Pity the poor media consumer. It’s nigh-on impossible to understand the burgeoning mortgage crisis rippling through communities around the country if you’re relying on the mainstream press to give you insight into “the story.” Is it a matter of market forces and investment returns? A tale of predatory lending practices and unscrupulous mortgage brokers? A chronicle of worsening woes for already ailing low-income neighborhoods? A human tragedy? A business opportunity?
The answer, of course, is all of the above. But whether you’re reading the business section, the editorial page, or the national news, you’re unlikely to get a sense of the whole picture. The press shows little inclination to cover this story any more accurately or comprehensively than it handles most stories about the poor or the struggles of low-income communities.
Business and financial coverage, with its emphasis on federal scrutiny of the mortgage industry, stock prices, investors’ anxieties and subprime lender bankruptcies, seems to exist in a different universe-though often in the same newspaper or magazine-as stories of families losing their homes and communities trying to stave off blight. And there’s virtually no reporting on how community activists or housing advocates are mounting responses to the crisis.
Granted, it’s a huge, morphing story with complex causal factors. But that doesn’t excuse the Fourth Estate from its obligation to connect the dots and arm citizens with coherent information-the necessary precondition to intelligent action in our communities and in the halls of power.
With help from our readers, Shelterforce is tracking the press coverage of the subprime mortgage mess and other issues that affect low-income communities. Send us your favorite (best and worst) examples at firstname.lastname@example.org, and they may show up in this space.