The Business of Business Journalism

From the Onion: Something About Tax Cuts Or Earnings Or Money Or Something In Recent Economic News.

This is basically genius:

Some sort of tax cut or earnings or money or something was reported in economic news this week in further evidence that a lot of financial- related things have been going on lately.

According to numerous articles and economics segments from major media outlets, experts on banks and such have become increasingly concerned over a new extension or rates or a proposal or compromise that could signal fewer investments, and dollars, and so on...

In addition, mutual funds, probably.

At the risk of sounding like a loser for expounding on an Onion story, I'm going to expound a bit on an Onion story.

This Onion story is funny! It's funny because it's true. And it's true because tax cuts and interest rates and stimulus bills are complicated stuff with boring numbers, so most people file under "Money Or Something In Recent Economic News."

But there's no reason why economic news has to be so nebulous or boring. Business journalism -- in print and on TV -- needs more clear journalism that says: Here's what it's all about, in English. Journalists are generally fixated on the next turn of the wheel in an ongoing business story, but it's often valuable to step back and describe the wheel, and why the wheel in the first place.

The big picture of economic stories eludes a news audience. During the health care debate, for example, I recall a lot of people who could cite the slogans and jokes (Death Panels, "You lie," socialism, hands off my government Medicare, etc) but say very little about the actual bill -- what an exchange was, for example, and why they should even care.

Who's to blame? Nobody and everybody, I guess. It's easier for both hosts and audiences to debate bumper-stickers than bills. In fact, you could argue that some important parts of the health care debate -- in particular, end-of-life-care -- got more attention, some of it useful, because the Death Panels bumper-sticker made for such a sexy newspeg for discussing the actual bill.

The challenge is how to find the sweet spot between sexy and contexty. I don't have a definitive answer to that challenge. If anybody else tells you otherwise, they're either lying or CNN should pay them $30 billion a year to run the company. But as cable news moves toward entertainment,
and online news moves toward voices, it doesn't necessarily follow that the medium has to move away from explanation.