Homelessness deserves media coverage given to other news issues

Print Friendly

Balanced media attention could lessen the number of impoverished.


You’ve probably read dozens of stories about the struggles of the economy worldwide recently, between stock market collapses and widespread corporate bailouts. Hidden behind these “fresh” and “new” stories is an old dilemma, the effects of which have only gotten worse: homelessness.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Coalition, 3.5 million people will experience homelessness over the course of a given year. Of those, 39 percent are children under the age of 18, and 16 percent are under the age of 5. These statistics continue to get even worse as the country faces its current economic problems.

A miniscule percentage of news coverage each year is on poverty, and just a fraction of that centers on homelessness. More coverage is given to celebrities behaving badly or the retirement status of Brett Favre than this overwhelming social deficit. Painting an accurate portrait of homeless persons in America is relevant to society because it gives a face to a generalized idea — for example, veterans comprise 40 percent of the homeless, but there is little coverage of their plight compared to all the other stories on the War in Iraq.

News outlets may not find the predicament facing the impoverished in the United States to be the most exciting or sexy story, but the fact remains that the problem is very much real, and those organizations owe it to their audience to report on it. Avoiding the troublesome story to satiate a select group of private donors or politicians is at best an oversight and at worst a disregard of people in need.

The mainstream portrayal of the homeless in America seems to identify them as being white, middle class, male and down on their luck. The reality is much different: women, children, war veterans, lower-income families — all are encompassed into the group that lacks a permanent, safe, decent and affordable place to live. For example, according to the LAHSC report, 50 percent of transients in the United States are black, and 43 percent are female. Presenting this stereotype to society gives the problem too narrow-minded of a focus and risks tuning out the receivers of media.

The question, then, is how much coverage should there be? News organizations have a responsibility to report as much as possible to notify the public without desensitizing them. Media exists as an avenue to give a voice to the voiceless, and their ability to raise awareness of societal issues cannot be overlooked.

The bottom line is that the news media’s moral obligation to cover social issues is rooted in balance. At present, there is an imbalance in coverage and a lapse in how fair and accurate some of that coverage is. News organizations should be covering additional stories on the topic of destitution in this country, and more importantly, increasing their breadth of coverage to focus more on advocacy and less about the how downtrodden the situation is. In addition, covering an excess of celebrity stories when there are more than a million homeless children in the country borders on depravity. 

Ideally, stories about the impoverished should receive as much attention as the other important issues, both in their frequency and their placement (not burying the stories on the back pages or in the final segment of a news show). 

Should the major media outlets correct these oversights, we might find ourselves headed in the right direction for reducing the impact homelessness has on our country.



Coconino Community College
Student Housing at NAU