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.

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