Affording College Life: Economic crisis coverage goes in one ear and out the other

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By CHRISTIE ROSHAU
SABEW/NEFE Fellow
Arizona State University

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Christie Roshau is SABEW’s National Endowment for Financial Education fellow.

As I sat inside the Cronkite Theater at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I realized this panel I was about to hear was going to give answers to questions I have been wondering these past years. There I was; a novice journalist, sitting among top professionals; journalists, editors, and CEOs of major news organizations. I found myself wondering, would these ‘top dogs’ come to a conclusion about how we as journalists have covered the economy (or lack thereof)? This question as well as others would be answered by a well-educated panel with Stephen Happel, Arizona State professor in economics; Ali Malekzdah, dean of Williams College at Xavier; and Kathy Kristof, a journalist from the Los Angeles Times.

I’d like to take you through the key points in this panel discussion. In regards to this coverage of the economy, Moderator John Wasick began the discussion by saying, “We’re in this transformation right now, we have to say, where are we going as journalists…where are we going as an industry?” Wasick says that a lot of people believe financial journalists blew it–that we weren’t being prophetic enough, but possibly pathetic over the situation. Happel says that a mentality sets in among business journalists and economists which leads them to feel they are doing better than ever before, when in fact they aren’t. We are in a cycle that we have been in over the course of many years. We get comfortable in our reporting.

“We started banging the drum too early,” says Kristof. According to Kristof, we kept predicting a crash. We’d deliver multiple stories on this issue, and readers overlooked it. It started to go in one ear and out the other.

Another point brought up was journalists’ lack of credibility. The public’s lack of trust with the media is well known. A recent study found only thirty percent of Americans believe the mainstream media.

How do we fix this? How do we mend this broken relationship? According to Malekzdah, we as journalists need to go into the “black boxes” of society: the universities, the hospitals, and the private organizations. As journalists, the further we are from sources in these organizations, the harder it is to make that connection with our viewers. “People like you (journalists) aren’t asking questions…to these organizations,” says Malekzdah. Because of this lack of connection, Malekzdah says, they are getting away with things.

Finally, we return to the initial question: In coverage of the economic crisis, what did the financial journalists get right, and what is left that we did wrong? Stephen says that we covered the core reason of this crisis: the greed and bail out of Wall Street over Main Street. However, as Kristof said, we as journalists need to break the jargon, and really personalize our stories if we are to reach our viewers. We now need to have our focus on the coming cuts.

The overall feel from the panel is that we are not out of this recession and we will continue to see its repercussions in the coming months and years, specifically in government positions. Those issues need to be discussed, and we need to be diligent in reporting these stories, no matter how many stories we have to write. It’s about passionately covering the issues to get the most important, personal business stories out to the reader.

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