THE BLOG
03/07/2014 02:34 pm ET Updated May 07, 2014

Poverty Less Than .02 Percent of Lead Media Coverage

Did you know that poverty represents less than 0.02 percent of lead media coverage? Compare that with prominent news topics:

  • Politics: 16 percent
  • Business: 4 percent
  • Immigration: 1.4 percent
  • Education: 1.2 percent
  • Science: 0.6 percent

There was some improvement in 2011 (0.22 percent), and between January 2012 and May 2012 (0.25 percent).

That's not enough.

Yesterday, the Tavis Smiley Foundation kicked off the next phase of our initiative "Ending Poverty: America's Silent Spaces." I traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in "Reinventing the War on Poverty," a national symposium hosted by The Atlantic and the American Federation of Teachers. One of the things that I addressed during an interview with Bloomberg View columnist Margaret Carlson is the lack of sustained media coverage of poverty in America.

In the clip below, Margaret and I discuss how to get the media to increase its quantity and quality of coverage of this critical issue.

What can the media do?

  1. Increase its sustained coverage of poverty-related articles, not only as a reaction to a political agenda.
  2. Be a source of information that is balanced, accurate and comprehensive.
  3. Promote our collective appreciation of the inherent values we all share in alleviating domestic poverty. Yes, issues like poverty are often complex and laden with political jargon and extreme stereotypes, but we must challenge ourselves to think beyond the numbers. Are we really telling the diversity of stories among the 50 million people impacted by poverty?
  4. Stimulate public interest and give citizens the basis to make informed decisions about anti-poverty program policies and programs (e.g., raising the minimum wage).

So if the media has the power to do all that I have just mentioned, why are media stories on poverty in America so insufficient? Stories that showcase the faces of poverty do not grab the public's attention the way that entertainment, political and economic stories do -- unless poverty stories are controversial or negative, that is.

Poverty is a complex, multifaceted issue that encompasses business, economics, culture, education, health and the grim reality of the 50 million men, women and children living with it on a daily basis in our nation. However, this poverty pandemic presents us with an opportunity to engage and mobilize the public. To this end, I hope "Ending Poverty: America's Silent Spaces" will be another catalyst that increases and improves the quantity and quality of reporting on domestic poverty. We all have the opportunity to build important networks and partnerships with media: Reach out and share a story, tweet your concerns, write a letter-to-the-editor... just raise your voice about this critical issue. We can all make a difference.