June 27, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Structural Flaws Edition)

I've been trying to think about why so much of America's elite press corps is so flawed--does such a lousy and incompetent job so much of the time. I don't have answers. I do have observations and, perhaps, a theory or two.

Consider the passage below from the Washington Post. It's one of a hundred or so examples I've filed away over the past year or so--examples of egregiously bad political-economic reporting from elite journalistic institutions. It's not the worst such example, but it is selected from a set of howlers. The reporter (Jonathan Weisman) is not the worst example, but I certainly wouldn't employ him to cover American economics and politics. But structural patterns and pressures are more important here than individuals, and I want to focus on them.

Let's roll the tape:

Economy Provides No Boost For Bush: The nation's economy is growing smartly, wages have begun to rise, and employers have added more than 1.4 million jobs to their payrolls in the past nine months. Yet voters continue to give President Bush poor ratings on his handling of the economy....

[...]

Bush is not the first president to suffer from a disconnect between objective economic indicators and voter perceptions on the economy. The economy began growing steadily in March 1991, when President George H.W. Bush registered a 49 percent approval rating on his handling of the economy. But by July of 1992, those approval ratings had slid to an abysmal 25 percent, presaging his electoral defeat three months later...

Ask any economist not bought and paid for by the Bush campaign why there is currently a "disconnect" between "objective economic indicators" and "voter perceptions", and the first answer you will get back is that the question is simply badly posed.

Recent economic news has been good. But the current economic situation is not good--the current situation is mixed. The productivity picture is amazingly good. The level and rate of growth of production are both more than satisfactory. But on the labor side, employment is still well below what it was three and a half years ago (and with our growing population we would have needed employment to grow by 4 or 5 million to keep the employment-to-population ratio steady), and wage and salary incomes have been essentially flat since the last business cycle peak.

While the productivity situation is excellent, and the production situation is good, the labor-side situation--and that's what the overwhelming bulk of voters see: they aren't coupon clippers--is quite bad.

There is a similar flaw in the reporter's historical example: production began growing after March 1991, yes, but the unemployment rate peaked more than a full percentage point higher in the summer of 1992. Is it any wonder that George H.W. Bush's approval ratings fell?

Thus here we have an example of a Washington Post reporter writing on page A1 about American economics and politics who:

  1. Doesn't understand the current economic situation.
  2. Doesn't understand the economy history of the Bush I administration.
  3. Poses a false problem--i.e., why the "disconnect" between the good economy and the grouchy voters.
  4. Fails to listen or understand when the potential sources he talks to tell him that he has posed a false problem.

It gets worse. Later on in the story our reporter then finds a "public opinion expert" at--surprise--the American Enterprise Institute, who says that "Americans are a show-me people,. They need to be shown that things have actually been changed, and I think in an economic recovery, this means seeing the guy down the street getting his job back rather than good jobs numbers." The reporter doesn't think to wonder: if there are good jobs numbers, doesn't that mean that the guy down the street is getting his job back? What could good jobs numbers possibly be other than the guy down the street getting his job back?

With a straight face, our reporter then writes that:

For Republicans, frustration is beginning to show. Last week, when the Labor Department announced that an additional 248,000 jobs had been created in May, House Ways and Means Committee Republicans e-mailed reporters, blaring, "It's a Booming Economy, Stupid."

The reporter doesn't seem to wonder about the bona fides of the Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee. Is an economy in which unemployment is above its natural rate and in which there are few if any inflationary pressures an economy in a boom? Nobody but a bunch of congresscreatures seeking to fuzz the issues and muddy the waters would ever say so.

The nadir, however, is reached with the reporter's statement that voters "may have considerably sharper antennae than economists. In the fall of 2000, when most economic indicators continued to surge, anxiety among voters began to take a toll on Democrat Al Gore's White House bid.... That anxiety proved to be prescient: By the spring of 2001, the economy had slipped into recession." I can assure him that voter anxiety in the fall of 2000 was much less than economist--and Federal Reserve--anxiety: economists and monetary policies feared and feared greatly what the effect of the falling NASDAQ would be on aggregate demand.

Overall, Weisman's article is like... it's like... it's like somebody totally drunk staggering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night, mistaking lampposts for trees, bushes for people, and busses for elephants. Someone who knows next to nothing about the issue area--and who seems incapable of learning--is turned loose on page A1 to try to interpret the state of the economy and how that is affecting current American politics.

"How in God's name," I ask myself, over and over again, "did we ever get such lousy reporters* like this ensconced in the center of our elite press corps?"

I have no answers. I do, however, have a theory.

Suppose you want to become a member of America's elite press corps. You may--may--succeed if you have at least two of the following three talents:

  1. You need to be able to write incredibly large amounts of coherent prose incredibly quickly under tight deadlines.

  2. You need to be incredibly persuasive at convincing your current source that--even though it is incredibly unlikely--you are his or her friend, and will not print anything they will find embarrassing.

  3. You need to be incredibly good at persuading yourself that the camera is another human you are interacting with, rather than a large and bizarre electro-mechanical device, so that you don't look shifty-eyed and nervous whenever you are on TV.

If you have at least two of these three talents--and you need to have them to a truly extraordinary degree--you may be able to find and hold your place in America's elite press corps. And if you don't have these talents to a truly extraordinary degree, you certainly will not be able to do so.

But what happens next once you have gained entry? You find yourself, day after day, depending on what set of issues you cover, running up against people who know much much more than you do about diplomacy, war, health, science, technology, economics, commerce, finance, bureaucracy and organization, social welfare, and a host of other topics. Moreover, many of the people who know more than you do are trying to snow you: either that is what their corporate or ideological masters pay them for, or they are themselves driven toward some political goal and regard fooling you as not a cost worth considering. You thus find yourself (a) knowing a lot less about the substance of the issues than most people you talk to, and also (b) knowing that many of the people you talk to are not telling you the straight story. So what do you do?

You could effectively go back to school for a couple of years: use the fact that your press badge gives you access to induce people to teach you about diplomacy,w ar, science, health, technology, economics, commerce, et cetera, or whatever subject area is your beat. The problem here is that, because you are a reporter, about half of your potential teachers will be lying to you--trying to influence your coverage by feeding you various brands of b***s***t. Moreover, you're a grownup: it's not terribly pleasant to be lectured at when you're a grownup. In addition, it's immensely time-consuming to build up your substantive expertise--and you already have a fulltime job writing ridiculous amounts of prose under deadlines, hypnotizing sources into believing that you are their friend, and staring into cameras.

So one road reporters take--reporters who could, if we had a better system of molding them, turn out to be quite excellent--is one of Agnosticism: "I am a camera, and I simply report what people tell me, and I give greater authority to people who quickly return my phone calls and give me interesting quotes. I don't care about what's 'really going on' because that's a matter of opinion, and who knows anyway."

