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How the Media Covered the Recession

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If you wanted Joe Sixpack's opinion, you should have checked Main Street media.

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Coverage of the recession has been top-down, emphasizing Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers rather than people on Main Street, a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism concludes.

The finding underscores the inherent strength and weaknesses of the mass media -- and the myopia of the researchers.

"Three storylines have dominated: efforts to revive the banking sector, the battle over the stimulus package, and the struggles of the US auto industry," the study concludes. "Together, they accounted for nearly 40% of the economic coverage…All the reporting of retail sales, food prices, and the impact of the crisis on Social Security and Medicare, its effect on education, and the implications for health care combined accounted for just over 2% of the economic coverage."

The researchers reviewed 9,950 reports from newspapers, TV, cable, radio, and the 12 most popular news websites in the nation between February 1 and August 31. Key phrases and ideas presented in the coverage were analyzed by researchers at Cornell University and Stanford University.

Not surprisingly, researchers found that 76% of the datelines on economic stories in the first five months of President Barack Obama's administration were from two cities: New York (44%) and Washington (32%). Los Angeles and Atlanta together totaled 21% of the datelined stories in study period.

"Government officials and business interests drove much of what the media chose to cover," the researchers said.

It's a good thing the Pew Research Center is sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and doesn't have to compete in the marketplace because it's as if the folks at the think tank's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked out the window and "discovered" the sky is blue on sunny days and overcast when it rains.

New York and Washington dominate coverage of the recession simply because New York is the financial center of the nation and Washington is the nation's capital.

If the media seeks to report on those with their hands on the levers of power during a financial crunch, reporters need to talk to folks in New York and Washington. This shouldn't be a revelation to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The study's results are skewed by the narrowness of the stories sampled and overlook the financial media, including magazines, newsletters, and websites that tell individuals what the latest developments in New York or Washington mean to their personal finances.
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