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Shutdown coverage should highlight suffering, explore solutions

By Steven Youngblood, director, Center for Global Peace Journalism 

In covering the government shutdown, some news outlets have tried to break free of the usual partisan bickering, and instead have offered exemplary reporting that tells stories of the voiceless government employees, concentrates on solutions, and rejects “us vs. them” narratives.

In a Nexis Uni search for Jan. 2-9, there were 25,527 news items on the government shutdown. Of these, 776 discussed government employee, paychecks (2,373), mortgages (676), second jobs (92), food stamps (92), savings (729), and employees going broke (1,370). In the search, 2,355 mentioned “employee impact” generally. For example, Chris Cuomo’s concluded his CNN program on Jan. 9 discussing the impact of the shutdown on employees, and cited a pitiful example of advice given to those without paychecks that included suggesting that they hold garage sales. In another interesting piece, the Huffington Post discussed how the shutdown is “piling on the stress” for expecting parents.  Local reporters are also getting into the act, describing, for instance, how the shutdown is affecting one family in Rochester, Minnesota.

Some news outlets have also helped to educate the public about possible solutions. Of the news items in the search, 2,370 discussed solutions; 3,111 compromise; and 346 mentioned the possibility of a state of emergency. That said, many of these mentions include the word no before the aforementioned terms—“no compromise” or “no solutions in sight” were common themes. (“White House meeting ends with no shutdown solution,” for example.) Still, important ideas for solutions have been discussed in USA Today (“If they don’t want a wall, what are Democrats’ border solutions?) and The Hill website (“Ending the shutdown presents opportunity for solution on immigration”)

Finally, in the news search, there were occasional reports during the previous seven days that rejected “us vs. them” narratives and instead examined common ground (364), unity (468), and bipartisan (2,697) and nonpartisan (305) solutions to the crisis. For example, the Washington Post wrote, about how a bipartisan governors group is calling for an end to the shutdown.

While it’s encouraging to see articles like these, it’s important to note that these pieces are still in a small minority—about 3,000 out of 25,000 news pieces included the terms “bipartisan” or “nonpartisan”; about 5,500 out of 25,000 articles news items mentioned compromise or solutions of any kind; and only about 4,500 of the 25,000 items discussed employee paychecks, suffering, and going broke.

As the shutdown continues, journalists can better serve their audiences by including more stories that give voice to the victims of the shutdown and discuss solutions while rejecting pointless name calling and partisan posturing.

–Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn —


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