Monday, October 5, 2009

What We Know ... About the Economy

If news stories are any guide, what we know -- or what we hear and read -- about the economy is more about the big boy corporations and banks than about the struggles of everyday people, according to a story in the NYTimes about a study coming out today.  The Times uses Pew data to find:
Reviewing almost 10,000 reports from Feb. 1 to Aug. 31 in newspapers, on news Web sites, on the radio and on network broadcast and cable television, Pew found that almost 40 percent of economic news reports dealt with the trials of the banking and auto industries, and the federal stimulus bill passed in February.

Unemployment and the housing crisis accounted for 12 percent. And, the study said, “stories that tried to explicitly examine the broader impact of the economic downturn on the lives of ordinary Americans filled 5 percent of the economic coverage.”
Now, you can argue that covering the banking and auto industries either directly affects us all (if you work in those areas) or indirectly affects us (if we feed those industries by, say, making windshields for Ford) or interests us all (because we see industry as vital to a thriving economy).  So I take the veiled criticism here with a grain of salt. 

You can only do so many poor little person stories before they wear thin, both with the journalists but also with the audience. And -- this is important -- there is ample evidence that focusing on the troubles and struggles of people actually leads the audience to blame them, not the economy, for their problems.  When it happens to us, external factors played a role.  When it happens to someone else, we blame some failure on their part.

So is 5 percent the right amount?  I'm not sure, but 5-15 percent is about what I'd hope for with that kind of coverage.

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