For example, consider the New York Times's Elizabeth Bumiller, who told me with a straight face that whether Richard Clarke was "out of the loop" in 2001 on counterterrorism matters was "a matter of opinion," and that she was a news reporter. It was a fact, Ms. Bumiller said, that Cheney had said that Clarke was out of the loop. For her to have used her story to say that Cheney's claim was false, she said, would have been to illegitimately inject opinion into a news story.

When I tell this story to anybody who knows anything about the bureaucracy and organization of the Bush White House, they laugh: the National Security Council that Clarke was part of is the organization that cuts others out of the loop.** Deliberate ignorance of the substantive matters one is covering thus becomes a reporterial strategy: a way of (a) making your job easier, and (b) not getting any of your sources really mad at you.

And by the end of the process of reporter-molding our reporter finds it bizarre and inexplicable that anybody actually cares about the substance of the issues. As one sentence from what Weisman wrote to me put it: "for someone who got the longest quote in my [Glenn] Hubbard profile, you mercilessly slammed me really good..." For Weisman, my annoyance at the fact that Weisman's Glenn Hubbard profile was substantively wrong is inexplicable and bizarre. I should, Weisman thinks, be friendly and grateful to him, for I "got the longest quote" in his article. And what sources really want is to be quoted at length in the Washington Post, right?

The idea that I would want the story to inform Americans about economic policy is simply not on his screen at all.

Now these structural pressures don't ruin the work of the entire elite press corps, but they do significantly degrade the quality of American journalism. Some institutions, however, appear largely immune from them: the Wall Street Journal (news pages only), the Economist, and the Financial Times are very impressive substance-oriented journalistic institutions. And I am now trying to think about why these three are so different, and so successful...


*Let me hasten to add that there are a very large number of very good reporters out there. It is the fact that distressingly often it is the bad ones whose writing appears on page A1 of newspapers like the Washington Post that distresses me.

**You can't cut the NSC out of the loop and run a separate foreign policy via the State Department: State cannot draw on Pentagon and CIA resources. You can't cut the NSC out of the loop and run a separate foreign policy via the CIA--at least, not if you want to talk to foreign governments. You can run a separate foreign policy out of the Pentagon if you use your four-star generals as proconsuls: have the head of Central Command also be your link to Middle Eastern governments, but there are no signs that that was the case in the Bush administration. It's worth noting that the two great loop-cuttings in foreign policy over the past forty years were both done by the NSC--Kissinger's China policy, and the Poindexter-North Iran-Contra disaster.

Posted by DeLong at June 27, 2004 10:25 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

One talking head pundit this morning noted that the American people are not convinced by what they are being told by the experts. This statement requires modification. They are not convinced by the talking heads and those who are bought and paid for by the White House. Either the average Joe is listening to the real experts (perhaps they read your blog) or the average Joe is smarter than many in the press.

Posted by: Harold McClure on June 27, 2004 10:43 AM

____

I don't think that you need long explanations. They're that way because that's where the money is.

Posted by: Tim H. on June 27, 2004 11:41 AM

____

Hm.Aren't the Economist and the Financial Times British?

Posted by: Jussi Hämäläinen on June 27, 2004 11:49 AM

____

Brad,

You would be better aksed, Why do you do "such a lousy and incompetent job so much of the time."

Its because you continue to try to have your cake and eat it too. You try to be "academic" and partisan at the same time.

What the democratic party needs (unfortunately, the idea comes from David Brooks, of all people) is entrepreneural ideas, put forward by people who understand and communicate viz KISS Keep it simple, stupid.

Any economist not putting a spin on the facts should answer that the economy is bad and will remain so until Bush is defeated because: (1) "employment is still well below what it was three and a half years ago (and with our growing population we would have needed employment to grow by 4 or 5 million to keep the employment-to-population ratio steady), and (2) wage and salary incomes have been essentially flat since the last business cycle peak

Brad, unless you get your head out, you are going to help us loose this election

Moe

Posted by: Moe Levine on June 27, 2004 11:55 AM

____

Hey, Brad is channeling Somerby!

Good read.

Posted by: Alan on June 27, 2004 12:04 PM

____

Maybe the Economist, the Financial Times and the WSJ news dept just have a better hiring policy: look for people trained as economists who can write clearly and have some interest in journalism rather than hiring people from schools of journalism who know no economics. Perhaps education is the answer: why don't journalism schools require a couple of courses in economics ? We're not talking Ph. D. level courses here, just the introductory college course in micro and macro which don't even require calculus thanks to the sorry state of high school education. Let's get even more radical and try to fix that: let's move those no-calculus micro/macro courses to where they belong: high school. Wouldn't our democracy work better if most citizens had the education they need to make informed, intelligent decisions about economic questions ? There are good texts: Mankiw, Delong (macro only) or the upcoming Krugman/Wells books for a start. A demanding high school education in the US is limited to private schools and wealthy school districts. This is not fair to our talented kids who are not in that socioeconomic class and thus in the long run it is not fair to all of us. In any case I applaud DeLong's efforts to demand more from our press than he said/she said; there are no facts, only opinions reporting.

Posted by: George Colpitts on June 27, 2004 12:06 PM

____

I don't understand the "NSC-Kissinger-China" thing. Can someone explain? Thanks,

Posted by: lefty gomez on June 27, 2004 12:10 PM

____

lefty, the Nixon opening to China was conducted entirely by secret Kissinger NSC diplomacy, bypassing the state department altogether.

moe levine, i can't for the life of me figure out what you are trying to say here.

Posted by: howard on June 27, 2004 12:20 PM

____

There's a deep economic problem in the structure of news reporting: the combination of superficiality and redundancy.

How many White House reporters are there? If the same number worked for 12 organizations instead of 180+, they could be organized into effective teams with time, depth of expertise, etc.

Given the size of media conglomerates, one would think a Viacom or Time-Warner could organize itself more effectively. Does the N.Y. Times and the Boston Globe (owned by the same publisher) really need separate White House reporters?

But, maybe the corporate masters prefer mediocrity.

Posted by: Brian Wilder on June 27, 2004 12:26 PM

____

Isn't this the same Economist that told us that Bill Clinton was unfit to be President and Reagan won the cold war?

Actually, to understand economics well enough to be an economics reporter, you really should know something about GE...and most undergraduate majors do not. You might not need a PhD, but you do need a little grad school-level knowledge.

Journalism is bad, in general, because journalists tend to be generalists (perhaps the influence of journalism schools) and the public tolerates it. Ironically, the public would not tolerate someone showng the same mental laziness about baseball becoming a sportswriter. Maybe a sports columnist.

