Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Poverty of Coverage

Poor mostly missing from network news, research finds

The tens of millions of Americans living in poverty made the news last week, on the occasions of the census report on poverty and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But will the poor remain on the media agenda?

Most likely not, according to a new FAIR study of ABC, CBS and NBC news.

The study examined all stories on the three national broadcast nightly news shows that had more than a passing mention of poverty over a 38-month period (9/11/03-10/30/06):

* The three networks, combined, aired only 58 stories that dealt with poverty.(In contrast, Michael Jackson's legal troubles garnered 69 network stories.)

* In 2005--the year Katrina devastated Gulf Coast communities--the networks aired 22 stories about poverty. (Twice as many stories in 2005 were devoted to Jackson's trial, which was covered in 44 nightly network newscasts.)

* Outside of the six-month period immediately following Katrina, barely one network news segment a month dealt with poverty.

The study found that poor people's opinions on the causes and solutions to poverty were absent in most coverage. Poor people were mainly included only to tell anecdotal stories of suffering, before the networks turned to "experts" who discussed what policies should be pursued to address the situation.

FAIR found little attention to children, who are statistically the poorest age group, in the networks' coverage of poverty.

Among the 114 sources who were not people in poverty, non-Latino whites made up 79 percent of the total, though they are only 67 percent of the population. Of the 76 sources who were themselves poor, African-Americans made up 38 percent of the total, though they make up only 24 percent of people in poverty in the U.S.

Latinos, who constitute 14 percent of the U.S. population, were dramatically underrepresented as media sources in stories about poverty. Among the 114 non-poor sources cited in network coverage of poverty, there were no Latinos at all. Among the 76 poor people the networks included as sources, only 12 percent were Latino, although 24 percent of America's poor are Latino.

The full study is available online at fair.

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