Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

An extremely good question asked by Seamus Hogan over at the Offsetting Behaviour blog. With regard to the press coverage of the budget Hogan writes,
So instead I am going to put in a plea for better media coverage of future budgets. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Don't publish any press releases from interest groups; instead, interview the spokespeople and ask each one two questions: First, "please comment on those parts of the budget that did not relate to your sector"; and second, if you had to put the same total resources into your sector as in this budget, how would you have allocated it differently?".
  2. Don't publish any press releases from opposition parties; instead, interview the leaders or finance spokespeople and ask each one, "please state the areas in which you would have spent less money".
  3. In a one-marshmellow-now, two-marshmellows-later exercise, promise to give twice as much coverage to anyone whose response is "I haven't had time to fully digest the information yet, let me get back to you tomorrow with a more considered response".
  4. Simply refuse to quote any statement with the words "bold", "imaginative" or "Titanic" in it. (To be fair, on the last of these, I didn't see a deckchairs cliché this year, but it will be back.)
All excellent suggestions but I would argue the problem with journalists is more basic: they don't understand economics. So my suggestion is that before any journalist is allowed to write on economic topics they have to sensibly answer one question:
As a journalist your job is to explain economic issues to the general public. So tell me one fundamental and important economic idea that the public don't seem to understand and tell me how you would explain it to them.
Obvious candidates as an answer would be a good discussion of comparative advantage, the importance of incentives, the fact that there are no solutions only trade-offs etc.

Also all would be economic journalists should be made to read Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

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