What’s wrong with economic reporting?

By Felix Salmon
January 30, 2010
Justin Wolfers wonders about what he sees as an economics-reporting arbitrage: given this chart, he says, why aren't editors and reporters doing a better job of moving resources into economics reporting?

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Justin Wolfers wonders about what he sees as an economics-reporting arbitrage: given this chart, he says, why aren’t editors and reporters doing a better job of moving resources into economics reporting?

gallup.tiff

Justin’s list of possible reasons is a good one; I’d add a couple more.

Firstly, the question asks not about what Americans think of reporting on the economy, but rather what Americans think about the reporting on policies and practices of the Obama administration as they relate to the economy. Historically, reporters who understand economics and finance have generally been in New York rather than Washington — while the Wars and Terrorism reporters have been in Washington all along. But if you’re reporting on the Obama administration’s economic policies, you need to be in DC. The move to DC is happening, but it’s maybe not happening as quickly as the public would like.

Secondly, the simple fact is that the Obama administration has been much less good at communicating its economic policy than it has been at communicating its policies on other matters. Tim Geithner is not a great communicator, and the administration’s economic policy in general is very complex: it’s hard to reduce it to a simple choice like “Afghanistan: stay or go”, or “Healthcare: should there be a public option or not”.

More generally, I think the answer to the question is simply a function not of the quality of reporting on the economy, but just of the degree of confusion and anger that Americans have when they look at what has happened over the course of the Great Recession. That’s something that the news media can attempt to address, but it’s a very tough job, and they’re certain to fail with a large amount of Americans a large amount of the time. For all we know, this 40% figure is actually much lower than might be expected given the depth and complexity of the recession.

Still, I hope that the news media will use the results of this poll to increase the quantity and quality of their economic reporting. Right now, you can never have too much.

8 comments

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Very few Journalism students take any economics courses. Some data here: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile _canadian_initi/2009/09/journalism-and-e conomics.html

Posted by NickR1 | Report as abusive

Hey Felix, with the prefix that lately this is all your work, you are gaining my respect.
It is obviously a sick society, judging by the bar graphs.
Take Davos: …”government debt as a share of economic output in all advanced nations will soar as a result of the crisis, from 78 percent of GDP in 2007 to a whopping 118 percent in 2014.” Isn’t that a classic debt trap ? Blame Geitner, who is merely a new Super-Trader in Treasury, or even Bennie ? Not fair. The Woody Allen look-alike and Bush-fires caused this.
Elsewhere there is talk of build-a-nation-bonds – what bigger catastrophe can you imagine – Asset bubbles from government bonds – The US should sell of assets, not create more false assets with the credit contra to MORE liabilities.
At Davos an article talks of Stagnation. Is that stagflation and what happens to the Fisher effect and real rates ?
More at Davos – Carry trades on low US rates – does anyone understand interest rate parity ?
Central banks/Treasuries and the financial food chain right through to middle class mortgage holders– are these not simply cross holdings that equate to zero upon consolidation ?
You are right, the economic and finance insight and emphasis is shocking.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive

I’m a bit puzzled as to why this chart would puzzle anyone for long; also why it should require geostatic coverage.

You don’t have to be in DC to figure this out. The dynamic is plain as daylight, evidence anyplace you care to look.

What the administration is doing with [Column #1] money, lots and lots of it, makes people sick [Column #2] beyond any commercial insurance coverage. The U.S. economy is a doomed-to-fail [Column #3] war economy replete with greasy pork set aside for the shadiest of TBTF suppliers and smug white-collar crooks; all of the above hyperstimulated by a spectre of [4th Column] terror which is actually caused by [Column #5] who-the-hell-knows, because all that’s kept secret so that people don’t fly completely off the handle into organized rebellion after initial panic.

This list of things people (if the poll’s accurate) want journalists to do better mirrors the list of things people wish for the U.S.administration to improve on. All that’s actually missing now would be a fine-print rider to the effect that such expectations are unlikely to be realized.

There. A trip to DC saved is a trip to DC earned.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

That’s funny HSBC, AC/DC, in all its meanings.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive

Dear Author,
Happily reading and grasping of your latest reports on America!s economy,social and political insights to us.
All your writings to this subject will be much more useful to world economics schools and to research scholars on economics and politics from well developed nations.
Please keep it up and expecting to get more lively writings from you and other reporters from Reuters news,service provider to the world.

Posted by mdspatsy | Report as abusive

stylish, easy and restrained

Before the game, perhaps everyone thought Li Na would win, but certainly can not think she can so “terrorist” to win, after all, Jankovic is a former women “one elder sister”, she in the 3 game of the match against Li Na in the recent three game winning streak

I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already Cheers!

Posted by traduceri daneza romana | Report as abusive