Posted by: Mr. Vibe on June 27, 2004 12:28 PM

____

It is interesting that first reactions are that this is too complex. Some people prefer either a simple deterministic argument, or insist on the party line. Yet how can one read the different treatments of Reagan and Clinton without realizing that there is indeed a structural problem here, and Brad has synthesized a number of the factors that effect individual reporters in a very convincing way. At the same time, I'd like to see Tim H.'s comment integrated into the model, simply because I really do think that Scaife, Moon, Murdoch, & ilk wield influence in concrete ways not generic in terms of politics. In other words, the same concern for cultivating sources was surely in play during the Whitewater period, and yet the result was not the same.

Posted by: MarkC on June 27, 2004 12:31 PM

____

I guess today is the day for media rants.

Part of the problem is that J-schools teach that anything can be reported once you have your degree and that every topic answers to the same set of questions. It's flawed pedagogy.

Posted by: Melanie on June 27, 2004 12:32 PM

____

terrific post.

My thoughts: the american press serves two masters. The first is corporate ownership. The corporate world knows how to relate to the public primarily through advertising. (btw, I'm a veteran of this world, and not an outside observer.) Serious policy discussions are anathema to an advertising culture. The transformation of americans from citizens to consumers is a by product of corporate / advertising culture, and it has impacted what is considered news, how it is communicated, and how reporters are evaluated. In every one of these areas, seriousness is de-valued, even threatening to the status quo. It is remarkable reporters do as well as they do, considering the context in which they operate.

Until the rise of far right infotainment (limbaugh, fox, etc), this corporate mindset for the most part supported a fairly bland & moderate consensus that did not result in fawning media coverage for extreme rightwing policies. But far right infotainment has become the second master of the american press. Through orchestrated harangue that
sets the agenda for what is considered 'news' the mainstream media has been pushed to the right. (I think the leftie blogs are beginning to check this push, good work Brad and others.)

Why have the media you note done better? Well look who they are: business press. They are selling news to people who are at the top of the corporate hierarchy, not simply consumers but decision makers. This group values high quality analysis over infotainment, and they have the clout to have this value recognized by a set of business media.

Posted by: camille roy on June 27, 2004 12:33 PM

____

How about a 1-2 d workshop on basic economics for reporters and others? Newspapers will spring for training if they think it will give them a leg up. Journalists could get the basics along with an introduction to academic economists that can give them the straight dope. Supported by updated web sources, such a workshop could lead to a great improvement in economic reporting in the US media. Also a great excuse for a party paid for by corporate interests.

Stan Collender runs a workshop on the Federal Budget every year and some journalists attend.

Posted by: bakho on June 27, 2004 12:46 PM

____

Brad,

Don't spend any more time wondering why our mainstream press is so godawful. Just go to this Columbia Journalism Review page that reveals who owns the media. No further explanation required....

http://www.cjr.org/tools/owners/

Posted by: peter jung on June 27, 2004 12:48 PM

____

I applaud George Colpitts' comments above. We need all of that and we need it in spades.

What we may also need is for gradschool economists to be trained in "contemporary rhetoric," explaining themselves to the public. Brad DeLong does this in a blog. Others might be trained, even by UCB, to speak to cameras as though they are people. It might even be put back into the core curriculum.

Posted by: McAvoy on June 27, 2004 12:52 PM

____

George, while your call for more macro and micro is admirable, I think little effect would be had. Almost all high school students would not only not give a shit, but those that did would quickly forget their one time macro course just like they forget all of their one time history, polisci, and math courses.

Remember, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink".

Posted by: Andrew Cholakian on June 27, 2004 12:54 PM

____

Pretty good observations, professor, Being as I read the WSJ, Wash Post, and NYT daily, I have say the the WSJ wins hands down when it comes to reporting economic news. The WSJ also seems to "break" a lot of stories that others, particularly the electronic media, then glomb onto.

So, it has to be something in the way that the WSJ hires/trains/manages journalists. Either that or something in the water at the WSJ!

Posted by: Lawrence on June 27, 2004 12:54 PM

____

I think that the interesting point of all this, is how well..petty and small the press elite are for the most part.

Brad mentions the idea that these reporters know less than the subjects that their interviewing, yet somehow they would need to be educated on the subject formally in order for them to get it.

I'm not sure if I agree or disagree (it depends how I parse it). I think it is very possible for commentators to have good working knowledge of these subjects. In fact, you see a fairly good knowledge of these subjects perculating throughout the blogosphere.

Why? I think it's simple. It's a case of ego. These people really do think they are gods. They believe they have the power to be the king-makers. Furthermore, they believe that all these important people should dance to THEIR beat.

Because of this, they're not willing to admit they don't know something, and to do the research to do something about it.

The second part of it, is that things really are that misrable for the Republicans, and they need to maintain the illusion of "balance", in order to keep this as a horse race, instead of the overwhelming blowout that it should be. The truth is, no voter that's not trying to justify their emotional/traditional choice cares one iota about productivity numbers. All they care about, is that the people around them have lost their jobs, and the ones getting them back, are being paid less than they were before.

That is the beginning and the end of what should be all economic reporting as it links to the 2004 election. Anything else is relativly meaningless to the electorate at large. People like us can appriciate what the WSJ (news), and the Economist do. To most people, it's mumbo-jumbo.

Posted by: Karmakin on June 27, 2004 01:09 PM

____

Recently, reporters have begun to admit that
without friendly articles toward aWol, they
get no access. There is no better example
than the WaPo - they bend backwards to appear
fair to both sides, justification for such
notwithstanding.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on June 27, 2004 01:26 PM

____

"Some institutions, however, appear largely immune from them: the Wall Street Journal (news pages only), the Economist, and the Financial Times are very impressive substance-oriented journalistic institutions. And I am now trying to think about why these three are so different, and so successful..."

Those are the three whose primary audience is investors. Investors, of course, don't care about the politics or the back-and-forth but solely in what's actually happening, so they can make money.

Posted by: Harry on June 27, 2004 01:50 PM

____

Localisation is an issue. While the British press can be a bit scattergun at times (and overly quick to break stories) it's fiercely competitive because all the big papers are based in London, but are sold nationally. Truly nationally. At every newsagent. It's a similar deal in France where you have Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération et al. based in Paris and sold nationally. And there's a tremendous amount of competition in terms of hiring the 'best'. (The BBC's out of this loop; it breeds its own. Indeed, the Gilligan case shows the problems that arise when someone bred by the Fleet Street system gets recruited by the Beeb, with its very different atmosphere and attitudes.)

So I think there's a degree of complacency bred from geographical and economic factors.

Note that the websites of the Economist, the FT and the WSJ all charge for access. And people pay. Says it all, really.

