How To Raise Financial Literacy? Try Good Journalism

Feb 222013
  • Jordyn Dahl won first place for her piece examining how the Navajo nation in southwest Colorado aims to break out of poverty by investing in coal production. Michael Privitera, S&P Capital IQ's vice president of public affairs, presented the award.

Why don’t Latinos invest in 401(k) programs? Is the Navajo nation making a good move by investing in coal extraction? Are low-wage workers really better off than the unemployed? These are some of the key issues tackled by reporters, recently honored for raising financial literacy in minority communities.

The journalists took part in a unique "Markets Reporting" program, sponsored by The McGraw-Hill Companies and run by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). In an online course with 30 other participants, they learned to cover key personal finance and economic issues such as the housing market, retirement planning, health insurance and investing. Instructors then mentored the journalists for six weeks while they produced their reports.

Since this program began six years ago, 200 journalists have participated, producing hundreds of stories that help raise financial literacy. Some have become experts covering finance at major news networks. Others have started vibrant personal finance websites in Spanish. “Until this program came along,” says ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan, “these journalists lacked the expertise to report on financial issues that greatly matter to their audiences.”

The three journalists with the best stories traveled to New York to meet with corporate executives and business journalism leaders. At an awards dinner at McGraw-Hill headquarters in New York, Michael Privitera, vice president of public affairs at S&P Capital IQ, lauded the program’s “amazing” impact as a great example of how “ideas have consequences.”

The winners were:

Jordyn Dahl, social media reporter at The Durango Herald in Colorado, won the first-place award for her piece: “A Path Paved in Coal: Navajo Nation Looks to Old Energy to Break from Past.” She examines how the Navajo nation in southwest Colorado aims to break out of poverty by investing in coal production. She compares Navajo struggles with the Southern Ute tribe, which banked on natural gas 40 years ago and is now worth billions of dollars. In three videos, a sidebar and a photo slideshow, she paints a vivid picture of the business, health and environmental challenges that lie ahead for the Navajo nation, a group that rarely gets attention in the media.

Maria Alejandra Bastidas, an associate editor at Mundo Hispánico, took second place for her story: “401(k), A Challenge for Hispanics.” She focused on the reasons why so many Latinos fail to participate in this retirement savings plan. Through the lens of a Venezuelan immigrant living in the United States for 16 years, Bastidas exposes the barriers to joining a program that would benefit Latino employees. Many of her readers now say they may join 401(k) plans because they understand the program’s benefits. She herself signed up for the plan after reporting this piece.

Adriana E. Sánchez garnered third place for a story she wrote for New Mexico’s El Grito. Adriana produced a multimedia series that highlights why financial education is key for New Mexico’s immigrant population. She makes the case that such knowledge is crucial for reducing income inequality. She interviewed scores of immigrants—and featured some who are taking business and finance classes to successfully get ahead. Instructor Chris Roush called her story “advice that everyone needs.” Sánchez was just hired by the Albuquerque Business Journal during the course because, she believes, she could intelligently answer questions about financial markets. “This course,” she said, “changed my life.”

At the awards dinner, Thomson Reuters’ wealth editor Lauren Young gave a keynote address on the importance of financial education, which was followed by a lively Q&A session.