Perspectives

Hometown Journalists Add to Poverty Problems of Their Areas, Scholar Says


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Often Appalachian natives decry the “drive by journalists” from big cities that come to small Appalachia towns just to capture pictures and depictions of poverty, unemployment, drug addiction and squalid and trashy living conditions.
They come, stay for a day or two, take pictures of the most decrepit conditions and human devastation, conduct a few interviews and then leave painting the whole region with the same brush of destitution.
The same criticisms have been levied by some against the recent book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, written by J. D. Vance.
Michael Clay Carey, a former journalist and current assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Samford University in Birmingham Alabama, instead thinks that local news media in Appalachian towns often ignore poverty and local social ills to the detriment of their citizenry.
They generally don’t report about poverty, economic or health issues, because they don’t want people to think that they are exploiting stereotypes, according to Carey in his new book, The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia.
However, in a study of three small towns in the Appalachian region, Carey found that by ignoring major indigenous problems that the local media, in fact, do perpetuate stereotypes. Ignoring the issues makes it more difficult to truly isolate the problems and discuss viable solutions.
Ignoring economic need can make it more difficult to find permanent economic solutions and be less vulnerable to “boom or bust” industries, Carey notes.
Instead of less coverage of problems, Carey proposes more coverage by local media.
“Critical and inclusive news coverage of poverty at the local level can help communities start to look past stereotypes and attitudes, and encourage solutions that incorporate broader sets of community voices,” Carey writes.
Before returning for his graduate work, Carey spent more than a decade as a small town reporter and editor. He now “researches the impacts of stereotypes and the roles media play in the formation and maintenance of individual and group identity,” according to his biography