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Journalism to inform or journalism to make West Michigan seem appealing?

February 10, 2020

Is it the job of journalists to provide critical information and analysis to the public or is their role to present information that will make the area in which they are reporting seem more attractive?

There is an increasing trend within journalism to make the regions in which they are reporting on seem more attractive. Think of all of the stories that have appeared in recent years about Grand Rapids being on various lists. In addition, this type of story rarely includes voices or perspectives that challenge the claim(s) being made in those stories.

A recent example of a story that leans towards making West Michigan more attractive, was an MLive article from February 2nd. The article, headlined, West Michigan’s most affluent ZIP Codes for senior citizens, presents data on 62 zip codes in Michigan, where  the 2017 tax returns for those over 60 had claimed an income of $100,000 or more.

The MLive article then lists the zip codes in West Michigan that have the most affluent senior citizens, which include:

  • 49008 Kalamazoo
  • 49460 West Olive
  • 49117 New Buffalo
  • 49506 Grand Rapids
  • 49453 Saugatuck
  • 49546 Grand Rapids
  • 49083 Richland
  • 49060 Hickory Corners
  • 49301 Ada

The article is also accompanied by several pictures, some of them area specific, mostly of scenery, some on the lakeshore, but only with white people.

The racial make up of senior citizens who are affluent is just one area of the article, which is problematic.

First, why is MLive just focusing on affluent seniors and not senior citizens as a whole? Wouldn’t it be more relevant to report on senior citizens that are financially struggling? Reporting that senior citizens are struggle could have the benefit of not only raising public awareness, but also to generate enough interest in organized efforts to change that reality.

According to the National Council on Aging, Over 25 million Americans who are 60+ are economically insecure – living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($29,425 per year for a single person). These older adults struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss.

Second, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation data, “at least 6 out of 10 older black and Hispanic adults have incomes below 200% of poverty under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, compared to 37.2% of older white adults.”  In looking at gender, more women over 60 at living in poverty than men over 60.

Third, even if a senior citizen has an income over $100,000, that is no guarantee that they are living comfortably. According to a Washington Post story last April, senior citizens spent $22 billion on health care costs, which average out to about $4,000 per person. The rising costs of health care are disastrous for most people, but it is particularly problematic for those who are most vulnerable, which includes seniors.

These are only three reasons why this type of news reporting is problematic. We didn’t touch on the issue of housing costs or the reality that many seniors face when they have to go into some form of assisted living facility. This is the type of reporting that the public should demand and it is the type of reporting that would likely motivate people to be more engaged in civic matters.

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