Anorak News | The Economic Principals Of The Decline Of The Newspaper Trade

The Economic Principals Of The Decline Of The Newspaper Trade

by | 27th, October 2008

DAVID WARSH, proprietor of Economic Principals, explains what’s wrong with newspapers employing professionals and not reporters.

Everyone knows that the newspaper business is shrinking, but the implications haven’t been sufficiently examined. To cope, papers have been eliminating beats, outsourcing coverage, and, in EP’s field, relying increasingly on economists to write rotating columns. Websites such as VoxEU, The Economists’ Voice and Project Syndicate have sprung up to showcase short op-ed-like articles.

It’s all op-ed…

Economists’ blogs, too, have emerged as important sources of commentary and news (and Economics Roundtable to keep track of them). I love economists’ columns and blogs, but not enough attention has been paid to the fundamental differences between them and news.

Economics is a profession; news is a trade. That is to say, economists go to school to learn their business. Those who teach in universities are hired by other economists. They depend only on each other’s good opinion for advancement, and, except for extraordinary cases, on the opinion of almost no one outside their field. Apart from a rigorous and jealously regarded system of anonymous refereeing and peer review, they recognize and obey an imperative not to speak ill of another member of the guild. Economists work for one another, as do molecular biologists, doctors, lawyers and all other professionals.

Editors and reporters, on the other hand, are said to work “for the reader.” (One editor I knew used to take newly-hired reporters to lunch after six months to ask them “who’s your boss?,” persisting until he got the answer he wanted.) Newsfolk learn mostly on the job; academic attainment ordinarily plays no part in their evaluation once they have begun. Top editors are hired and sometimes fired by publishers, reporters by editors. They all have “bosses,” and about their bosses’ decisions, those in the newsroom have much to say but little to do. Publishers worry (a lot) about advertisers, and seek to keep reporters and advertisers out of each others’ way.

All true. To the reporter, the reader is all. The best bloggers understand this. The worst newspapers do not…

Posted: 27th, October 2008 | In: Reviews Comments (2) | TrackBack | Permalink