Friday, May 19, 2006

How to Improve Journalism

Many economists have expressed dismay at the quality of economics journalism. Economist Brad DeLong, for instance, makes insulting journalists a staple at his blog (when he is not too busy insulting Republicans).

There are probably many reasons why the quality of economics journalism is not better than it is, but an article in today's Wall Street Journal suggests one of the problems:
According to the forthcoming book "The American Journalist in the 21st Century," 36.2% of journalists with college degrees were journalism majors. If you include journalism-related "communications" majors, the percentage jumps to 49.5....

So what do aspiring journalists learn in school? Undergraduate courses of study vary, but if you survey course catalogs, there's a heavy emphasis on process and theory. At Ohio State, for instance, a student majoring in journalism might take some substantive core courses, such as introductory American History, Math and Microeconomics. But a large portion of his coursework will be taken up with classes such as Principles of Civic Journalism, Topics in Public Affairs Journalism or Industry Research Methods.
In short, many journalists simply do not have sufficient training to do a good job.

Here's my radical suggestion to the editors of the world: Require all your economics reporters to have an undergraduate degree in economics. And give a raise to those who spent the extra year or two getting a master's in economics as well. (We don't have such a program at Harvard, but there is a good one at the LSE.)

Economics is a technical field that cannot be easily learned on the fly. Unfortunately, that is often what economics journalists try to do.

Update: Brad DeLong comments:
I'm sure Greg's proposal would produce articles I would like a lot more. While (somewhat) sufficient, however, is it necessary?
No, it is not strictly necessary. It is also not necessary to have a degree in economics to become a professional economist (as David Friedman proves), but it helps.