In my journalism classes, I’m taught to find a narrative anecdote to start my stories. The key is to begin each story with a human element because otherwise the reader will get bored and stop reading after the second sentence. So when reporting on poverty, journalists search out those affected the worst, stories that will make the audience stop and think about their life, and sometimes go on to donate money to an organization fighting to alleviate poverty.

But that’s where their interaction ends.

They donate $50 and move with their life, feeling good about their contribution to society and that poor undeserving person suffering. This journalistic work is called “poverty porn,” where an extreme case is highlighted for all the bleeding hearts in the world. And that’s the biggest problem with this type of journalism. Poverty isn’t just a picture of a starving child or a junkie. It’s much more than that.

Poverty Porn glosses over the real human element of the issue; it doesn’t spend the time to acknowledge this person past their suffering. And more importantly it doesn’t recognize those in poverty deemed less “severe.” Poverty has more than one face, and while it does encompass those that accompany shocking photos, it also includes a family that can’t afford all the desired necessities, a recovering addict, and basic quality-of-life issues.

The problem is that these stories don’t elicit the desired response. Our society responds to the extreme cases while ignoring the norm. This is partly to blame on the media who perpetuates the issue. However, it’s also a societal dilemma.

As journalists, we must realize that poverty porn does not result in activism but instead charity. Charity is an important aspect to alleviated poverty, but the problem cannot be solved without a structural change. The media must find a way to emphasize the problem without falling into our materialized solutions. We need to solve the problem in a sustainable way and represent the issue as such.

What do you think? Have you seen ‘poverty porn’ in the media?

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