Posted by: nick on June 27, 2004 02:12 PM

____

Here's one attempt to answer your complaint, Professor: http://www.chrisnolan.com/archives/000442.html

Posted by: Chris Nolan on June 27, 2004 02:23 PM

____

Another Data-point: In Australia, the "Financial Review" is consistently the best source for 'hard news'.

Posted by: Paul G. Brown on June 27, 2004 02:29 PM

____

Harry has it. The business press, as even ultra-partisan Chomsky has said, is often the most accurate source of imformation, since its audience needs the facts to make money. Full disclosure: I am partial to this argument because I consume the business press because I believe I need the facts to make money. I may be trying to fool myself.

Moe, fwiw, I think you're wrong. You can be partisan and academic at the same time, and Chomsky is a fine example, De Long is another. Love or hate either, but they usually are very strong on the facts.

Posted by: wcw on June 27, 2004 02:49 PM

____

"Generalists" -- actually, journalists are NOT generalists. They're specialists in something called "journalism". Likewise, "educators" aren't really generalists either; they're education specialists. I definitely agree that both fields should hire people with content degrees (math, econ, international relations, literature, etc.) and then let them learn their actual jobs.

Having fewer media organizations would not be uinlikely to improve things much. I really doubt that there are 180 Washington bureaus, unless you count foreign countries. Most media depends on AP and other syndicators. So far, consolidation has tended mostly to reduce the range of opinion.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 27, 2004 02:55 PM

____

"Not be LIKELY to improve things much".

The paranoid interpretation is best. All media re controlled by finance. They actually READ the WSJ, FT, and Economist. The others function more to present the ideas that finance wants other people to believe (and to sell advertising). Journalists quickly learn what they can and can't do. There's a considerable list of NYT / WaPo journalists whose careers ended because they reported the wrong story too well.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 27, 2004 03:07 PM

____

The press is not a structurally corrupt as Brad suggests, but is even more personally corrupt.
Brad overstates the bullshit factor. Yeah, the ordinary sources specialize in bullshit, but why specialize in the ordinary sources? It is not hard for the press to find people who are knowledgable and more-or-less straight. As Michael Massing pointed out, Knight-Ridder had no problem getting the staight dope on Iraq. Their reporters talked to the Morlocks in the bureaucracy, not the liars on high. There are lots of smart mid-ranking people in any bureaucracy, and some of them are willing to talk to reporters. They are craft-driven, and generally straight.
And if the bureaucrats are mum, there are always the ex-bureaucrats, frequenting law firms, universities, think tanks and the like. They know something and often remain craft-driven, especially if they are not Big Names.
But the pressies, by and large, are too lazy to seek these people out. They are sometimes anonymous (not that that ever stops a pressie these days!), but more importantly, are too nerdy, can't invite a pressie to any good parties, and can convey no favors outside their expertise. Why bother with the little people, when you can get a line attributable to a Senior Administration Official, showing your fellow pressies the quality of your access?

Posted by: Joe S. on June 27, 2004 03:18 PM

____

This would be the Jonathan Weisman of "Fuck Brad Delong" fame, wouldn't it?

Posted by: rps on June 27, 2004 03:33 PM

____

"Some institutions, however, appear largely immune from them: the Wall Street Journal (news pages only), the Economist, and the Financial Times are very impressive substance-oriented journalistic institutions. And I am now trying to think about why these three are so different, and so successful..."

The two quick and easy theories (which others are hitting on):

1) These publications actually compete with each other for the eyes of business people and decision-makers. (The Economist is a little different but offers both depth and summary at a later date.) The audience is national or global and the topics covered are of a national or global scale. The market is large enough that there is little tendency towards monopoly. They compete on the basis of things we (here at this blog) value.

Other local or regional markets (where most people get their news) do tend towards monopoly and offer little competition based on quality or accuracy. The NY Times is somewhere in between regional and national readers and USA Today is a joke, rarely competing for the same readers.


2) The readers of those business papers actually value quality and accuracy much more highly (and are willing to pay for it). The situation isn't unique to investors though - every field has publications of greater depth and quality that users pay more for. But there are far more "business" users and their publications have become much more visible.

The rest of the populace seems to value info-tainment, or is easily manipulated. TV is the example here. Segments like "The Fleecing of America" keep viewers enthralled yet angry - the main outcome is that they keep coming back every night to consume more. And to have more products marketed to them.

Newspapers (the main target of Brad's anger) are caught in the middle, and heavily corporatized. The pressures they feel drive them more towards TV than towards serious news.

Posted by: Bruce Arena on June 27, 2004 04:02 PM

____

because it's easier to get hired if you say what the invested folks aready in place want to hear, and people keep reading you (and linking to you) either way?

Posted by: julia on June 27, 2004 04:13 PM

____

I don't know why the Economist gets a cheer on this. In article after article they make brash, unsubstantiated statements and expect you to agree. It's their chosen style, but half the time, if you stop to think for a second -- especially on shorter peices -- you see gaping factual holes and logic chasms. I suppose if one agrees with them often, one finds them "good media". But the truths they so often claim aren't halfway absolute.

Posted by: paulo on June 27, 2004 04:16 PM

____

zizka: "'Generalists' -- actually, journalists are NOT generalists. They're specialists in something called 'journalism'. Likewise, 'educators' aren't really generalists either; they're education specialists. I definitely agree that both fields should hire people with content degrees (math, econ, international relations, literature, etc.) and then let them learn their actual jobs."

Somewhere here (damned Internet) I have a reference that at least strongly suggests that secondary-education students do better on average when they are taught math by someone who has studied/used math and then became a teacher than they do when taught by someone that has studied education but has never studied math at the university level or worked a job that emphasized quantitative methods.

My own theory is that the elite press has a quality problem because they are selected from a group of workers (entry-level journalists) that has a quality problem because of the conditions of the job (my perception of the conditions) -- long hours, low pay, a great deal of drudgery, and in many cases you can get by with sloppy work (eg, you didn't get the quote quite right and no one punished you for doing so).

Posted by: Michael Cain on June 27, 2004 04:26 PM

____

Paolo -- agreed, sorta, but I like the Economist anyway. Largely, I think, because as a matter of style, they make it very easy to distinguish between "this is us reporting the facts" and "this is us reciting the party line", even on a sentence-by-sentence basis.

(Plus, being British, they're allowed to be sarcastic, and I can't ever get enough of that.)

Posted by: Doctor Memory on June 27, 2004 04:39 PM

____

Good comments all around, esp. regarding the business press vs. entertainment and advertiser-driven media.

Harvard's Robert McChesney covers a lot of these bases in "Rich Media, Poor Democracy." Recommended.

