OLD Media Moves

Requiring an economics degree

May 21, 2006

Harvard University economics professor Greg Mankiw, as well as Cal-Berkeley’s Brad DeLong, have been blogging in the past 24 hours about how to make business and economics journalism better.

Greg MankiwHere is Mankiw’s solution: “Here’s my radical suggestion to the editors of the world: Require all your economics reporters to have an undergraduate degree in economics. And give a raise to those who spent the extra year or two getting a master’s in economics as well. (We don’t have such a program at Harvard, but there is a good one at the LSE.)

“Economics is a technical field that cannot be easily learned on the fly. Unfortunately, that is often what economics journalists try to do.”

DeLong responds: “I’m sure Greg’s proposal would produce articles I would like a lot more. While (somewhat) sufficient, however, is it necessary? What proportion of the WSJ news reporters or the FT reporters were economics majors?”

Lots of interesting comments posted on DeLong’s blog about this concept.

Here is my 2 cents: I do think an understanding of the economy should be required of all business journalists, but I’m not sure of an entire major. I’ve had Economics majors take some of my journalism classes, and I find that their writing has been terminally damaged by other classes.

It’s the age-old question: Do you find people with an interest in business and the economy and teach them how to write about it, or do you find people who want to write and teach them about business and the economy? The more I delve into the practical application of this question, at least at the college-age level, the more I lean toward the latter.

Brad and I have talked about this idea, and I like what he does at Berkeley in helping to teach a journalism class about the economy.

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