One of the most important missions for newspapers is to give a voice to the voiceless. At the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the paper has turned its attention to one of those communities in need of help: children living in poverty.
The result was a series called Growing Up Through the Cracks that “captured the focus on children, the infrastructural issues of the neighborhoods and hinted at the fragmentation of the region’s government,” said Post-Gazette investigative reporter Rich Lord.
The series launched in January, and it is available in print, online, and as a graphic novel and interactive website. Because each installment of the ongoing series is so detailed, there is currently no set schedule for when each new one will appear.
The idea started in late 2017 when Lord approached Chris Briem, a demographer at the University of Pittsburgh, about communities in distress. Briem suggested child poverty was a good metric and one that had a certain natural human interest to it.
“You really can’t blame kids for being born into difficult circumstances,” Lord said.
Together, Lord and Briem collected census data, and according to Lord, “worked with that (data in) early 2018 to identify communities with at least 400 people under the age of 18 and child poverty rate of 50 percent of more in a roughly 10-county area.”
Several communities fit the criteria including seven Allegheny County municipalities, three Fayette County municipalities, and one each in both Armstrong County and Westmoreland County. Lord said the data surprised him because it proved there was a tight correlation between child poverty rates and non-home ownership, human services and tax base sufficiency.
In addition to the Post-Gazette team, illustrator Stacy Innerst (whose work was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project) worked on drawing images for the article and the graphic novel titled “Jared’s Narrowed World” based on the first story in the series. Because of the added funding and support, the paper was able to produce the series on so many different platforms.
While the graphic novel received the most tangible feedback, Lord told E&P that was not the only positive reaction the project has garnered so far. Local residents of these communities have reached out thanking the newspaper for their work.
Currently, the Post-Gazette is working on about six other installments for the series and have about two dozen other ideas for the future. While the first installment was very broad and covered a lot of ground, Lord said the upcoming ones will have more focused themes.