For me, outrage fatigue set in long ago on this subject. But briefly, the most egregious, and costly, instance of our media's failure was a FULL YEAR of NYT headlines, such as "Iraq not Disarming" or "Saddam Defies UN"...once you read further into the story, the structure emerges: administration sources claim this, or claim that. And sure, the assertions were, in a sense, the "news", but the NYT almost never (and I read everyday then) examined the substance of the claims. Regular people like me could easily find out (using official sources right in front of us) that Bush's assertions were specious. Deliberately misleading. I'm not exagerrating, or using hindsight to say that it was, indeed, easy to see this.

My guesses for the reasons behind the NYT's lack of critical analysis are 1) they feared that would be injecting a bit of editorializing without a prominant politician to peg the story to (Democrats? Hello?) 2) it would require a bit of research (like reading Blix's reports!) and somewhat subtle explanation 3) opposing a popular zeitgheist is not a great way to sell ad space, and 4) it might (or might not) have something to do with conspiracy theories about editorial control (IMO, it's probably too simplistic to blame Judy Miller for the NYT's gullibility).

Posted by: elliander on June 27, 2004 04:51 PM

____

Three points:

- Winner takes all labor market with low barriers to entry
- Top end compensation comes in form of fame over money
- Hiring/promotion in the form of self-replication

Neither of the three makes the profession interesting for someone with the requisite analytical skills and bullshit detector.

Btw the first two are also endemic in entertainment and the last two in academia (which also has a wta labor market but high barriers to entry).

Posted by: ogmb on June 27, 2004 06:01 PM

____

I got my BS in Journalism (University of Kansas) long, long ago, but never used it. Which doesn't make me qualified.

The wrong people are journalists, at the wrong age, for the wrong reasons. Journalists start as green, new kids who don't know anything about anything. For a lot of them, experience does not help much. After 20 or 30 years in journalism, many are just hucksters.

The system's inside out. The journalists you want are successful people who have retired & are looking for something useful to do. Eg, old farts. Doesn't make much difference what they've retired from (journalists excepted: you don't want retreads). They've got a lifetime of experiences & typically a first rate B*S detector. Give them a story, chances are they'll know what to do with it.

We all know that 20 or 30 years of life experience brings a richness that cannot be taught in schools. It just happens that journalism requires - or should require - that kind of experience. The young are good for lots of things - scientists, pre-trial lawyers, restaurant chefs, economists, anything, in fact, that needs specialization. Talented exceptions aside, only age can produce a generalist.

Blogs can help. Few of the best blogs are by journalists, did you ever wonder why? For the most part, the best blogs are by experienced people who care. Experience & passion are essential. Journalistic training is nice, but is not necessary & may be detrimental.

Posted by: Dave of Maryland on June 27, 2004 06:05 PM

____

I got my BS in Journalism (University of Kansas) long, long ago, but never used it. Which doesn't make me qualified.

The wrong people are journalists, at the wrong age, for the wrong reasons. Journalists start as green, new kids who don't know anything about anything. For a lot of them, experience does not help much. After 20 or 30 years in journalism, many are just hucksters.

The system's inside out. The journalists you want are successful people who have retired & are looking for something useful to do. Eg, old farts. Doesn't make much difference what they've retired from (journalists excepted: you don't want retreads). They've got a lifetime of experiences & typically a first rate B*S detector. Give them a story, chances are they'll know what to do with it.

We all know that 20 or 30 years of life experience brings a richness that cannot be taught in schools. It just happens that journalism requires - or should require - that kind of experience. The young are good for lots of things - scientists, pre-trial lawyers, restaurant chefs, economists, anything, in fact, that needs specialization. Talented exceptions aside, only age can produce a generalist.

Blogs can help. Few of the best blogs are by journalists, did you ever wonder why? For the most part, the best blogs are by experienced people who care. Experience & passion are essential. Journalistic training is nice, but is not necessary & may be detrimental.

Posted by: Dave of Maryland on June 27, 2004 06:12 PM

____

Three points:

- Winner takes all labor market with low barriers to entry
- Top end compensation comes in form of fame over money
- Hiring/promotion in the form of self-replication

Neither of the three makes the profession interesting for someone with the requisite analytical skills and bullshit detector.

Btw the first two are also endemic in entertainment and the last two in academia (which also has a wta labor market but high barriers to entry).

Posted by: ogmb on June 27, 2004 06:14 PM

____

Brad,
I'm a reporter for the un-elite media (Bankrate.com) and I sometimes write about economic issues (mostly I write about mortgages and real estate, and sometimes about the Fed), so let me take a crack at this. I'll speak of my personal experience.

I had very little economics education in college (the University of North Texas). When I took my sophomore reporting course in 1982, I was assigned to cover the economics department for the school paper. The department chairman was Dick Armey, and he tried mightily to dazzle me with bullshit. He was a True Believer in the Laffer curve.

My journalism school concentrated heavily on teaching us how to cover local government, courts and cops. This probably is typical. When I graduated, I was equipped to cover any cop shop, any zoning board or town or city council in the country. I think that's a good thing.

I have had friends and acquaintances who have covered the State Department and White House and presidential campaigns. For the most part, I don't think these people are as conscientious about accuracy as I am, and they are obsessed about where they stand in the hierarchy at work and in the hierarchy of their competition. A friend of mine who reported on the 2000 presidential campaign for the Dallas Morning News told me with genuine excitement that George W. Bush knew him well enough to greet him by name. It was a really big deal to him, and frankly, I think it influenced his reporting when he was writing about the Florida recount.

White House reporters, in my opinion, get that beat because they are ass kissers. They are the winners in office politics, and they really feel like they stand at the top of the newsroom hierarchy. In case you're wondering if I say that out of sour grapes, covering the White House is something I never aspired to.

Anyway, I've never studied economics and I've never taken a class in mortgage banking or real estate, but I write about those issues. My company wouldn't pay to send me off to school and I've never asked. Most reporters are in the same situation.

My impression of the Times and Post is that they are managed very much in a top-down way, and that management decides who covers what. So if you're the most qualified to cover, say, the Fed, but you're not in favor with management, you won't cover the Fed. Maybe you'll cover the Transportation Department or something.

On the other hand, I'm under the impression (with little evidence, but still...) that the Journal hires and assigns people to cover what they're qualified to cover. That's why you have Greg Ip covering the Fed for the Journal and not for the Times.

(To clarify: I think Greg Ip is a reporting god.)

To Bruce Arena: USA Today isn't a joke.

Posted by: Holden Lewis on June 27, 2004 06:17 PM

____

Brad --

As a former member of the national media (AP, CNN), I think there is a structural bias in the media that actually prevents the most informed people from rising to top: their hiring and promotion practices.

