Eyes turn to US media in aftermath of crisis
PHOENIX, Arizona - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/19/2010 12:00:00 AM | TAYLAN BİLGİÇ
As U.S. financial institutions continue to debate what went wrong with the economy, the spotlight is also turning to the media, which is being criticized for its coverage.
As U.S. financial institutions continue to debate what went wrong with the economy, the spotlight is also turning to the media, which is being criticized for not anticipating the recession – and for how it covered the crisis.
“Even after the housing bubble burst, most of the media still do not understand what it was and how easily it could [have been] identified,” economist Mark Weisbrot told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review from Washington, D.C. “The media do not hold those who missed the bubble responsible for this crisis.”
Weisbrot named former Federal Reserve Gov. Alan Greenspan, current Fed chief Ben Bernanke and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as the parties “responsible for having crashed the economy by missing the bubble.”
But journalists point out that the financial crisis struck the world’s biggest economy as the media was going through severe trials of its own.
“There were a multitude of issues and all at the same time,” Leslie Wayne, a former business reporter for the New York Times, told the Daily News. “We had the housing bubble, the Wall Street bailout, the auto industry’s woes in Detroit, the stimulus packages and also the Bernie Madoff scandal.”
[HH] Strained resources
The situation greatly strained resources, said Wayne, who quit the Times in December and is currently a Reynolds Visiting Professor in Business Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
“At the Times, one team was [assembled] to cover the Fed, the bailouts and the unfolding regulation. Another team covered the Detroit bailout. Another team looked into the Madoff affair and the human drama behind it. And so on,” she said. “Journalists were working flat-out every day. Each day was a big news day. And even the New York Times has its limitations.”
Economy journalists covering various aspects of the crisis had an “exhausting” time, Wayne said. “They had to first understand what was going on. They had to be ahead of the competition. They also had to be accurate and understandable. We had to find new, creative ways to tell each story.”
Wayne noted that all this came at the same time as another crisis. “Newspapers were cutting staff or closing down. The Internet has greatly hit advertisement revenues,” she said. “The classic business model has collapsed.”
According to the veteran reporter, the Web helped the New York Times and other publications achieve a global reach, but it has failed to turn into revenue. Furthermore, many people in the United States are not buying newspapers anymore. “The New York Times did well under very difficult circumstances,” she said. “It still has three people in Detroit, for example, where the local newspaper the Detroit Free Press now prints [only] three days a week.”
[HH] Impaired perspective
According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the U.S. media covered the crisis “from the top down,” telling the story primarily from the perspective of President Barack Obama’s administration and that of big business. The research, made public in October, found that coverage has also largely centered on Washington and New York, even stories on the bailout of Detroit’s auto giants.
“Three storylines have dominated: efforts to help revive the banking sector, the battle over the stimulus package and the struggles of the U.S. auto industry,” Pew said in the study. “Together they accounted for nearly 40 percent of the economic coverage from Feb. 1 through Aug. 31. By contrast, topics that may have been harder to cover but arguably affected many more people have been covered much less.”
“As an example, all the reporting of retail sales, food prices, the impact of the crisis on Social Security and Medicare, its effect on education and the implications for health care combined accounted for just over 2 percent of all the economic coverage,” the study noted.
Economist Weisbrot believes the focus should now be on unemployment. “But most of the media thinks that the budget deficit is the major problem,” he said. “The recession has ended but unemployment is projected to remain high for years to come. We are by no means out of the woods yet.”