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W&L Hosts Inaugural Knight Poverty Journalism Conference

Journalists from around the country who write about poverty and economic justice will convene at Washington and Lee University next month for the inaugural Knight Poverty Journalism Conference.

Political activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich will present the conference’s keynote address on Friday, Sept. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater in the Elrod Commons. Ehrenreich’s presentation, which is open to the public, is titled, “Poverty Reporting: Investigating the Manufacture of Misery.”

The three-day conference, which runs from Sept. 7 through Sept. 9, will include panel discussions and workshops for the invitees.

According to Edward Wasserman, the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at W&L who, with W&L students and a steering committee of outside professionals, has helped organize the conference, 40 journalists and professors will participate.

“With wealth and income inequality finally getting unprecedented attention in the media, the time for such an initiative couldn’t be better,” Wasserman said.

A team of Washington and Lee students has created a website under Wasserman’s direction, OnPoverty.org, to serve journalists in the field by aggregating current coverage, publishing interviews with practitioners, and offering digests of useful social-science findings. The conference, Wasserman noted, is a natural extension of the development of that site.

Washington and Lee has led the development of poverty studies in the curriculum through the interdisciplinary Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability. The University’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communications offers courses as part of that program.

“The overall objective of this conference is to build competence and community among journalists who deal with these topics,” said Wasserman, noting that sessions will deal with interpreting social-science findings, understanding the perspectives of activists and using data sources.

Ehrenreich, the keynoter, has written 21 books, and is known best for “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” a 2001 memoir of three months that she spent working at minimum wage jobs.

A graduate of Reed College where she majored in physics, she has a Ph.D.in cell biology from Rockefeller University. After completing her studies, she became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement and, according to her official biography, began to question “whether she wanted to spend her life at the laboratory bench.”

She eventually became a full-time writer and contributes essays and opinion pieces to such publications at the New York Times, Harper’s and the Progressive. She is a contributing writer for TIME magazine and also writes a blog for the Huffington Post. She has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and shared the National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting in 1980.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.

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Jeffery G. Hanna
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(540) 458-8459