What media organizations look for is not specialist knowledge, but the generalist ability to tackle any subject, no matter how difficult, and the ability to write about any matter in an intelligent, interesting way -- rapidly. In other words, they emphasize the craft of writing newscopy and not the content of what they're writing.

During my three years working in Tokyo, for instance, I saw countless reporters sent in from the home office who were ignorant of Japan and incompetent in Japanese. They got those plum foreign assignments because they knew how to please the domestic editing desk, not because they could provide more intelligent copy of foreign affairs.

Similarly, in presenting business news, I met countless reporters who did not understand interest rates, could not interpret corporate financial statements, or even know the difference between venture capital and equity underwriting. Such knowledge does not seem to be a criterion when journalist are hired.

Until media organizations start to focus on hiring specialists who can present difficult content in an accessible way, this problem will not be resolved.

Posted by: David Jacobson on June 27, 2004 08:04 PM

____

Moe, I've read it three -- THREE!!! -- times and still I don't know what you're trying to say.

Posted by: curly on June 27, 2004 09:13 PM

____

Moe, I've read it three -- THREE!!! -- times and still I don't know what you're trying to say.

Posted by: curly on June 27, 2004 09:19 PM

____

Brad,

Perhaps it might be helpful if major media outlets leavened their journalism school graduates with applicants who earned a degree in something real - medicine, law,
history, physics, economics, genetic engineering, philosophy etc. - who happen to write well.

In addition to providing the newsroom with an array of real expertise on a variety of subjects you'd have a set of people who have had to dig deep and think hard which is complementary to the usual tempo of journalism where things are assessed swiftly and broadly.

Posted by: mark safranski on June 27, 2004 09:40 PM

____

I agree with Brad and others in suggesting that perhaps journalists should get their primary degree in teh subject they are interested in covering, and take some additional courses in journalism. A friend and I who were comp sci majors occasionally would just spout pure crap about computers to trick our non-computer literate friends for fun. Its really not that hard, when you know a very specialized lexicon. Similiar with teachers, you need to know the subject, before you can know how to communicate it to others.

Let's face it though, there is no market pressure on papers to reform. The types of stories you are talking about have no personal value to most people. Not even people on this board. That type of information doesn't really benefit us or alter our decisions really in a direct manner. I think its fair to say that politics for the most part, has a very small effect on most people, then reporting on politics/economy has an even SMALLER effect on people.

The benefit I get from reading the NYT isn't that I can use the information to make descions -- BUT -- that I can discuss the stories with other people, who believe that kind of stuff is important. The social value of the paper is more important than the actual product the paper is delivering.

Posted by: Jor on June 27, 2004 10:00 PM

____

I agree with Brad and others in suggesting that perhaps journalists should get their primary degree in teh subject they are interested in covering, and take some additional courses in journalism. A friend and I who were comp sci majors occasionally would just spout pure crap about computers to trick our non-computer literate friends for fun. Its really not that hard, when you know a very specialized lexicon. Similiar with teachers, you need to know the subject, before you can know how to communicate it to others.

Let's face it though, there is no market pressure on papers to reform. The types of stories you are talking about have no personal value to most people. Not even people on this board. That type of information doesn't really benefit us or alter our decisions really in a direct manner. I think its fair to say that politics for the most part, has a very small effect on most people, then reporting on politics/economy has an even SMALLER effect on people.

The benefit I get from reading the NYT isn't that I can use the information to make descions -- BUT -- that I can discuss the stories with other people, who believe that kind of stuff is important. The social value of the paper is more important than the actual product the paper is delivering.

Posted by: Jor on June 27, 2004 10:05 PM

____

So I read what Matt Yglesias said in the track back peice, and on second read, basically what he said, which seems to be what Chomsky said a while ago. Which again seems to make perfect sense to me.

Posted by: Jor on June 27, 2004 10:18 PM

____

I finally understood what's wrong with the mainstream elite media the day I heard that Bush got his loudest applause at a speech at a media gathering when he promised to end the estate tax. These people are rich (and many of them are also celebrities), and identify with the corporate power structure, which serves their interests. They have nothing in common with people struggling to support families on $30,000 a year with no benefits--those people might as well be on another planet. Read Michael Hind on the "overclass," and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD on June 27, 2004 11:42 PM

____

I think some other readers got it pretty much right. Let me add a couple of refinements. The Economist and the FT are British, and a British elite education requires one to be fluent in the concepts of political economy. Students from our elite schools, many of whom make it to the top tiers of journalism, can get by with little training in those areas at all. Unfortunately, many reporters assigned to these areas
don't even know what it is they don't know. Neither do their editors, apparently.
As for the WSJ, it's whole existence is slanted towards covering the economy. If it appeared to not know what it was talking about, it would fail. In fact, the same is true for The Economist and the FT. Any publication titled The Economist, had better be good on the economy. And the FT is the British version of the WSJ. It is primarily devloted to covering business and the economy. These publications require a fairly high level of basic knowlege in a reporter who
begins working there, and they require reporters to really understand the topics, no matter how complex or nuanced. Reporters at US publications
that don't specialize in business and the economy tend to be generalists shoe-horned into the beat. There are plenty of good business writers at many newspapers, of course. But they are specialists. Don't ask a political reporter in the U.S. to cover the economy. Most don't understand much about it. And they might think it's all just a horse race anyway, as you point out.


Best,

Steve

Posted by: Steve on June 28, 2004 06:24 AM

____

Can anyone explain why supply side economics has any credibility at all in the national media? It has never worked as advertized. Economists know this. Why does it linger?

Posted by: bakho on June 28, 2004 06:31 AM

____

Some random points:

(1) I think the people who can write quickly and well are rare; I think people who can make a good economic argument are rare; it is therefore not surprising that it is difficult to find people who can do both.

(2) I read the Washington Post just about every day, and I think it has some great reporters (Dana Milbank and Rick Atkinson come to mind), so I am grateful for the good stuff I do get.

(3) Brad Delong's deconstruction could explain why some of the best reporting happens on the sports page. Sportswriters need the skills of journalists, and because they stay on one beat for a long time, become specialists. I wish some of them understood statistics better though.

Posted by: Richard Green on June 28, 2004 06:45 AM

____

I think we are hearing from the journalism profession when we hear from John E (John?). If so, then this is a view we certainly need to listen to, while keeping in mind that none of us is perfectly objective. His argument seems to have merit – turn an economist loose on the front page of the local paper’s business section and there is a good chance he won’t be able to keep readers attention. There are a number of economists who do write for popular consumption, but many of them are not reporters, per se. The write editorials and such. Journalists learn how to put things to us in ways that we might want to read. Economists learn to understand events in economic terms. Odds are probably equally good (bad?) that a specialist in one field can master the other as well. So, can’t major news outlets afford one economist on staff to edit and generate reporting ideas? Or is the problem not that they can’t, but that they haven’t bothered?

