The best journalism, I’d argue, doesn’t start with ideas, but with questions.
And nearly two years ago, our housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer had a good one: Why does low-income housing get built where it does?
At the time, Jacob was working for the Memphis Business Journal, covering commercial real estate, when he noticed that much of the affordable stock was landing in South Memphis.
The question, as questions do, lingered in the back of his mind. And then he read a ProPublica-Connecticut Mirror story about affordable housing in Connecticut and saw the glimmers of an answer. “I thought, ‘Oh that’s definitely happening here,’” Jacob told me.
The question took on an urgency and when Jacob joined MLK50 in June 2021, he was determined to tell this story. I don’t want to use the word ‘nag’ to describe how that determination manifested, but somebody else might.
And thank goodness, Jacob persisted. Because, as he notes, the story he’s told has a theme that’s both pervasive and overlooked.
“I don’t think people think about segregation as much as they should,” said Jacob. “It’s still a big thing in many ways. Memphis puts all these resources into the improvement of low-income neighborhoods and so little into desegregation, when I think both are necessary.”
As Jacob’s story explains, the consequences of segregation go far beyond morality; segregation has a direct impact on the health, education, and prosperity of Black people, particularly Black children.
I asked Jacob what he wanted to happen as a result of this story. He sat silently for a few seconds. “I want Memphians and Tennesseans to take housing segregation more seriously.”
I’m struck by the simplicity of that answer. And as I write on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, who led a movement against segregation, I don’t think it’s a big ask for this city, for this state, for this country.
Now that Jacob has answered his question (and look for upcoming stories where he keeps digging deeper) and turned it into a story, there’s an opportunity for you to ask a few of your own.
One might be: What am I going to do about this?
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.