job loss or eroded savings.
Rarely will anyone ask me questions in person or via my social media feeds if food stamps can be used for this or that, or what the asset limits might be. But when someone asks Google that question, and the search sends them to Monroe on a Budget, I see the incoming traffic and what query brought them to my site.
During the past 30 days, 60 of those Google search strings have been from those in poverty or asking about poverty issues. The sobering roll call includes:
I can also see which articles are most popular with my administrator tools. The number one article for the past two years has been a Michigan food stamp date posting chart that I posted in early 2011 when the schedule shifted dramatically.
The most popular article this week has been Can I buy an Easter basket with food stamps?
And those of us who are on The Monroe Evening News‘ social media team have noticed that articles on food stamps or related public assistance topics are highly read and commented on both on our main site and on our Facebook page.
In regards to continued reporting on poverty in Monroe County, Mich., there’s more to come. The Monroe County Opportunity Program has released a study called the 2012 Community Needs Assessment. We recently received copies of that report at The Monroe Evening News, and made plans for following up on the research.
For example, my newspaper column next week (I finished writing the piece this morning) will discuss the “living wage” estimate that is part of the 50-page report. And one of my co-workers is digging into the document for material on an article she is planning about poverty issues.
But I would expect that at least some reporters, assignment editors and news producers at other news outlets are looking at the NBC chatter today and wondering how to bring those topics and discussions to their own audiences.
It’s hard to ignore a topic that gets that much attention.