By Erielle Delzer
When Did ‘Economics’ Lose Us?
« Not many economics reporters go home at night and keep their families or friends gripped with tales of what they did that day. But what we write about is often more to do with life and death than much of what our colleagues do – and that includes the crime reporter. » – Graham Watts, Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University
Our future is shaped by the economic policies we put in place today. Our daily lives revolve around the state of the economy within the country we live and work. Our sanity, unfortunately, relies on the stability of our financial situations.
Despite the obvious importance of economics in the societies we’ve built up, the subject is all too often not discussed. When it is discussed, it is in periods of major economic crises such as the 2009 global recession or the ongoing Greek debt crisis. In other words, when it’s too late.
The challenge economic journalists face today is not necessarily new, yet the issue still has not been resolved: How do these journalists inform readers in the most appealing way about a subject of such high importance but such low interest? Furthermore, how can journalists expand the audience that reads these economic articles? After all, the future lies in today’s youth – of which not many care to understand the implications of economic policy.
Economics = boring?
It’s a misunderstood subject, sure. Yes, economics has to do with math and money but it goes beyond that, even into the realm of diplomacy and peacekeeping (sanctioning). It’s the complexity of the nature of economics that causes us to lose interest so quickly. As there is no real ‘action’ in economics, it loses out to the crowd easily fascinated by another explosion, another shooting elsewhere in the world.
When did economics become ‘boring’? Moreover, who allowed it to become boring? If the subject were presented in more simple terms, in more interesting ways – the two main tasks assigned to journalists covering any topic – then perhaps our eyes wouldn’t glaze over at the mere sight of the word in a newspaper, in an article, or even on a news app.
Just as a journalist wants their reader to understand the point of the article they’ve written, journalists need to remember the implications of the articles they write. The more complex, the more narrow the audience will be that understands it. In particular, Generation Y and Z – the ones who will be effecting change for the world quite soon (if not already) – have no patience to do external research unless the subject is truly intriguing. So, provide the background context and choose the best quotes or lose the audience that needs to be reading these economic articles.
“I don’t want to admit I don’t understand”
Economics is not meant to be a niche subject that only a select few with degrees in the field can understand. Looking at the publications that make economics a priority, however, we find they’re labeled as ‘niche’ journalism. The Economist has been reporting a decline in readership for years, yet its content helps explain why the world is the way it is and what direction we’re all headed in. In fact, the publication gets more recognition for its sometimes-controversial covers than for the content within its pages.
Like other journalistic subjects, the economic field must resort to eye-catching headlines, purposely-bold magazine covers, and an increased number of economic cartoons to maintain readership. But in the actual articles themselves we find confusing acronyms, difficult concepts, and past economic history we’re not all well versed in.
To put it quite simply, economic journalists aren’t properly doing their jobs when they aren’t putting it quite simply. Add in complicated charts, graphs, percentages, and we see why we don’t pay enough attention to the subject.
It also becomes more complex when the narrative of the article is not objective. As Graham Watts stated for the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, “Intelligent readers can spot a story with a particular bias from a thousand paces, and dismiss the whole thing.” Objectivity in economic journalism is crucial.
The future of economics
Generation Y is great as we’re all self-starters, whether we realize it or not. That entrepreneurial spirit within us is what will guide us back to understanding and caring about economics. When we don’t understand, we find or create an app, a think tank, or even a blog for it.
Our generation knew the value of a dollar, a euro, a ruble, etc. at younger ages because we grew up in times of war and conflict, began university or even graduated when the global economy took a nosedive, and now find ourselves competing fiercely for jobs in a much tougher job market with qualifications beyond that of our parents’ generation.
What doesn’t make sense is that the reason we aren’t paying attention to economic policy is because we were conditioned under the notion that it is boring and complicated. We need to reprogram our brains to place the importance of economics akin to politics, voting, law, and the environment.
We were saddled with debt, with the effects of climate change, with the consequences of failed peacekeeping policies, but no more; the can do, will do generation needs to take equal economic action and put forth our creative ideas to truly better our futures.