The media have discovered the poor, some of them anyway.

As the recession slices deep into the U.S. middle class, people who have lost jobs or homes and now face the miseries of sudden poverty are in the news.

That’s as it should be, and if the news media weren’t so cash-strapped themselves we’d see more reporters talking to people instead of officials, and visiting families who are huddled in motels or living out of their cars, trying to get by with dignity and hope.

The media are showing greater concern for the people who have recently plunged into poverty than they normally show for poor people.

Indeed, coverage tends to steer away from the already-poor, even though their plight has worsened too as the downturn ravages retailing, services, construction and the other sectors where low-paid workers scratch out a living.

Sure, it’s the newly poor who are the news. But is there also an implication that they differ because they are, in some sense, the “undeserving poor” — that they’re a nobler breed, unfairly victimized, more entitled to public sympathy than the 37 million Americans the government was counting as poor back when the economy, as far as most of us were concerned, was doing just fine?

That’s the question raised in a new study by the liberal media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

The author, journalist Neil deMause, found that during the last three months of 2008 the broadcast networks’ evening news programs did one poverty-related story every four or five nights, up from once every three weeks in 2007. That suggests a mildly greater presence in the news.

But deMause found subtle ways that media are sending a message that the people they’re covering, though just as hard up as any poor people, are really quite different.

These people are ashamed to go to food banks or apply for food stamps, they’re embarrassed to be homeless, they’re depressed that they lack skills the workplace demands. The point: They’re worth caring about.

As for the tens of millions of pre-existing poor — the security guard whose factory job was shipped abroad, the people who haven’t been paid well since the last recession, the former mechanic on disability, the people who mop your office, pick your tomatoes, do your dry cleaning — their situation wasn’t newsworthy before and isn’t newsworthy now, not compared with the discarded executive who’s losing his 7,000-square-foot home or the Ph.D. who passes out shopping carts at the Wal-Mart.

By contrast, the new poor are great copy. Many are educated and well-spoken. Chastened but determined, they’re people with whom middle-class media audiences can identify. Plus, they fit easily into a tragedy narrative, the fall from exalted status provoking pity and terror.

Underlying their condition is an infuriating story: They played by the rules, worked hard and consumed hard, kept up their end of the American bargain, and suffered an unreasonable and unjust fate.