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Go beyond surface-level coverage when writing about inequality

By Raven Nichols

From achievement gaps to the disproportionate impact of the mortgage crisis, the story of inequality takes many different shapes and forms.

Holly Hacker, Kimbriell Kelly, Burt Hubbard and Malik Singleton offered tips at a panel on Saturday morning about how journalists can best investigate inequality.

Hubbard, a Rocky Mountain PBS journalist, spoke about a story he wrote involving the Colorado Department of Education.

Hubbard analyzed a decade’s worth of educational benchmarks in the state’s 20 largest school districts, compiling income and race data within the districts. His investigation highlighted achievement gaps between low income and other students, and between Latino and black students compared to white students.

Hacker and a team of data journalist studied how many out-of-pocket fees students are paying for college. They found large disparities in what each state’s public universities expect families to pay.

Hacker built a tuition tracker tool from U.S. Department of Education data to determine the tuition costs for students at different colleges. The tool allows users to select an income range. The interactive map shows a state’s average net price at public universities as a share of family income.

Kelly, a reporter at The Washington Post, said she believed harnessing your thoughts and observations is the first step in proposing a story.

Kelly wrote a story describing the rise of foreclosures in a large neighborhood in Prince George’s County, Maryland, despite the fact that the county is inhabited by some of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country.

The decade-old neighborhood is 73 percent black and its residents have a median household income of more than $170,000, according to census data Kelly used. Yet, half of the loans on newly constructed homes in the neighborhood wound up in foreclosure during the housing boom in 2006 and 2007, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of private and public mortgage data.

The story was a representation of the disproportionate impact of the mortgage crisis on black Americans.

The three journalist emphasized the importance of fact checking. Inequality stories can be told in many ways; however, a writer has to remember who their audience is and how the story can be told in the best way possible.

A good story digs deeper into the issues and avoids the obvious. Reporters should keep their stories focused, but also provide context, the panelists said. Providing background information is important to connect the dots for the reader.

Raven Nichols is a sophomore mass communications major at Louisiana State University. She is the entertainment and news editor for

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