Video & highlights: Covering Food Insecurity – Access, hunger, and empathetic reporting about a basic need

‘Every road leads to food’: Food insecurity story ideas that transcend beats

Food insecurity can be difficult for journalists to cover consistently because of its seeming invisibility, and food access issues cross over multiple beats. During a panel discussion today, food insecurity reporters shared how they’ve covered the issue affecting communities across the U.S. with empathy and dignity at the core. People-oriented story pitches they shared included: 

On the education beat

In 2020, Congress made school lunches free for students as part of pandemic stimulus packages. But the universal free lunch program has ended this academic year. 

Some questions to consider:

  • How are parents in your district responding to the end of this program? Are there any local measures in place to help families in need?
  • How are schools dealing with the return of students and the loss of free school meals? What are the administrators and teachers saying about this?
  • California became the first state to enact a Universal Meals Program for all public school students. What is the impact of free meals on children’s educational outcomes? 

On the economy beat

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden raised the minimum wage ​​for federal employees and contractors to $15 per hour. Yet the federal minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009, despite rising inflation. And while 11 states and D.C. will increase their minimum wages in 2023, many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet. 

Some story ideas for business reporters: 

  • What is the relationship between food insecurity and minimum wage? As the minimum wage rises, are workers better able to afford food or does the extra money go toward other expenses like rent, childcare, or transportation? 
  • How do those working in the food industry afford food for themselves? How many hours are they working per week to meet their expenses? How many employees at large grocery chains like Wal-Mart receive public assistance? 
  • What happens to food access when two large grocery chains merge?
  • How have food delivery companies like Instacart, DoorDash, and GrubHub impacted food access in your area? How do “gig economy” workers like delivery drivers make ends meet?

On the housing beat

A homelessness crisis continues in the U.S., and housing reporters can integrate food insecurity in their coverage in several ways.

  • After an eviction, how do families that are living in a motel prepare meals without access to a full kitchen?
  • How do families staying at shelters buy food in bulk to save money? Where do they keep their supplies?

On the health beat

The use of lead-based paint in houses was banned in 1978, but the presence of lead in some older houses still exists today — especially in lower income neighborhoods without the resources to rebuild. 

Studies have shown that lead toxicity can occur with nutritional deficiencies and high intakes of dietary fat. 

  • What happens when children living in older homes with lead-based paint are not getting enough nutrients? 

There are many benefits of a healthy diet, which is why highlighting food access issues is important. Here are some final story considerations:

These story ideas were presented at a program organized by the National Press Club Journalism Institute. Panelists included:

  • Alejandro Figueroa, food reporter for WYSO  
  • Bridget Huber, reporter with the Food and Environment Reporting Network
  • Lauren Lindstrom, independent journalist focused on health and housing and O’Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University
  • Karen Robinson-Jacobs, investigative reporter on the Public Service Journalism team at Lee Enterprises

Resources

About the panelists

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Figueroa is a 2021 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and while there he reported for The New Political, a student-run publication focused on politics and government. His reporting has been featured on NPR, The GroundTruth Project and the Ohio Newsroom.

Figueroa was born in a small coastal town in Puerto Rico and in 2014 he and his family moved to Columbus, Ohio. When he’s not reporting, he enjoys going out on a hike and he sometimes daydreams about restoring an old pickup truck.

Bridget Huber is a staff writer at FERN. Her work has been published and broadcast by National Geographic, Public Radio International, The New York Times, The Lancet, Mother Jones, The Associated Press and many others.

A graduate of UC Berkeley’s journalism school, she’s received grants, awards and fellowships from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The UC Berkeley/11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship and Mesa Refuge, among others. She speaks Spanish, French and some Portuguese and lives in Portland, Maine.

Lauren Lindstrom is an independent journalist focused on health and housing as an O’Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University. She previously covered affordable housing and homelessness for The Charlotte Observer, writing about the human toll of evictions during the pandemic, substandard housing conditions and challenges to address homelessness.

She was also the health reporter for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Northwestern University graduate and a former Report for America corps member.

Karen Robinson-Jacobs is a Chi-Town native and an award-winning journalist who has been chasing the big story for decades. She serves as an investigative reporter for media company Lee Enterprises on its newly formed Public Service Journalism team. 

She also is a Knobler Fellow with Type Investigations and recently completed one year as a Corps member with Report for America, covering issues of concern to African Americans for the St. Louis American.

She spent 15 years writing about food, sports business and real estate for the Dallas Morning News, where she was part of the Pulitzer Prize Finalist team lauded for coverage of a 2016 shooting spree that killed five police officers and injured nine others. Prior to that, she spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where she worked with emerging journalists in the paper’s Metpro program, and helped launch the paper’s website and new media department. While in Los Angeles she also served as vice president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. A long-time Midwesterner, Robinson-Jacobs also worked at the Milwaukee Journal, where she was among the first African American editors.

About the Institute

The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire a more representative democracy. As the non-profit affiliate of the National Press Club, the Institute powers journalism in the public interest.

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