The struggle to find good reporting will become even harder in the future. Cutbacks at newspapers due to declining revenues may even further erode any stories about the poor.
An essay we found today at Spotlight on Opportunity and Poverty addresses the lack of journalism on the subject. Writer Kevin Fagan had the good fortune of being allowed to exclusively report on homelessness for a time at the San Francisco chronicle.
Fagan says that many news editors find the topic of poverty to messy to put into a concise news story. In this opinion piece, Fagan talks about his past work and gives reasons why reporting on poverty may decrease even further.
Between 2003 and 2006, photographer Brant Ward and I were the only newspaper team in America covering homelessness full-time. During those years, I learned, as never before, just how valuable it is to have weeks and months to get to the bottom of each situation we explored. Homeless people have mountains of dysfunction, tragic history, criminal behavior, or just plain bad luck trailing behind them, and sorting through that – and the labyrinthine governmental and non-profit world designed to help them – takes the effort of a spelunker crawling through caverns with a candle.
Telling the stories we did then, such as the saga of a colony of junkies living on a traffic island in downtown San Francisco, or the success of a program in New York for severely mentally ill street people, took enormous effort and time that would have been impossible if we were pulled back and forth between daily assignments.
I still manage to produce this type of detailed report. Just last month Brant and I reported on people sleeping in San Francisco’s demolished transit terminal, and this month we produced a piece on housing vouchers for homeless veterans. But with the exception of episodic reports on surging topics, such as foreclosures or census reports, the number of intensive stories on poverty in the media everywhere has declined since my homelessness beat days.
It’s not hard to see why. With the cutbacks at every newspaper in America, we are all working more quickly and prolifically than before. And even though my newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, still nurtures reporting like mine, we in this industry all have to choose projects more carefully than in the not-so-long-ago old days of bigger staffs—which makes it all the more important to take on these issues whenever we can.
The national conversation surrounding poverty is convoluted and heated, and only with objective and thorough journalistic attention will the public and decision makers ever be informed enough to move ahead proactively and intelligently.
It’s always been worth the effort. And it’s worth that effort more than ever today.