Inequality Matters, But Does the Media Care?

One of the hot topics during this U.S. election season is how to restore the American Dream so that everyone can achieve their potential.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood you grow up in determines a lot about how far up the opportunity ladder you’ll go in life. The New York Times recently covered two neighboring Connecticut school districts with drastically different academic outcomes — Fairfield, where the median income is $120,000 and 94 percent of high school students graduate on time; and Bridgeport, one of its poorest cities with a graduation rate of 63 percent, and where 16 year old students, who become eligible to work full time, often leave school to serve as sole supporters for their families.

Opportunity Nation is a coalition whose mission is to close the opportunity gap and restore the promise of the American Dream, and their recent 2016 National Opportunity Summit engaged business leaders, nonprofits, policymakers, philanthropists and young adults around the topic of opportunity.

Opportunity Nation’s annual Opportunity Index shows how a U.S. zip code affects one’s standing in life. By imputing two counties or states, you can receive a comparison chart to view how someone measures up across 16 key opportunity indicators.

Additionally, the organization places a special emphasis on programming for ‘Opportunity Youth’ – 16-24 year olds who are neither in school nor employed. Statistics show that America’s young people are disproportionately impacted by high unemployment rates, particularly in inner cities. For instance, the youth unemployment rate in January was 10.3%, more than twice the national rate for all prime-age workers. Inner-city neighborhoods such as Chicago fare even worse with 2014 figures stating 59.2% of African-Americans and 37% of Latinos ages 20–24 were unemployed. In Michigan, the 2015 youth-unemployment rate was nearly 60%, with Detroit leading the dismal stats.

As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar about economic solutions and opportunity for Americans, what role does the media play in featuring these topics? According to a new study by Media Matters for America, the answer is not so much. Media Matters’ analysis shows that “major broadcast and cable news programs discussed policies and other topics relating to economic inequality less frequently during the second quarter of 2016 than during the first quarter of the year.”

Weekday broadcast and cable coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC dropped nearly 40 percent in the first quarter to just 67 segments during the second quarter.

PBS led all competitors in covering economic inequality and poverty, while Fox News dedicated 24 segments to economic inequality during the survey period, twice as many segments as MSNBC and eight times more than CNN. However, the study also noted that Fox led in misleading commentary in regards to inequality and poverty, particularly regarding solutions for each.

So how can PRs move the needle to ensure a greater conversation around their cause clients’ priority topics?

Creativity: While we know that Donald Trump can dominate a news cycle at any given moment, creative pitching to the right reporter at the right time, can align your cause client to the current news agenda.

Expert commentary: Your cause client’s new “plan” may not be breaking news, however, that’s no reason they can’t gain coverage. Journalists are constantly looking for expert commentary that coincides with their reporting. Offering your client to provide data on key topics can save time for the reporter and gain major eyes on your mission critical topics.

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