Spotlight Exclusives

A Glass Half Full?Media Coverage of Poverty

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At Spotlight۪s forum this week The Politics of Economic Opportunity:  Will Growing Poverty Affect Election 2012? a panel of prominent journalists and columnists were asked whether the media adequately covers poverty.  Bob Herbert, a former op-ed columnist for The New York Times and now a distinguished fellow at Demos answered point blank, “We don’t have coverage of poverty in this country.”  Pam Fessler, who covers poverty for NPR, told a story that underscores the challenge.  Until her most recent assignment Fessler۪s beat had been homeland security.  “When I was covering homeland security, no matter what I did, it got on the air immediately because it was news.  It was breaking news.  Everybody cared about security[but with poverty] we’ll hold the story for another day or so”  because poverty is not breaking news.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


Media coverage of poverty and opportunity has ratcheted up in recent months, notably in relation to the Occupy Wall Street movements and, most recently, the Presidential campaign.  Headlines such as “Economic Inequality An Issue For 2012 Campaign,” “Gingrich To Blacks:  Seek Paychecks Not Food Stamps,” “Rick Santorum And The Return Of The Compassionate Conservatism” and “Cracks In The Granite State: As Poverty Grows In Manchester, GOP Rhetoric Of Self-Reliance Rings Hollow To Some” reflect how campaigns are beginning to take on fundamental poverty issues such as economic mobility, opportunity, and the role of government.  [These and more articles are available on Spotlight۪s In the News]


OOTS believes it is vital for the candidates to stake out poverty reduction positions and to offer voter۪s details about their proposed solutions.  So, it۪s encouraging that there۪s news to report and headlines on front pages of major papers.  Indeed, the Spotlight poll released at the forum, found that fully 88 percent of likely voters consider a candidate۪s position on poverty important in deciding their vote.  


But Herbert۪s point is also true: ongoing coverage of poverty outside of the glare of politics and campaigns is hard to come by. Indeed, the Spotlight poll found that half of all voters say the media has not spent an adequate amount of time during the presidential campaign covering the issue of reducing poverty in America.


That may be changing. A handful of leading news organizations have recently made moves to step up their poverty coverage. American Public Media۪s Marketplace has launched a Wealth and Poverty desk and Tom Zeller Jr., formally of The New York Times, is now covering the poverty beat for The Huffington Post. And recently The Nation introduced a regular feature called This Week in Poverty,” a new blog dedicated to developments around poverty and authored by Greg Kaufman. His latest blog highlights this week۪s Spotlight forum and poll.


Let us know if you۪ve seen other encouraging illustrations of news outlets that are covering poverty and opportunity from across the political spectrum.

Posted by Jodie

Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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