By Marcia Apperson | Assistant Director, PBS Standards & Practices
The minimum wage rate is an important policy debate playing out across the country. Earlier this year, New Jersey became the fourth state to pass a law that will gradually raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 – up from a current rate of $8.85.
The process to get new legislation passed was a long, often heated one, among the state’s lawmakers.
NJTV News closely covered the story, from campaign promises and brokered deals to the bill being introduced and then eventually signed into law on Feb. 4, 2019.
In doing so, the news team felt that the principle of fairness obliged them to cover the story from additional perspectives beyond the two-sided political debate.
“It doesn’t do our audience justice to just report on the legislation and just the legislators and this is what they’re arguing about,” NJTV News Executive Producer Phil Alongi said. “But it helps a lot, in fairness, to go to the people that are actually affected by this. So, get out of the statehouse and move out to the community.”
“Let’s talk to the single mother that’s working three minimum wage jobs to help put food on the table, and what is that like, and what kind of difference in her life is it going to make to make $15 an hour now,” Alongi said. “And, in turn, go to the small candle shop owner that has nine employees on the books and is fearful now that their profit margin can’t afford to have more than six people on the books.”
NJTV News did just that, with comprehensive coverage that illustrates the principle of fairness as defined in the PBS Editorial Standards: “Producers must consider all relevant facts and perspectives on a particular subject and present information in a respectful and responsible manner – without favoritism or discrimination.”
Over the past year, the station’s reporters covered a wide range of topics, such as how the wage increase could affect health issues like low birth weight, life expectancy, and other health outcomes. (“A landmark study showed that for every dollar minimum wage goes up, low birth weight goes down by 1 to 2 percent, and infant mortality goes down by 4 percent from baseline,” Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said.)
The station also reported on how the increase will impact local governments, especially smaller municipalities with more limited financial resources. And it did a story breaking down how much it costs to live in New Jersey.
While fairness does not require that equal time be given to conflicting opinions or viewpoints, the PBS Editorial Standards explain, fairness does require producers to be “open-minded when evaluating the merits and assessing the credibility of all opinions or viewpoints while also managing their own personal opinions and biases.”
Stated another way: “It’s not our job to be 50-50 necessarily,” Alongi said. “It’s just to make sure we are being fair.”
Posted on May 9, 2019