The need for better local economic news
David Lieberman, the executive editor for Deadline.com, writes about the need for local media to improve their business and economics coverage.
His essay won the American Institute for Economic Research’s Women’s Economic Roundtable (WERT) Business Journalism Prize. The prize awards $2,000 to the best essay on an economic or financial topic written by a current or past recipient of the Columbia Journalism School’s Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism.
Lieberman writes, “Some news providers are trying to improve things. A University of Missouri School of Journalism professor recently launched Missouri Business Alert to fill the gap in local economic news. Digital First Media’s Connecticut Newsroom, which serves local newspapers and sites across the state, just assigned a reporter to cover poverty full time. A few years ago the Pocono Record assigned staffers to cover high-impact topics such as development and growth, traffic, and infrastructure—and let stringers cover town council and school board meetings. And the Institute for Policy Studies launched the Economic Hardship Reporting Project in 2011 to help bring stories about poverty and economic insecurity ‘to the center of the national conversation.’
“It’s too early to say whether these initiatives or others will unearth a business model to pay for serious local economic news. In the meantime, the press and its allies should encourage it in other ways. Colleges and universities can offer additional seminars to help journalists become financially literate. Many have to learn the basics: the difference between a deficit and a debt, how the bond market works, what’s meant by concepts such as the ‘multiplier effect’ —as well as how to find, and interpret, key reports and documents. The profession also needs programs outside of the major cities that can train reporters to deal with local needs. A community built on agriculture has different priorities than other areas that depend on manufacturing, technology, tourism, finance, oil production, or trade.
“Universities and professional associations also must reconsider their concept of prestige to give reporters who do superior work each day covering local business and economic issues a fighting chance to be recognized. Sponsors of journalism prizes should start by changing the way they’re judged to mimic Most Valuable Player awards in sports. Experts follow athletes’ day-to-day contributions and then pro-actively choose the winners. But in journalism, judges typically aren’t expected to know anything about the candidates. Applicants bear the burden of impressing them with samples of their work. The arrangement stacks the deck in favor of reporters who produce a few high-impact stories and against those who cover demanding beats well every day.”
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