Economic Mobility Guide
In newsrooms across the United States, journalists for decades have documented the struggle of people and communities with poverty. Rising rents. Not enough food. Poor health outcomes. Limited economic opportunity.
This coverage is important — but it also tends to be myopic, failing to capture efforts to respond to economic challenges. And when those stories do emerge, they tend to be superficial: Heartwarming tales of heroic individuals who persevere through adversity to win a job, a home, financial security.
Those “rags to riches” stories don’t tell us much about what really made a difference. In fact, most news coverage has traditionally presented poverty as an individual challenge or a systemic problem so large and complex that it can’t ever be resolved, which hasn’t helped communities understand the root causes of poverty and promising ways to truly address those issues.
The Solutions Journalism Network launched in 2013 with the aim of helping journalists tell stories about systemic responses to persistent problems, providing insights that can help people adapt and replicate those solutions in other places. SJN has trained journalists how to move beyond simply reporting what’s wrong to telling stories about what’s working - and why.
In the United States, income inequality is a growing issue. The median American family saw its wealth drop by 3 percent between 1983 and 2016, while the richest 0.1 percent enjoyed a 133 percent increase. And the gap is even bigger for Black households (Source: “Dreams Deferred,” from the Institute for Policy Studies).
The COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020 has exacerbated existing inequalities, highlighting the urgent need for rigorous coverage of scalable solutions. In the early months of the crisis, more than 20 million Americans have lost jobs. Despite laws intended to prevent abuse, many have been evicted or lost health insurance coverage.
SJN is now working with newsrooms and journalists to generate long-term coverage of promising solutions to address economic mobility issues like transportation, housing, child care, education, broadband access and inequalities in the justice system. Many of these issues disproportionately affect immigrants, historically marginalized communities like African Americans, and people with disabilities.
This guide aims to equip journalists with resources and ideas to cover economic mobility issues in their community. We also hope it will spark a broader conversation about how reporting on poverty might evolve — and how solutions journalism could help shift longstanding, and often inaccurate, narratives about poverty.
If you have questions about the guide or want to talk about this initiative, please contact Sarah Gustavus.
Aubrey Nagle is the project editor of Resolve Philly’s Reframe initiative, which helps newsrooms ensure their reporting is inclusive and equitable. Before joining Resolve, Aubrey was the Newsletter Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer where she authored the flagship morning newsletter and oversaw a growing slate of editorial newsletters. In her free time, Aubrey writes educational videos and newsletters about media literacy, including three series for John and Hank Green’s Crash Course brand.
Sarah Gustavus is the Economic Mobility manager at the Solutions Journalism Network. Over nearly 15 years in public media, she covered many of the issues in this guide while also organizing collaborative projects between media outlets in New Mexico. Sarah founded the New Mexico Local News Fund and currently works with newsrooms that are exploring new strategies to increase revenue, collaborate and respond to local community needs.
Resolve Philly is an unconventional nonprofit challenging the field of journalism to be equitable, collaborative, and informed by community voices and solutions. Its initiatives include The Reentry Project, the Broke in Philly reporting collaborative, Reframe, and Equally Informed.
This guide was inspired in part by the Broke In Philly Reporters Guide compiled by freelance reporter Shannon Wink and edited by Resolve Philly Co-Executive Director Jean Friedman-Rudovsky.
SJN receives financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for our Economic Mobility initiative.
Although SJN receives support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundation.
The content in this toolkit is free to repurpose. All SJN Learning Lab content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license. See our Terms & Conditions of Use.