Posted by: kharris on June 28, 2004 07:09 AM

____

Richard Green: sportswriters? C'mon: most the stories start with a statistic or color-note that is meaningless to the drama which occurred: "Robby 'Lefty' Jones became the fourth lefthander ever to hit a 401.65 foot homer off a teenage right-handed pitcher with a 3-2 count on a rainy day in Mega-Monopoly Park wednesday in the Savages' 5-4 defeat of the Jihadists."

or "Tiger Woods' lucky tiger-claw pendant didn't help his swing today in Augusta."

Imagine doing that in news stories. Otherwise, David Jacobson has it right, except for leaving out a certain point: that the guy who pitches the big story, the most outlandish, the most exciting, gets his story accepted by the editors, even if it is BS. If you say, "no, I'm sorry, I don't care what the FT wrote, it's not a story, there's no evidence, it's hype" you are seen as, well, too sober for the news business. Exhibit 1: Judith Miller.

Posted by: paulo on June 28, 2004 07:41 AM

____

Paulo

You have a fair point--there is plenty of BS in the sports pages. I didn't express myself well enough.

My point was that sportswriters do seem to know their subject better than writers in other parts of the paper. Among other things, a good number of them seem to know and care about the history of what they cover. For instance, I think Tom Boswell does some of the best writing there is in the Post, and Jim Murray was one of the LA Times' best columnists. When I lived in Boston, I thought the Globe's sports section was consistently the best part of the paper (although I understand its news pages have improved a lot since I lived there).

Posted by: Richard Green on June 28, 2004 07:57 AM

____

Brad -- You have your answer if you combine what you wrote with what Camille Roy, Holden Lewis, and David Jacobson wrote, along with Bob Somerby's understanding of Millionaire Pundit Values and those who aspire to them.

There is no single answer to your question, as there are numerous sets of actors with different, problematic motivations. Sadly, perhaps tragically, for this country, the sumtotal of these motivations is a continuing, inexorable pressure to degrade the national discussion vital to an informed democracy.

You've made a substantial contribution by creating an informed, continuing conversation on your blog about the painfully repeated failings of the media. (I've seen many instances of this determined indifference to facts and thoughtful analysis in my own area of work for 25 years, the environment. It tends to run in both directions -- the "everything is fine, you're in good hands with GE/GM etc." as well as the "we're all going to die tomorrow" -- and neither are ultimately helpful to understanding.)

But now that you've made the point, please consider turning the conversation to how it can be changed. Assume the election of John Kerry, with the current sets of motivations in the media all in place. What concrete steps could be taken -- by a Kerry Administration, by concerned and informed individuals like many commenters on your blog, by those who can exert some influence on government including Congress -- to make these motivations more responsive to the information needs of a vibrant democracy?

I'm not asking you alone for answers -- but please, to use your blog to engage such a conversation.

I define truth as the system of my limitations, and leave absolute truth to those who are better equipped for it. -- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Posted by: Steady Eddie on June 28, 2004 08:07 AM

____

Sportswriters "know" more about their subjects
because they are covering games with set inputs
and outputs. Very few rule changes each year.

The "real world" is somewhat more complex.

As a consumer of News (journalism) I expect
EVERY writer to come to the table with a
bias of prejudice. It would be nice it
there was a scorecard listing what those
were. ( sports metaphor? )

But even without that, simply paying attention
to the source let's you filter out the bias
and gets you to the "truth". You expect
Limbaugh/Hannity to be "conservative" You
expect Rather/Jennings to be "liberal" And
you process what they say accordingly.

What's the big deal?

Posted by: pragmatist on June 28, 2004 08:56 AM

____

Wow, really intelligent comments all 'round. Whatever happened to James Surowecki (sp?)? He used to post here, I'd be curious to hear what he has to say on this.

Posted by: dave on June 28, 2004 11:48 AM

____

I have heard or read on more than one occasion over the years that to a much greater extent than other newspapers, the management and editorial powers at the WSJ believed in and reinforced the notion that objective and accurate information should be sacrosanct in a free market. Of course, this philosophy is likely directly linked to the economic nature of the WSJ coverage, as many posters to this blog have pointed out. Still, as recent political news has once again made all too clear, it is often the easier path for market primacists to abandon consistency on fundamental free market ideas whenever such consistency leads to uncomfortable ideological conclusions. So those who promoted and maintained a straight and narrow path at the WSJ in the face of temptations to do otherwise certainly deserve some admiration and thanks.

In any event I have always considered it ironic that when I want to read a genuninely informative story on workplace safety, or the struggles of low-wage workers, or discrimination in the workplace -- the place I find such stories is the WSJ.

However, I would take issue with DeLong's "except for the editiorial sections" disclaimer. I would add "and the book reviews." Three times out of four, these are conservative editorials flying under a book review banner. Always read the affiliation of the reviewer before deciding to risk the review -- that's my personal rule with the WSJ.

Posted by: Timothy on June 28, 2004 03:47 PM

____

There are also the risks of postmodernism, litigiousness, and offending someone.

Litigiousness is an American disease. "He said", "She said" stories are very hard to sue over.

Fear of offence is a sad fact of journalism. Inoffensiveness has become a virtue for the mainstream reporter.

And relativist postmodernist takes on Truth drive me nuts. There are a lot of pseudo-intellectuals who push the line that there is no such thing as "objective truth" or "objectivity", there are just different points of view. Apparently, expecting a college professor to have read or understood Kant, or to know what a regulative ideal is, before pronouncing a philosophical view on the nature of Truth seems a bit much these days.

meno

Posted by: meno on June 28, 2004 06:08 PM

____

I'm not Brad, but a Kerry administration should put together a poison list of journalists who should only be talked to, on or off the record, by someone planning to write a resignation letter immediately thereafter.

There shouldn't be too many names on it, but at least 30. Dishonesty, stupidity, inaccuracy, and bias should all be taken into consideration in making up the list. Their careers as Washington journalists should be completely ruined for at least four years, and hopefully forever, by this denial of access.

Rove already has such a system in place, and he has used it successfully to control the media. If and when Kerry tries it, however, I expect a bunch of fucking bleeding heart liberals and counterintuitive Democrats to compare him to Hitler, Stalin, and Charley Manson, and compare the poor victim to Mother Theresa. Judith Miller is really a very fine person, you know.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on June 28, 2004 07:28 PM

____

We unemployed think the disconnect is the press's fault as well. It's pretty obvious.

Posted by: aw on June 28, 2004 09:24 PM

____

As a journalist (with degrees in mathematics) I would agree that majoring in journalism as an undergraduate is as foolish as majoring in education. Learn something else -- anything else. You can't plan for "what you'll cover" because you don't know, and it'll probably change every few years anyway.

