The Media And Homelessness

When thinking about the homeless, many think of someone begging or asking for money. However, most homeless people do not fit this stereotype, and Piedmont College alum Nathan Blackburn is hoping to break this stereotype. 

At the 2020 Piedmont Symposium, Blackburn presented the session, “Poverty Portrayals: An examination of Media Portrayals Stereotyping Homeless Populations,” a project that was derived from his mass communications theory and research course. 

“This research became the starting point for my senior capstone, which I’ve recently completed, and it played a big role in the short film that I created as part of that capstone (Wander Boys),” said Blackburn. 

However, the inspiration behind the research extended past just a MCOM 3850 course. It came from his personal background. Blackburn experienced homelessness himself growing up. Understanding what it is like to be homeless, Blackburn has a different perspective than most on the topic. Throughout his research, Blackburn found difficulty in setting aside his own personal biases regarding homelessness, where he had to keep an open mind throughout. 

“Nathan’s personal experience with homelessness added a more complex layer and gave him a unique perspective than if he had been an objective researcher,” said Professor Tingle. 

Blackburn found curiosity in understanding how the rest of society viewed the homeless and found that the media directly influences peoples’ viewpoint on those who suffer from homelessness. The media is able to shift situations accordingly in order to make others feel certain feelings like sadness or anger. This is known as “media framing,” where the media frames particular situations to make others feel a certain emotion. This is Blackburn’s pivotal argument in the case that the media does affect the way others view the homeless. As Blackburn anonymously interviewed individuals of various ages, his research proved that after these individuals watched the same clips on homelessness, all of the feelings towards homelessness were very similar. 

“After viewing Nathan’s presentation online, it really made me realize that the media really does have a major impact on how society sees homeless people,” said student Haily Tigue. “I can say that I have definitely been caught in the basic stereotype of homeless people in the United States, but I will now be more compassionate towards this topic.” 

Blackburn’s research portrays that the media is often biased when discussing homelessness. Blackburn explains that the media often displays homeless individuals as “beggars on the side of the street” or that these individuals must have done something wrong in their life to be in this situation. Though, Blackburn knows from personal experience that this is not always the case. 

For example, many homeless individuals are children who have lost parents, a recent immigrant trying to start a new life, or someone who unexpectedly lost a job. However, Blackburn explains that because of films and the news, homelessness is often viewed by others for something that it is not. 

One of Blackburn’s favorite interviews he conducted was one with a fellow student where Blackburn learned about a different perspective of homelessness. Through this interview 

Blackburn explained that this student’s first thought of the homeless was “always dirty and begging for money” 

“I’ve always noticed that the media tends to lean more towards one stereotype or one side of portraying homeless people,” he said. “It was interesting to learn more about that from the view of someone who had not experienced any kind of homelessness.” 

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