former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Posts Tagged ‘living wage bill’

March Celebrated Past But Didn’t Commit To Future

In Blog on August 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

What happens when you compress all the news coverage of Black History Month into one week, and put it on steroids?  This week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely fitting to mark this event, and to pay homage to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ought to be remembered. We should honor the years of struggle that African-Americans endured to galvanize a nation.  Their nonviolent protests were met with beatings, imprisonment and death, and those horrendous events were broadcast across the nation.  Television journalism helped inform the conscience of a nation.

But what was lacking in the commemoration was the acknowledgment that the strides in racial equality also demanded political power.  As dramatic and moving as the civil rights protests were, the prospects for legislative reform 50 years ago seemed dim, at least until the Southern Democrats’ hold on the Senate was broken.

Ignoring that fact meant that this week’s events were more about emotion than strategy and leadership. The reading and viewing public got a big dose of memories, leavened with cogent analysis of the continuing legacy of racism. It was in large part, about sharing memories. NPR’s “The Race Card Project,” offered us an intriguing glimpse into the feelings of average Americans about black-white relations.

Watching the broadcast coverage of the event, one was struck by the tens of thousands of people who gathered on a rain-soaked day, the speeches, and the songs.

But here’s one concern about all that coverage. The March was framed as the one event that changed the course of history, prompting the passage of landmark civil rights and voting rights laws.

No one wants to diminish the March’s impact. It was crucial to the advance of civil rights. But the media ill serves the civil rights movement and history when it implies that speeches and marches alone change history. King, and his colleagues sowed the seeds for reform, as did the hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists throughout the country. And civil rights leaders were acutely aware of the obstacles that stood in their way in Congress, and used the media as a vital tool to overcome some of those obstacles.

Read the rest of this entry »

How The Post Failed The Public on Wal-Mart

In Blog on July 18, 2013 at 8:00 am

Washington, D.C. probably is home to more think tanks and economists than any other city in America. So you would think The Washington Post, still the city’s leading newspaper, might have turned to some of them to shed a little light on a major local controversy.

The D.C. City Council recently passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act, or the “living wage bill.”  It would require large retailers to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.  In reaction to the passage of the bill, Wal-Mart has said it will withdraw plans to develop three stores in the District, and reconsider its plans for three other stores already under construction. As I write this, no one knows whether Washington Mayor Vincent Gray will veto the bill.  It doesn’t appear that the council has the votes to override a veto.

I am not complaining about The Post’s two editorials opposed to the living wage bill.  The paper has a right to take a position on this issue, albeit one that was heavily biased in Wal-Mart’s favor.

What does bother me is the quality of the paper’s overall coverage. As this controversy has played out, The Post has failed to provide comprehensive ongoing reporting on the issue, or to give its readers consistently solid explanatory journalism that provides facts and context, and challenges assumptions.

Instead, The Post’s coverage has been scatter-shot.  Some of its best analysis seemed to be left to the paper’s blogs, which tend to be more commentary than straight news, and while very informative, lack the authoritative voice of news stories. Blogs, too, are not always published in the print editions of the paper.  That means that the people most affected by the Wal-Mart decision, those in underdeveloped neighborhoods waiting for a Wal-Mart bounce, might not have access to all the information about the controversy.

At the very least, The Post should have explained what the living wage bill does in some detail, not just once, when the bill was introduced, but for each significant story on the controversy.  A Post story in March included facts about the living wage bill that were significant and deserved repetition.  The living wage bill applies only to large retailers who have not negotiated wages through collective bargaining agreements. And the $12.50, as I understand it, is actually $11.75 if benefits already provided by the employer are factored in. That distinction appears to have been lost in most of the subsequent news coverage of the law.

But The Post should have done much, much more.  It could have reached out to the city’s urban policy experts and economists, and given the community coverage that:

Read the rest of this entry »