American Prospect Hails EHRP
This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.
It should not be all that difficult to report on economic inequality. It’s a fixture, after all, of modern American life. And yet, the journalism industry, charged with analyzing and conveying news of wage stagnation, persistent poverty, and downward mobility, has itself crumbled alongside much of the middle class. Over the past several decades, more and more journalists have been laid off, while the rates paid freelancers have fallen, too.
As the chasm of inequality has only continued to grow, the very journalists who cover it have not always been able to escape it.
In 2012, when the country was still reeling from the economic recession and when reporting about inequality was needed perhaps more than ever, author Barbara Ehrenreich started the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP). The idea was to change the media landscape, and support reporters—by then, many low-income and working-class themselves—writing about poverty and inequality.
“Most mainstream editors and gatekeepers are not people of very vast and diverse social experience,” says Ehrenreich. “They don’t know people different from themselves—they don’t know working-class people and poor people.” Stories about inequality and poverty that convey a deep familiarity with the people affected by it are few and far between.
As tabloid journalism—often written by and for the working class—began to disappear by the mid-20th century, mainstream journalism tended to skew upper-middle-class, white, and male. Today, people who grow up poor can find it difficult to break into journalism, particularly as the industry tends to offer unpaid or low-paid internships to those just starting out. People of color face particularly significant obstacles to entering journalism, especially those from the working class. And these trends have only been exacerbated as journalism jobs have come to pay less and less, or totally dry up.
EHRP is modeling a different path: supporting quality journalism about inequality while paying its writers what amounts to a living wage. Since its founding, EHRP has published more stories each year, in an increasingly diverse range of outlets. In 2017 alone, it published 118 stories, up from 101 in 2016.
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