Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'A Recognition that Poverty Even Exists'

You know the phrase "Out of sight, Out of Mind."  And there is also the common saying, "Hidden in Plain Sight."  Unfortunately, those concepts are easily applied to poverty in our country.

And some would argue that part of the reason why poverty is a mere blip on the radar of our consciousness is because there is very little coverage in the news.  This lack of public awareness of poverty is why a documentary like A Place at the Table has so much shock value, even for those of us who are somewhat aware of the problem. Granted, more than ever,we are saturated with coverage of all sorts of topics via the broadest types of media imaginable. A friend from another generation mentioned to me that many of the people she knows get their news via Twitter rather than newspapers.  (But even Twitter links to online coverage of articles that might have been also published in print).

Pew Study Documents Lack of Coverage
But it is not our imagination that poverty gets little attention in the print media.  (Don't get me started about the broadcast media--but that's another whole different post). This trend was documented by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and reported in U.S. News and World Report.  According to the study, which looked at coverage by 52 major mainstream news outlets, coverage of poverty amounted to far less than 1 percent of available news space.  "Poverty becomes a sort of 'very special episode' of journalism that we sort of roll out every so often," Tampa Bay Times media critic Eric Deggans said.

And there are other commentaries that back the Pew study.  For example, Dan Fromkin describes in Niewman Reports how The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader and editor David Stoeffler set out to cover a subject that had been largely ignored: poverty in the Ozarks. "For five consecutive days last September, Stoeffler published stories across the entire front page of the print edition and the homepage of the paper's website. Each day focused on a specific problem: "No home," "No shoes," "No food," "No car," and "No peace." Many readers were shocked, saying they had no idea so many area families were living in such desperate circumstances."

Incidentally,  the web version of the News-Leader series has three other parts for this series entitled "No Way to Live" "No Normal" and  "No Easy Answers."

But Frompkin also notes, "Sadly, the News-Leader's success is an anomaly in the news business. Nearly 50 million people—about one in six Americans—live in poverty, defined as income below $23,021 a year for a family of four."  Read Frompkin's full piece, It Can’t Happen HereWhy is there so little coverage of Americans who are struggling with poverty?

Photo from: St. Martin's Hospitality Center-Albuquerque
Approaching a 50-year High
I give credit to U.S. News and World Report for making this the topic of one of its featured reports.  But, of course, there might not have been a cover article had it not been for the Pew study. So a huge kudos goes to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Regardless, the magazine paints a stark picture of poverty and current perceptions.  Here is how the article starts:

It has been nearly half a century since President Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty." That war produced great successes, and many of its initiatives have been profoundly effective – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Head Start, Medicaid, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, school breakfast programs, and federal aid for poor schools and students.

Now, however, after years of erosion of wages and benefits, the U.S. poverty rate has risen and approaches a 50-year high. Yet poverty has become an almost invisible issue for policymakers and the press. It feels today like a "war on poverty" would need to begin with a battle just to gain recognition that poverty even exists.  Read full article: Poverty has become an invisible issue for politicians and the press

No comments: