This post originally appeared on OTYCD in March 2018.
Support fellowships and other mentoring and training programs for journalists from poor and low-income backgrounds.
One of the most pernicious American media biases is the bias of class. Journalists tend to be mostly white and mostly from middle-class or wealthier backgrounds. Some of the problem happens at the college level–the best J-schools are private and pricey, and too many of the best, most consequential internships are unpaid, and even if they are paid, the publications offering them are usually in New York, an excruciatingly expensive city.
Most talented poor would-be journalists just don’t have the money to afford the best college programs, even with scholarships, and can’t afford to work for free, or for a pittance that will be swallowed up by rent, transportation, and the costs of upgrading their wardrobes.
As a result, American media, and American reporting, suffers from a lack of voices who intimately understand the realities of growing up in poverty, and trying to survive in poverty.
When we don’t have a decent-size population of skilled folks scattered throughout newsrooms and magazine offices across the country, we suffer, because we don’t have sharp minds who can pounce and call bullshit on bullshit government initiatives, such as trying to remake SNAP (food stamps) as a Blue Apron-style monthly delivery of boxed food. (Ok, we have sharp minds calling bullshit on Twitter, but we’d be better off if some of those sharp minds had access to bigger, broader media platforms.)
Fortunately, there are a few programs for budding journalists from low-income backgrounds. We at OTYCD encourage you to support and donate to these programs.
The Economic Hardship Reporting Project is an initiative by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. Founded by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and other books that examine poverty in America, it commissions stories which, in its words, “put a human face on financial instability.”
While its webpage does not explicitly describe any formal fellowships, programs, or internships for journalists from poor backgrounds, recruiting and mentoring people who have that experience is one if the EHRP’s goals. Co-editor Alissa Quart says in a July 2016 Washington Monthly piece reproduced on the organization’s website:
“We seek out, and mentor, journalists who are themselves from marginalized backgrounds, helping them push their stories about their communities and their families into the mainstream media.”
The project takes submissions online, and recruits candidates via word of mouth and through co-founder Ehrenreich. They’re also trying to find new voices from inside organizations they work with, like associations of restaurant or domestic workers. (Classroom aides, school clerks and crossing guards, please?)
Sometimes it’s the money that makes the reporting possible. (The goal is to pay one dollar per word.) Other times, according to Quart, it’s helping reporters understand the codes and behaviors of journalism, which is notoriously hard to crack from the outside.
Often, firsthand experience with economic hardship deepens and improves the reporting, according to Quart, citing the Jezebel piece about resilience as an example. “It had a personal energy and anger that you’re not seeing normally in these kinds of pieces,” said Quart.
See the EHRP’s website:
See its About page:
See the full Washington Monthly piece on the EHRP site:
Also see the Jezebel story about resilience mentioned in the quote above:
Donate to the EHRP:
Princeton University offers a summer journalism program in August for about two dozen high school American students from low-income backgrounds. 2018 will mark its 17th edition.
It’s a ten-day intensive seminar that includes aftercare such as mentoring and assistance with applying to colleges. It covers all the students’ expenses, including travel to and from Princeton.
Donate to the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program:
Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the blue button on the upper right or checking the About & Subscribe page. And tell your friends about the blog!