To cover abstruse subjects you don't need to know as much as your sources know; you need to know enough more than you're going to tell the reader to be sure what you say is congruent with the subject. You have to be a quick study, not a specialist.

(I once wrote a column on the Gini coefficient, just to see whether I could.)

Finally, note that starting a sentence with "The media ..." is like starting one with "Americans ..." Newspapers and television are not alike -- they have different business models, for one thing, Major metro dailies are not like suburban weeklies which are not like magazines. And so forth.

Posted by: linsee on June 29, 2004 11:42 AM

____

The whole blame can't be reasonably placed on the reporters.

While reporters suffer from deadlinitis (= superficiality) and need-to-preserve-sources (= repeat official lies), and more serious problems like the "truth is in the middle" delusion (if a geologist claims the earth is round and a kook claims it's flat, the truth must be somewhere in the middle -- so the earth is a flattened ellipsoid) and the "moderate style = moderate substance" delusion (if the President talks calmly in measured tones about "exerting physical pressure on indefinitely detained noncombatants" and a protestor shouts "Bush is kidnapping and torturing American citizens!" the protestor must be dismissed as an "extremist" because he uses "hyperbolic language" and he "makes extreme claims"...

Alas, the pols reporters cover have nowadays become equally adept at distorting and slanting and prevaricating with statistics.

Case in point: the economy. Change a few statistical definitions, and voila! Instant economic recovery.

"Fewer people are unemployed " -- but is that because the government has stopped counting discouraged unemployed workers as unemployed? This can be checked. Sum officially unemployed + officially employed workers -- does the tally approximately equal the known adult workforce?
AS it happens, the real unemployment rate is closer to 9.5%...but no reporter reports that.

"Productivity is up" -- but how do you define productivity? If productivity is defined as corporate profits divided by total number of hours worked by the entire workforce, then the more jobs we ship overseas, the better productivity becomes, and by implication, the better off our economy should be. This leads to the absurd conclusion that if we shipped 100% of American jobs overseas the economy would be sublime...whereas in fact it would be in the ditch. Also, how many nominally "American" corporations actually have their HQs in America and pay taxes in America? If the corporation isn't located in or attached to America at all, but is instead a Cayman Island P.O. Box, why should any American celebrate if its profits rise?

"Imports are up" -- but how do you define imports? If the Brazilian division of GM trans-ships raw materiasl for auto parts to the American division of GM to turn into parts to build cars in Mexico, this is counted as "imported goods." But the reality is that it's just a giant multinational corporation playing accountring games. There's no actual American prosperity there.

"The standard of living is rising" -- for whom, and how do you define it? As the economy collapses interest rates plummet...which in turn pushes house prices up for those few people who still have jobs. This leads to the insane conclusion that the more people who lose their jobs and the worse the economy gets, the higher the standard of living since net worth (due to rising home values) increases for the minority of people who still have jobs.

"Fewer people now live below the poverty line" -- but how do you define the poverty line? In the Reagan administration the poverty line was radically redefined by playing games with the statistics. Essentially the administration stopped counting housing costs as expenses. Is this reasonable? Or is it just another method of lying with statistics?

"The workforce is experiencing unprecedented upward mobility" -- because hordes of working poor who live in their cars around major cities like Seattle and Los Angeles and San Francisco eventually save enough money to move out of their cars into pay-by-the-month hotel rooms. But is that genuine upward mobility? Or people moving out of working homelessness into working poverty?

"The rate of small business starts is at an all time high" -- why? Is it because most people have found it impossible to get jobs, and so have taken to mowing lawns and typing term papers for colelge students, or working at other jobs formerly delegated to high school kids in a truly prosperous economy?

"Educational levels are rising" -- defined how? As people who give up searching for jobs and go back to college, taking on a boatload of debt in the desperately futile hope of eventually getting a job when they graduate with the new degree? How does that translate into any kind of so-called "economic prosperity"?

Computers have made it infinitely easier for gummint talking heads to lie with statistics, alas. So reporters can't take the entire blame for hte problem. Give a Bush Dept. of Labor undersecretary enough time to play with an Excel spreadsheet, and he'll be able to make a convincing case that Russia is more economically prosperous than we are, and Mexico is suffering from a population implosion.

Posted by: laertes on June 29, 2004 11:48 PM

____

Mark Safranski, I can tell you that very few medical school graduates of any quality would be interested in becoming a medical reporter. Who would go through a minimum of 11 years of post high-school education to work in a newsroom cubicle for a fraction of a doctor's income? Maybe a burnout case or someone in the bottom 10% of the class, like the docs that work for drug companies.

Posted by: J rossi on July 1, 2004 10:14 AM

____

I'd answer that the Economist and the WSJ are both excellent because of their ownership structure -- the Economist is owned 51% by a trust, and so is immunue to quarterly pressures. The WSJ is family owned as well.

Of course, the poor old Times refutes my idea....

Posted by: lambert strether on July 3, 2004 06:59 PM

____

As a journalist I disagree that reporters must be trained as doctors, economists, etc. to report on these topics. While it certainly is important that a reporter develops an expertise in what they cover (hence we have beats), too often experts are so mired in their topic that they can't sort out the most significant points for the non-expert reader. That's where the journalist comes in as a filter. What is required of all journalists is a healthy scepticism and the ability to look behind the agenda of any one individual talking to them. That comes from talking to a variety of different sources on all sides. This has limits due to time constraints, and sadly, due to the access issues that others here have mentioned.

Posted by: m damico on July 6, 2004 02:18 AM

____

Great site fatty lose weight with reductil and reductil uk

Posted by: reductil uk on July 6, 2004 02:58 PM

____

Great site fatty lose weight with reductil and reductil uk

Posted by: reductil on July 6, 2004 11:13 PM

____

Get it up mate, it's fun!

Posted by: Viagra on July 8, 2004 09:41 PM

____

It gets yours up to the top dude! The girl will enjoy it!

Posted by: cialis uk on July 13, 2004 02:32 PM

____

It gets yours up to the top dude! The girl will enjoy it!

Posted by: cialis on July 13, 2004 07:32 PM

____

Muppets love Viagra!

Posted by: Viagra UK on July 14, 2004 04:59 AM

____

It gets yours up to the top dude! The girl will enjoy it!

Posted by: cialis uk on July 14, 2004 11:53 PM

____

Kontaktanzeigen are pretty cool, aren't they?

Posted by: Kontaktanzeigen on July 17, 2004 12:49 AM

____

Cool blog! I appreciate it.

Posted by: Kreditkarten on July 27, 2004 12:50 AM

____

Post a comment
















__