Tag Archive for tips

Michael Hudson: The business of poverty

Reporter Mike Hudson is not your typical poverty beat reporter. In his years of reporting in Virginia, the Wall Street Journal, and on an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, Hudson went beyond social services to look at the business of poverty.

Hudson investigated businesses who make their money by taking advantage of the poor, and loan officers who falsified applications from borrowers who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified. He was interviewed in Columbia Journalism Review about his approach to poverty coverage.


Often new regulations or tougher laws are treated as threats to profitability, as threats to business—as an attack on business rather than as an attempt to rein in bad practices and actually serve as guiding principle that can help businesses stay out of trouble and stay profitable in the long run and not blow up, as we’ve seen.

via Audit Interview: Michael Hudson : Columbia Journalism Review.

Charitable giving and mental health in Athens-Clarke County

My story idea is going to focus on Athens-Clarke County, charitable giving and mental health services in the area.

My interest in mental health piqued when I saw this story from the Athens Banner Herald a few months ago. It’s about how ACC can help struggling nonprofits with donations. It may be interesting to follow up on the kinds donations these nonprofits get, or alternatively, what would happen if these mental health organizations disappeared from low income areas, and what kinds of alternative substance abuse/mental health resources people would have in its place.

Of course, this could lead into a larger story (maybe later on?) about how ACC decides to allocate part of its general fund to nonprofit agencies. It might be interesting to do a profile on what all of them are, how much they get from government/outside donations, and the kinds of services they provide, and how that process works.

Of course, the mental health story may evolve as I dig (as many news stories tend to do). I am open to any suggestions and feedback!

Homeless services in Athens-Clarke County (and Gainesville/Hall County)

In looking at nonprofits in Athens-Clarke County, it’s interesting to note the difference in revenues for foundations and organizations connected to the University of Georgia versus the low-income groups I’m trying to investigate in the city. Some of the sororities and fraternities even beat out important ACC services in the top 50. That could be a fun numbers story in itself.

I decided to delve into homelessness (and JoAnn into mental health) as we looked at how low-income people are helped in the county. At first glance, it looks like there are several groups that help address the housing problem in Athens, but when I dug into it further, I saw that these groups are interconnected and run by the same people. So in Athens, maybe the story is about how different aspects of homelessness are addressed — the Athens Homeless Shelter tackles the housing, Athens PBJs (created by a UGA student who graduated my year, actually) looks at the issue of food and friendship for the homeless, and two or three groups focus on the rehab aspect of substance abuse. Do these organizations work together, or is there a gap? (From past interviews with the Athens PBJ founder, there’s a gap, of course) Does the group that addresses housing in particular have a good handle on the situation, or do we actually need additional aid with homeless shelters in Athens? What will the Athens Resource Center for the Homeless (created in 2011) do to help the Athens area, and is the group pushing it forward successfully?

If these questions seem tenuous or broad, I thought about a particular story I was covering in Gainesville/Hall County when I left the newspaper there. There are actually several groups trying to help with the homeless housing issue in Gainesville that address it in very different ways, and one group is seeking to pull them together. In addition, a group of churches are trying to band together to create a homeless housing network (Interfaith Hospitality Network) that has been formed successfully in counties such as Gwinnett. I still have contacts with these groups, so it could make for an interesting look into how these different organizations are trying to provide shelter, especially because I know they probably haven’t been able to pull together in consensus yet. The fact that homelessness is so high in Gainesville is also surprising — something that seems a bit more ignored or shoved under the rug up there than here in Athens.

I could do both stories. Or I could combine them and look at how nonprofits in neighboring counties are addressing homelessness in rather different ways. I welcome feedback!

Mind the Gap: Income disparity in Greene County and Beyond

For my story topic on wealth and income shares, I plan to focus on the amalgam that is Greene County, Georgia. Greene County is home to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro. The former president George W. Bush visited the lodge in 2003, but not much is said about the former president visiting those on the other side of the wealth divide in a local news article covering the event. Fifty years ago last month marked the anniversary of Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, which apparently spurred John F. Kennedy and his advisors to action to combat the problem.

According to census data released in September 2011, America’s national poverty rate rose one full percentage point to 15 percent in 2010, or about 46 million people. The U.S. government defines the poverty line at an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four.

Nowhere in Georgia is the gap of wealth more apparent than in Greene County, according to a measurement system called the Gini Index. News in Numbers has a post dedicated to exploring this data. Greene County proved to be the county with the most disparity in income shares according to data collected during a five-year period.

Due to my interest in healthcare and health policy, I plan to use not only income measures, but also the number of those living without insurance in Greene County to portray what such a large gap in income means for America.

My story proposes to answer the following questions: Read more

Stimulus money’s flow to Pickens County

I am covering Economic Development and Stimulus. For my story I am going to do one large piece that covers three different areas of stimulus money in Pickens. I would like to first do a general section on how the stimulus money was filtered through Pickens County and compare those figures to how it was filtered through the neighboring counties of Gilmer and Dawson (who both have similar demographics) and Cherokee to the south, which is much larger and more diverse. Then I will track how that money trickled into the education system in Pickens, since education is one of the largest recipients of stimulus money. I will also look at the small business loans that were granted and attempt to find out how many, if any, jobs were created or retained because of stimulus money.

