FOX-13 Memphis feel-good story has gaping holes, ignores Commercial Appeal original

You may have seen the miracle story on Facebook.

Memphis teen sells newspapers

What a feel-good headline!

Beacon of hope!

Such a feel-good meme: all it takes to go to college is a little hard work, a little hustle. Everyone can do this! Fits right into the American myth about success being just a matter of effort. (Don’t believe me? Read the FB comments.)

I’m thrilled that a straight A student athlete is headed to college. I’m appalled that this FOX-13 news story is being presented as a great way to get there.

Because there are more than a few niggles in this typical-for-TV-news “thin” story.

Child labor law

Now 17 years old, Kevuntez King began selling newspapers on a busy street corner when he was 12 after he was “given the opportunity” to sell the papers.

What does given the opportunity mean?

Who gave him the “opportunity”?

The reporter makes it sound like a job, rather than self-employment: “He has held that job for the last five years…” However, that was against the law.

In Tennessee, a minor must be 14 years of age before working. Restrictions are enforced by our Labor Standards Unit enacted by the Child Labor Act.

So even if Memphis has a program like Seattle’s Real Change initiative, King would not have been eligible at 12. And Real Change vendors do not work highway-like street corners.

If he was working just for himself (unlikely, given that “opportunity” caveat), how did he get his seed money? Who regulates transient street-corner vending? And the only way you’re going to net $200 (which turns out to have been an exaggeration) selling newspapers on a busy street is because people give you a lot more money than the price of the newspaper.

These questions are answered in the original story, which ran in the Commercial Appeal. FOX-13 didn’t bother to link to the original story or name the newspaper that King was selling.

At 12 years old, Kevuntez King was first approached about the job by a friend whose uncle was an independent contractor for The Commercial Appeal. While other boys his age were playing video games or watching TV, King was waking up at 3:45 a.m. in order to make it to the corner at 4:30 a.m. to set up the newspapers.

Still a violation of child labor law for two years because of age. And a violation until he was 16 because of the hours (his was a 12-hour day):


* Between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
* More than 8 hours a day on non-school days

A minor must have a thirty (30) minute unpaid break or meal period if scheduled to work six (6) hours consecutively. Such breaks shall not be scheduled during or before the first hour of scheduled work activity.


Where (and how) is he selling papers?

The story says on “the corner of Poplar and Estate.”

This is that corner:

popular & estate in memphis

It’s a busy six-lane-plus-left-turn-lane US highway intersecting with a four-lane-plus-turn-lane cross-street.

In the Facebook promotion, King appears to be standing in front of a bus stop (left-of-center in this photo). On the corner behind the bus stop, a restaurant. Across the street, a Circle K service station. Far corner: Hampton Inn. Kitty-corner: Verizon Wireless store.

Just down the street: a Mercedes-Benz dealer and a Cadillac dealer. Up the street: a rib joint, MickyDs, and Starbucks.

Transient vendors must have permits from the city, which are valid only for 14 days. I was unable to find regulations for transient selling of newspapers on street corners.

Who are his customers?

This is where “show don’t tell” should have been top-of-mind for our TV news guy. Instead, we get this pablum:

During his time working at the east Memphis intersection, King has gained quite the following. People have become fans of his attitude and work ethic, and they have also ended up becoming some of his biggest supporters.

From the Commercial Appeal:

The first time King sold newspapers he made $75, now he averages between $150 and $175 a day. For each newspaper he sells during his 12-hour work day, he receives 25 percent, but he makes most of his money from tips (emphasis added).

King has more than 100 regular customers who buy from him.

This is not unlike windshield-cleaning panhandling. Don’t get me wrong: it requires guts and tenacity and brashness and thick skin. And I couldn’t do it. But it’s more than simply “selling newspapers.”

From the comments on the CA story:

What a great story about an outstanding young citizen. However, some courts have ruled against the contractor model. The courts have stated these folks are actually employees. With all the sympathy the CA gives to $15 an hour minimum wage, income equality, prevailing wage and benefits does the CA provide this young man sick pay, paid vacation, health care, tuition reimbursement?

Finally, about that major

In closing, FOX-13 Memphis reporter Scott Madaus tells us:

King will study physical therapy at TSU.

The Commercial Appeal story says the same thing.

However, becoming a physical therapist means enrolling in a three-year doctoral degree. Before that, there’s the four-year undergraduate degree. There is no undergraduate degree in PT.

TSU — Tennessee State University — is the largest and only state-funded historically black university in Tennessee. According to the college online tuition calculator, one-year of an undergraduate degree cost $12,284 dollars … six years ago. Times four … is $49,000, with $26,808 being tuition and fees.

TSU tuition calculator


At current rates, tuition alone for a four-year undergraduate degree in biology is $41,000. That’s just tuition. Using the formula from the calculator, the total cost could be almost $80,000. That means the cost of a four-year undergrad degree in Tennessee may have almost doubled in six years. Wowza.

Three more years of study for the PT degree. Graduate school usually comes with tuition waiver in exchange for at TA/GA role. I don’t know if that is the case with medical-related degrees.


King’s closing advice is a good reminder for all of us:

Stay involved with school activities and always try to stay in something positive.

I wish King well and hope that there are scholarships and grants available, given his high school academic record.

I’m trying very hard not to feel like a wet blanket, but this “TV news” story pushed all of my buttons.



The Commercial Appeal is part of the USA Today Network; their story ran 30 May 2016. The first comment was 11:57 am.
FOX-13 Memphis is part of the Cox Media Group; their story was posted to Facebook 31 May 2016 at 7:50 pm.



By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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