Biz media didn’t do enough in covering stimulus
by Chris Roush
The financial media focused too much on covering the political aspects of the federal government’s stimulus package aimed at the economic crisis during 2009 and didn’t do enough agenda setting, according to research from a Columbia University professor.
“Much of the coverage focused on the political process and the familiar debates about tax cuts and protectionism and so came across as fairly pedestrian and predictable,” wrote Anya Schiffrin, director of the media and communications program at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. “Partly due to the short nature of many of the articles, there was little deep analysis and the press did not do very much to advance the debate or lay out a new agenda for discussion.”
Schiffrin’s research, published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal “Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism,” reviewed press coverage of the economic stimulus package from Jan. 2 to March 5, 2009 and then from July 1to Sept. 1, 2009. She chose those periods to look at coverage before the American Assistance and Recovery Act was passed on Feb. 16 and then a few months later to see how coverage had changed.
Schiffrin and master’s student Ryan Fagan reviewed more than 700 articles, columns and editorials from 16 different sources, including major business news publications such as Barron’s, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Dow Jones, Fortune, The Financial Times, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.
With the columns and editorials, the research discovered that the New York Times was the biggest supporter of the stimulus package while the Journal was the biggest opponent. More than 60 percent of the columns and editorials reviewed had a negative bias toward the legislature, but in the Times that percentage was just 30 percent. In The Journal, the percentage of columns and editorials with a negative bias toward the legislature was 94 percent.
The research also reviewed the sources being used in the articles and discovered that more than three-fourths of the 576 articles quoted government officials, while just 14.7 percent quoted economists and just 4.7 percent quoted people in the public or organizations that represent the public. More than one-fifth of the articles quoted someone from a business or the financial markets.
The wire services — Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Reuters — quoted a higher percentage of business/financial markets sources and a lower percentage of government officials. The daily financial papers — The Journal and the Financial Times — quoted more economists than the average.
“In retrospect, the coverage of the politics, the economics, and the debate of the bill did not raise the issues that should have been central to the policy debate in 2008, and deficiencies in coverage then may have contributed to weaknesses in the subsequent policy discussion,” wrote Schiffrin.
To read her entire article, go here.