Looking at the whole picture

Photo by Al Clayton

[Recently I attended a gathering of journalists who have all covered poverty extensively, including reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other distinguished outlets, as well as several university professors.

I asked several of them to look at this site and the Grady poverty tutorials, to see if they had any helpful thoughts. I’ll share their viewpoints as posts in Tips and Tools.]

Journalists have to slice and dice complex subjects into readable bits; that’s the nature of the beast. But in doing so, we have to avoid myopia.

Pulitzer-winning journalist David Shipler, who wrote the 2005 book “The Working Poor,” suggested we think about “drawing clearer connections among disparate problems of poverty, to avoid the silo effect.”

He explains:

Poor housing can lead to problems in both mental and physical health, for example–children’s asthma is exacerbated by dust mites, mold, roaches, etc.– which in turn can lead to emergency room visits that can be billed if you don’t have insurance, which in turn can lead to a damaged credit rating and higher interest payments on credit cards and car loans.

In The Working Poor I wrote about Lisa Brooks, who endured just that chain reaction. High housing costs for families without public housing or Section 8 also squeeze food budgets, which are malleable expenditures. I’d think most reporters would be intrigued with these connections, because they don’t occur to most people, and, as we all know, reporters like to break new ground and be counterintuitive when possible.

He also reminds us to think about the real human beings as a way to break free of ideologically polarized debates:

It might also be useful to think about how to translate the current election campaign into human stories on the ground. For example, we’re locked in a sterile ideological dispute over where the responsibility lies: with society or the individual. You might suggest looking at that difficult question in specific cases to show that nobody fits neatly into one box or the other. NGO workers with experience seem able to get past the ideology. Read more

Advice: Reporting on advocacy groups

A debate this month on Linked-In’s “Online reporters and editors” group is illuminating for our work with news and numbers – particularly on policy issues.

Are reporters too lazy to uncover the facts? As one veteran journalist said, “The editors are intent upon covering news the reporter simply picks up from one person or another without even checking to see if there is more to the story or the story is WEAK.”

Wayne Rash, Jr., Editor-in-Chief for FierceMobileIT and Washington Bureau Chief and a columnist for eWEEK, responded with crucial points about reporting on statistics from advocacy groups.

Or what’s worse is that a reporter will get a story from an advocacy group and go with it. They’ll basically re-write the group’s press release without getting any other perspective. Or sometimes they’ll Google the advocacy group, find another article using the same source and quote that. It’s an easy way to turn a story around fast, and the PR people love it.

What’s almost as bad is when the reporter gets the press release from the advocacy group, and in an attempt to appear fair, will get something from an advocacy group on the opposite side of the issue, and then quote both of them. The obvious problem is that there’s no reason to believe that any of those groups are being accurate or truthful.

I’m not suggesting that you should ignore advocacy groups because what they have to say can be important, but you have to check them out, including checking out who they really work for. In addition you have to check to see if what they’re saying is true. I’ve seen advocacy groups distort the truth, ignore parts of the truth, and sometimes simply lie.

The other thing that’s critical is to follow the money. Somewhere if you look hard enough, you’ll find who provides their funding. Read more

Quick Census tables

A quick comparison of four North Georgia counties

If you need Census data about income and poverty for your county or for a select group of counties, but don’t want to download entire tables (as we show in another post), you can make your own table very quickly.

Start from http://www.census.gov/did/www/saipe/county.html and choose the year and the state.

On the next page, select one or more counties, as well as the state and US for comparison, by holding down the control / command key as you click your selections.

You can choose from several basic fields of information about poverty, such as median household income and percent in poverty.

Voila! An easy comparison that you can use to make a quick chart.


Special crime unit: B-I-N-G-O

What's under the table?

BINGO is big business. Georgia has almost 200 active bingo operations that grossed more than $24 million in 2006.

And the Georgia Bureau of Investigations has a special unit for bingo looking after all that money.

It is one of three types of legal gambling (the lottery and raffles are the other two)… but it’s only legal for nonprofits.

This is not just your momma’s recreation. “Bingo is a cash flow business that leaves ample room for misuse,” says GBI.

“Annually, millions of dollars pass through the hands of Georgia bingo operators…. In 2006, the average game grossed $143,406 annually with many games located in metropolitan areas grossing over $300,000 annually.”

If you hear about a hot bingo game in your area, you might want to look into it.


Budget cuts hurt nonprofits, too

Local and state governments are cutting budgets like crazy, and naturally reporters look first at the impact on government services.

But remember that many nonprofits get a large portion of their budget from government funds, usually in the form of contracts to provide those community services.

Losing these government contracts can be a serious blow to the nonprofit itself. Without that funding, the nonprofit may be unable to raise enough money from private sources to pay even its basic administrative costs.

In North Carolina, the Charlotte Post noted that the state cuts also had a secondary impact on nonprofits: It ratcheted up the competition to get donations from private funders.

Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics in Asheville, says they are now competing with historically state-funded organizations for the same pool of private grant money. 

Consider how this competition affects the division of charitable giving in your market area. Could state or local budget cuts put some nonprofits out of business?

Full story: The Charlotte Post – State budget cuts impact N.C. nonprofits