Photo by Al Clayton
Although we emphasize use of numbers and data on this site, it’s important to not lose perspective.
Numbers are summaries of different kinds of realities. What we care about will always be the human beings who are summarized by those numbers.
Reporters live for those interviews with a quotable source, and stories with photos of vivid faces will draw people in. The right person can make the whole story sing.
But I love crunching numbers and digging up data, too. For me, each complements the other.
I like numbers because:
+They give us a way to draw a bigger picture – to show trends that give meaning to individual stories. Numbers work in tandem with human stories; one supports the other. A feature story about an individual can be an interesting read, but without a larger context, that individual can be dismissed as an oddball or an exception.
+Conversely, they can help us find the local angle in a national story. You might think that those policy debates in DC are just too hard to get a handle on, but if you drill down on the data, you’ll find out exactly how they affect your county. Read more
By many measures, the gap between rich and poor is increasing, and has been for at least two decades.
This affects your audience in many ways. Here are five reasons you should cover the issue of wealth and income distribution:
- The gap has created political turmoil and social tensions that affect a broad swath of citizens in their jobs and community life. They’re interested in the causes and possible solutions.
- The gap is at the center of a long-running political debate that has deeply divided the country, and your audience needs neutral information to make choices in elections.
- The size of this gap is so large that it has demotivated and alienated entire populations from participating in the political system. Engaging all groups in the public debate is an important role of journalism.
- At the other end of the spectrum, greater wealth correlates to greater political power. Reporting is essential to bring to light how power and influence has concentrated in fewer hands – and how that affects the poor.
- Economic mobility has been cited for generations as a reason that migrants are attracted to America and as inspiration for hard work by lower- and middle-class Americans. As that mobility declines, it impacts the poor in myriad ways that deserve coverage.
People with good jobs aren’t poor. So in my mind, that’s the biggest [poverty] issue: How do we get more jobs for people?
–Ron Sherer, Christian Science Monitor
Roadside merchant, Washington state
If you think of yourself as a social issues reporter, you might assume that business and economic development is in the opposite direction.
Here are five reasons to include business and economic development in coverage of poverty:
- To have an income that raises them above the poverty level, people need good jobs. Economic development is all about making jobs.
- From the Occupy Wall Street movement to debates about health care and welfare, many of the leading issues of this decade involve economics and the need for development that addresses societal problems. Few areas of coverage touch on so many hot-button topics, many of them related to poverty.
- Spending on economic development is a big chunk of every federal budget. The Obama administration pinned its jobs policy to the hundreds of billions in stimulus money under the Recovery Act. Yet much of that spending is invisible to citizens as it makes its way through the system and down to the state and local level. It’s our job to make that spending trail visible.
- Economic development is about solutions. By focusing poverty coverage on “what works,” we make the topic more engaging for our audiences.
- Economic development itself is the source of much debate. What’s the best way to create jobs? What measures are most cost-effective? These questions are an essential part of reporting on government policy and accountability.
Charitable giving affects most Americans – either as donors or recipients.
Here are five reasons why you should look more closely at charitable donations:
- Philanthropy is a significant sector of the economy – Americans give billions of dollars every year to charities and other nonprofits.
- Because charitable donations are deductible from individual income tax, they cost the US government an estimated $47 billion in lost revenue in 2010 alone. Journalists need to look at donations as part of examining the public policy issue.
- People donate to causes they care about, so examination of individual giving offers a gauge of public interest – or disinterest – in particular social issues.
- Many donations that are deductible as “charitable contributions” do not alleviate poverty or its causes, but may actually further the wealth and income gap.
- While government has transferred services for the poor to nonprofits, the private donations they expected didn’t materialize.
In an online conversation between David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, and New York Times readers, Jones said that nonprofits have not been able to serve the poor as well as they needed to – in part because they didn’t get the donations that were expected.
“The trend in major giving tends to go to universities, and large cultural institutions rather than the small or midsize nonprofits, serving the poor, based in poor communities,” Jones said. “It has left many non-profits severely underfunded dealing with growing problems for the poor, particularly after ‘welfare reform.’ ”
One commentator suggested that the patterns in “charitable” giving actually contribute to the wealth and income gap. “As a general rule, nonprofit organizations at the top of the financial heap are less likely to provide the kind of assistance needed by those suffering from economic inequity. The wealthiest charities tend to cater to the wealthiest Americans,” Mark Rosenman wrote in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“The top 2.5 percent of organizations that report data to the Internal Revenue Service have over 50 percent of the wealth and bring in over 60 percent of charities’ annual revenues. Colleges, hospitals, and health-care facilities alone constitute that top tier of charities. Compare their finances with those of human-service groups, which account for more than a third of nonprofit organizations but have only about 13 percent of annual revenues and 11 percent of assets.”
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In 2010, nonprofits contributed products and services that added $779 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product; 5.4 percent of GDP. Nonprofits are also a major employer, accounting for 9 percent of the economy’s wages, and over 10 percent of jobs in 2009.
–The Urban Institute
In addition to their sheer size in the economy, nonprofit organizations affect your audience in at least five important ways:
+People who donate money to nonprofits need unbiased, local information on how that money is spent.
+Communities rely on nonprofits to serve significant needs, especially in services to the poor – some of which local governments cannot or will not provide.
+Nonprofits are often recipients of government contracts and grants, so covering them is part of holding government accountable.
+Nonprofits are part of the solution to poverty and related problems, and those societal issues affect most of your audience.
+Nonprofits don’t pay taxes, and donors can get a tax deduction for giving money to certain nonprofits. The tax-exemption and the charitable deduction mean revenue not collected by the government, and so makes nonprofits an indirect beneficiary of the government.
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