Improving the Quality of Economic Journalism

Why Focus on Economic Journalism?

Reliable economic and business journalism is something individuals and businesses take largely for granted in developed economies. Leading publications have widespread coverage of financial markets, corporate news and key economic indicators that are of crucial importance for the livelihoods, employment opportunities, and investments of ordinary people.

It wasn't always that way. It wasn’t always that way. As business reporter Chris Welles wrote:

For years, business economics and finance journalism was a bleak wasteland — ‘the most disgracefully neglected sector of American journalism,’ according to former NBCtelevision correspondent and former dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism School Elie Abel. If you did a lousy job covering city hall, couldn’t hack it writing obituaries, weren’t too swift taking classified ads over the telephone, then they sent you to the business section. Maybe they even made you business editor.

Media outlets of all kinds in developed economies have since responded to globalization and the explosion of information available for consumers, investors, policymakers, and business managers by investing in higher quality economic and business reporting. As they continue to do so, they benefit greatly from the institutional environment around them.

Greater access to information, democratic governance, and transparency allow for a smoother transmission of economic information from the media to the public. Journalists have access to both reliable government statistics and independent sources of data that they can analyze and present to the reader. Legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act in the United States makes it possible for journalists to request government information and documents mandated for disclosure. What is more, the rule of law found in most developed economies also provides the physical and legal protections necessary for sensitive investigative reporting into major business deals or cases of corruption.

In developing and transitioning economies, facing a tremendous growth of private sector activity and economic development as well as an explosion of information, economic and business journalists operate in a murkier institutional environment where providing reliable and useful information to the general public is more challenging. Limited sources of independent information can often lead to a press corps dependent on personal relationships with decision-makers — a dynamic that can easily lead to conflicts of interest and corruption. Recent press scandals in India underline the extent to which journalists can be viewed by the public as an extension of the powerful civil servants they are supposed to cover objectively.

Inadequate training and specialization of journalists in developing economies also contributes to coverage that either fails to explain complex economic indicators or relegates important business news to back story status. Misperceptions about the private sector in those countries often mean that editors and journalists do not give the necessary credence to economic issues, despite their widespread implications. As a result, poor and insufficient coverage makes it harder for the public to understand economic news that directly affects their lives and to hold elected officials accountable for economic policies.

Oscar Abello is the Program Coordinator for Global Programs at the Center for International Private Enterprise, where he coordinates social media for CIPE and works on projects strengthening economic journalism, business associations, corporate citizenship, and entrepreneurship. On a volunteer basis, he is also a staff writer for Nextbillion.net, a leading blog and clearinghouse for development through enterprise. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.

James Liddell is a Program Officer for Global Programs at the Center for International Private Enterprise, where he works on youth entrepreneurship and women’s corporate citizenship programs. Previously he was the Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator for the National Democratic Institute in Morocco, where he oversaw evaluation, reporting and youth programming. Liddell’s work has been published by the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Journal of North African Studies, and the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, among others. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Bates College.

The views expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). CIPE grants permission to reprint, translate, and/or publish original articles from its Economic Reform Feature Service provided that (1) proper attribution is given to the original author and to CIPE and (2) CIPE is notified where the article is placed and a copy is provided to CIPE’s Washington office.

Publication Type: 

CIPE

Center for International Private Enterprise
1155 15th Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202-721-9200    Fax: 202-721-9250