Monday, October 5, 2009

Press Snubs Public in Recession Coverage, PEJ Study Finds

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. as depicted on the co...Image via Wikipedia
In The Brass Check (1919), Socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair condemned U.S. journalists for being ultra-conservative and catering to the economic and political powers that be. According to a just-released study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) of news media coverage of the economic crisis, the findings of the self-described nonpartisan "fact tank" suggest Sinclair may have been on to something.

Analyzing coverage by newspapers, cable, radio, television and online outlets from February 2008, through August 2008, of  9,950 stories addressing the nation's economic woes, the PEJ study found almost 40 percent focused on the banking sector, auto industry, and government struggles to develop and implement the stimulus package. Three-quarters of the economics stories during this period carried either New York or Washington, D.C. datelines.

Moreover, at the first signs of  improvement in the economy, media coverage dropped precipitiously, from 46 percent of overall news coverage in February and March 2008, to only 21 percent of total coverage from April through June. Stories about union workers and ordinary citizens accounted for only 2 percent of the stories reviewed.

The PEJ study concluded that the news media covered the recession from the top down, emphasizing the viewpoint of big business and the Obama White House, rather than the closer to home plight of homeowners,  the jobless, and other ordinary folks who bore the brunt of the economic downturn.
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1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, full of debatable issues: 1) Newsworthiness of top officials involved in financial crisis versus victims. 2) Role of top officials in economy vs. citizens. 3) Unions ninety years ago vs. Unions today.4) Are ordinary citizens liberal? 5) Do they have that in common with unions of today? 6) Are the news media politically conservative?

    1) Crisis was created by banks and government officials and that's who will resolve it. Their role is constantly evolving. Thus, breaking news comes from NY and DC. The human interest of victims is undoubtable, but it doesn't change a lot. Occasional reminders are sufficient unless some kind of milestone is reached. 2) Legacy of Bush and thirty years of glorifying Wall Street is that ordinary citizens have no active role in economy. 3) In Sinclair's time, unions were radical organizations demanding and defending worker's rights. Today, many are owners and managers of industry, defending their members' privileges. 4) Are Tea Baggers, shouters at Town Halls and Glenn Beck fans, ordinary citizens? If so, no. 5) Unlikely. 6) Fox and other Murdoch properties? Definitely and always. Everyone else? Hard to say because being stupid, craven or greedy can all be mistaken for being conservative. Even more ambiguous are journalistic notions of political neutrality and "equal time." With a competent, liberal administration, those are hard to maintain without appearing conservative.