By Chris Adams
America is aging and working longer, and news organizations are beginning to notice.
How should reporters cover the topic? In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, three journalists who have done work that regularly taps into the dynamics of an aging society shared their tips.
Christine Herbes-Sommers, producer of the one-hour documentary “Coming of Age in Aging America,” described how she developed what she called a “25,000-foot view of the challenges and opportunities of an inexorably aging society.” The documentary features many of the top experts in the field of aging, and it is presented as paired portraits of two cities in Georgia: Atlanta and Norcross.
Herbes-Sommers talked about the decision to focus on cities rather than individuals: “Using the individual frame invites an audience to turn off, because they may say, ‘Frankly – that person on the screen is not like us,’ ” she said.
Peter Gosselin, a contributing reporter for ProPublica, is developing a new beat for the investigative news organization on aging. A big part of his focus in on age discrimination and how that impacts whether people actually can keep working if they want to.
“The bottom line is that basically the hiring market stops working for you very well kind of around 50,” said Gosselin (bio, Twitter). “If you stay on the horse, or you move from job to job with no break, it can work. If you fall off and depend on being hired, you’re in world of hurt – the hiring market does not work very well.”
Tobie Stanger, a senior editor at Consumer Reports, talked about the work on retirement readiness and the decision to work longer that her magazine does with the help of an in-house survey of subscribers. While the survey isn’t representative of the nation as a whole, it does offer Stanger (Twitter) insight and sources on why people are or aren’t working longer. Contact information for survey respondents are maintained in a database Stanger can tap for sources for the broader themed stories she is working. If your news outlet pays for surveys or has a partnership with a pollster, you may get access to these “callback” lists too.
The Consumer Reports survey also offers insight into how much money people actually need in the bank to feel secure and satisfied in retirement. “You don’t have to be a multimillionaire to be satisfied in retirement,” she said.