A shorter version appears in print

Careless reporting costs lives

UNFORTUNATELY, there is much to report about poverty. But careless reporting costs lives. To help avoid the pitfalls that can encourage and condone bad policy choices, the European Journalism Centre (EJC) has produced a guide specifically for freelances.

The front of the briefing

The front of the briefing (PDF)

It sets out some of the issues with the ways that statistics are used - and, perhaps more importantly, with the ways people experiencing poverty are portrayed:

Many people still think poverty and economic hardship are the results of personal failure, a lack of hard work, or a lack of individual motivation to change one’s situation. More nuanced and accurate reporting on poverty can counter such dangerous ideas, stereotypes and myths, while empowering those living in poverty and offering new hope or insight.

Why have a guide specifically for freelance journalists?

Freelance journalists can help improve coverage of poverty reduction by pitching stories that offer new angles on this topic or interrogate contentious decisions or proposed solutions. Embracing a multidimensional approach to reporting on experiences of poverty and economic hardship can:

  • Inform public awareness and discussion of ways to reduce poverty, and help elevate the voices and views of those with lived experience.
  • Lead to better representation of people experiencing forms of poverty and their lives.
  • Build support for solutions or responses to poverty and its effects, including those that go beyond purely economic responses or policies.
  • Interrogate the systems and structures enabling, sustaining or addressing poverty and hold those involved to account.

The guide gives "expert tips" from four freelances and authors - how have they pitched stories that do this? Sarah Gustavus Lim works with the Solutions Journalism Network and recommends asking members of the community how they define the problem at the centre of your story. She says:

A story pitch could cover something small-scale if you show how it’s relevant to a broader context, bigger issue or larger community. As an example, she recommends reporting about tenants organising post-Hurricane Katrina in the US, which offers lessons learned regarding affordable housing that are applicable now.

The guide references Reporting poverty: a guide for media professionals published last year by a group including Church Action on Poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the National Union of Journalists and On Road Media, which freelances should also read.

The Freelance commends the EJC guide to all freelances.