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TV Networks at a Loss When it Comes to Covering Economy: Prof. Jeff McCall '76

April 27, 2014

DSC8730"Network television newsrooms often must cover stories for which they have no internal experts," writes Jeff McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in a newspaper op-ed. "That’s why aeronautic engineers and pilots are put on the air to analyze airplane emergencies. Judges and lawyers are paraded out to discuss whatever sensational trial hits the news agenda. When it comes to news of the economy, however, TV news has little interest in talking with real economists."

Dr. McCall cites a new study by Media Matters for America which shows that the major traditional and cable TV news networks only include analysis from actual economists defined as a person who "holds an advanced degree in economics, has worked in the economics profession or has served as an economics professor") in 2% of their segments on the economy.  On the other hand, 58% of the segments included interviews with other journalists. The report also finds that the major networks spend little time covering economic issues.

mccall fox june20009 1Professor McCall calls the findings "troubling" and "a picture of the vacuous manner in which television covers the important topic of the economy ... A study last year reported that 60 percent of the American public believes television news avoids stories that are complex. The lack of sensible reporting about the economy supports that conclusion."

He adds, "Television news producers believe economic news doesn’t fit the visual, emotional and razzle-dazzle approach they think will lure and keep viewers. It’s true that economic news is rather wonkish and difficult to explain with context and perspective. Television producers would rather tell stories with stimulating video, emotion and drama. Disasters, cute animals and funny viral videos all fit that bill but often have no broader impact on audiences. Economic stories about interest rates, the labor market, energy costs and taxes, however, are what media analysts call high-impact stories, in that they affect virtually all Americans."

According to McCall, author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, "What does pass for economics reporting today comes off like SportsCenter with lots of cheerleading for modest economic gains, numbers with no context, and talk of winners and losers. The big picture is ignored while newscasters hyperventilate about government statistics and how those might affect the market for the next 10 minutes.

The column concludes, "The supposed media watchdogs were largely asleep in the months leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, failing to provide the public with insights into the coming problems. American consumers still rely on television as their primary news source. Should there be more rocky financial times ahead, it will be little consolation to viewers to know they were fully updated about missing airplanes, Oscar Pistorius and Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy."

Access the complete essay at the website of the Indianapolis Star.  The piece is also being published in several other newspapers.

A former journalist, Jeffrey M. McCall is a 1976 graduate of DePauw and serves as faculty adviser to student radio station WGRE. The professor is regularly called upon to discuss media matters in major publications and has been quoted in stories published by more than 100 newspapers, including an article in Friday's Arizona Republic.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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