Monday, September 10, 2012

The poor and near-poor are more numerous now, and deserve coverage; here are thoughts and tips

With the national poverty rate at 15 percent, higher than at any time since 1993, and millions more Americans near the poverty line, you'd think there would be more coverage of them and the problems they face each day. For whatever reason, there is not, and a group of journalists with some experience in covering the subject got together over the weekend to talk about improving coverage of it.

The conference at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., was called "The New American Poverty: Reporting the Recession's Impact," but it included a lots of basics and history on the subject -- and some useful comments at the start, from poverty researchers and some folks who run programs for the poor and disadvantaged in Lexington and Rockbridge County.

Jeri Schaff, services director for the Valley Program for Aging Services, said she couldn't recall ever seeing a news story addressing the daily struggle faced by many old people (hers don't like the "seniors" label, she said), especially in rural areas. The coverage of poverty tends to focus on cities, she said.

"Rural poverty is very different than urban poverty," said Suzanne Sheridan, director of the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic. The big difference, she said in an interview, is lack of resources: supermarkets, public transportation, health care, even a reliable water supply.

Paul Overberg of USA Today gave an excellent presentation on using Census Bureau data to cover poverty. For his handout on using the bureau's American Community Survey data, click here. For other help in covering rural poverty, go to, a recently revised Washington and Lee site for journalists;, with tutorials from the University of Georgia; and, whose owners include author Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written best-selling books about the poor and near-poor. For more details on the conference, click here.

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