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Local news coverage of the GR Chamber of Commerce proposed ordinance completely excludes the perspective of those who would be most impacted

December 8, 2022

There has been a fair amount of local news coverage after the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce sent another letter to City officials, this time with a proposal around adopting an ordinance(s) that would significantly impact those who are unhoused, experiencing poverty and struggling with mental health issues.

GRIID wrote about the GR Chamber letter/proposal on Tuesday, since it was part of the Grand Rapids Agenda Packet for governments meetings that day. Today, we take a look at which sources the commercial news media relied on for this story and how they framed the issue.

The primary sources are what you would expect from the local commercial news media, which were spokespersons for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids City officials, a business person a few perspectives from the non-profit world. The only news source that had a somewhat critical perspective, was MLive, which included a response from director of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force and Commissioner Reppart, both of which had a more reasoned view of the larger issue.

However, the primary sources were GR Chamber spokespersons, a business voice on WOOD TV8 and the CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, which were included in the MLive, WOOD TV8 and WXMI 17 stories. The CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries also was a signatory to the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance, which is not surprising since Mel Trotter Ministries is part of the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids, which doesn’t address root causes, but provides people an outlet to feel better about themselves in the process.

Then there is the issue of how this story was framed by the local commercial news media. Only MLive provided substantive coverage of what the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance would do, while the rest of the coverage limited their framing around the problem as being how the unhoused are being disruptive to the businesses and customers in the downtown area. None of the reporting asked a much larger or more fundamental question about why so many people are unhoused, experiencing poverty and struggling with mental health issues, plus there was no acknowledgement of how the GR Chamber ethos of Capitalism has created the poverty and housing crisis, which are major contributing factors to people struggling with mental health. In one of the news stories (WZZM 13) the newsreaders echos a Chamber perspective, saying that the behavior of the unhoused is “unacceptable.” My question is, why don’t we talk about how the concentrated wealth in this city is the most grotesquely unacceptable thing about Grand Rapids?

The GR Chamber, City Officials and most non-profits think about this “problem” as a problem of access to resources and services, but such thinking fails to address the more fundamental problem of why there is a housing crisis and why so many people are experiencing poverty. This should comes as no surprise that the commercial news media doesn’t see these connections and won’t likely entertain them since the commercial media is embedded in the system of Capitalism and those who work in news media have internalized the values of that system.

Lastly, it is instructive that those who are framed as the problem and those who would be most impacted by the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance(s) are not included in the commercial media’s news coverage. Are their opinions irrelevant and do they not have a say in this matter? Are the lived experiences of those who are unhoused, subjected to poverty and struggling with mental health issues not important for this larger community conversation? Why is it that the news media fails to follow the journalistic premise of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted? 

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