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Kids Count Report Gets Superficial Coverage in Local Media

January 12, 2010

The Michigan League for Human Services released today its annual report on the status of children in Michigan. The report, Kids Count, has received a great deal of attention from local media, but the coverage is quite superficial.

The story on channel 13 was only 80 seconds long and provided a broad overview of some of the data. The only source they used for the story was Amy Turner-Thole, speaking on behalf of a group called First Steps. Turner-Thole, a former reported at WXMI 17, did say that the data on children in poverty can be misleading and her organization estimates that “two out of every five children in Kent County and across the state are considered low income.

The WOOD TV 8 story was longer and did explore more of the data. For a local resource they brought in to the TV studio Lynn Heemstra with the City of Grand Rapids. Heemstra made some vague remarks about what is causing the increase in child poverty and abuse rates, but offered no real support for her claims.

The Grand Rapids Press article followed a similar pattern by providing a summary of the data as it relates to Kent County. They also relied on spokespersons from First Steps, but in addition they talked to Sue Toman with the Child and Family Resource Council. Toman was quoted as saying; “There’s a connection between an increase in poverty and increase in neglect.”

Unfortunately, the Press reported did not explore what those connections are, instead they end on a somewhat “positive” note from a First Steps spokesperson who says the funding cuts to many of the child focused groups has forced them to work together. In the WOOD TV 8 story, Lynn Heemstra also went out of her way to say we should be celebrating the minor decrease in areas like teen school drop out.

What is interesting in all of this is that there seemed to be little alarm displayed or any sense of urgency considering that 40% of children in the state of Michigan live in poverty. Imagine what kind of coverage there would be if a single grade school child was shot in Michigan or was a contestant on American Idol. It’s hard to say with a certainty whether or not these issues will receive coverage in the upcoming weeks, but based on our 12 years of monitoring news in West Michigan it is safe to say that child poverty will not receive adequate and ongoing coverage.

Furthermore, the data they were citing was from 2007 and 2008. Considering the economic recession that has hit the country and the state in late 2008, one could reasonably speculate that the numbers for children living in poverty are worse.

The coverage also does not discuss the discrepancies along racial lines with the Kids Count data, nor the differences between rural and urban children, even though these distinctions are clear in the report.

Lastly, the report did not prompt local newsrooms to ask the larger questions of wealthy disparity within Kent County and the State of Michigan, which might lead one to some answers about the causes of increased child poverty.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 4:14 pm

    Thank you for this…I will be doing a parallel here in Detroit and see what I find as far as coverage.

  2. January 14, 2010 4:30 pm

    Hi Lottie…..I look forward to seeing what you find in Detroit coverage.

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  1. Mayor Heartwell and the State of the City Address 2010 « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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