Media Pay Insufficient Attention To Unemployment While Obsessing Over Deficits, Taxes

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Here's an indication of the news media's failure to treat the nation's persistent high unemployment rate as the crisis that it is: Even when the economy is the leading topic of media coverage, those news reports haven't focused on the lack of jobs.

The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism produces a weekly "News Coverage Index" that tracks the leading news stories in 52 different television, radio, print, and web outlets. Since the beginning of November, "the economy" has been the leading topic of coverage five times. That may sound like the media is focusing like a laser on America's struggling economy, but that coverage has focused on things like the deficit and tax cuts, not on the jobs situation.

Here's a look at Pew's write-ups of the weeks in which the economy was the biggest story:

December 13-19: "The swift passage and signing of the landmark tax bill drove the economy to the No. 1 spot in the news agenda last week. … More than any other issue, the tax bill drove last week's economic coverage, accounting for about two-thirds of it. A mix of other items, including the omnibus spending bill, the debate over earmarks, and news about holiday retail sales, were factors, too." Neither the word "job" nor the word "unemployment" appeared in Pew's analysis.

December 6-12: "For the week of December 6-12, the story of the economy filled 40% of the newshole, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence weekly index of news coverage. That easily surpassed the previous week's level (28%), which itself represented the most media attention to the topic since March 2009. Last week's coverage focused almost entirely on one issue—the deal between Obama and Republicans extending the Bush-era tax cuts—which many analysts viewed as a clear sign that the president was moving to the center after the rebuke delivered in the midterm elections."

November 29-December 5: "Attention to the economy reached its highest level in 20 months and a major document dump cemented WikiLeaks' status as a significant newsmaker. … Three events drove last week's economic coverage—negotiations over the fate of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, the debt commission vote on its proposal to reduce the deficit and a surprisingly gloomy jobs report late in the week." Note that even during a week that saw the release of a "surprisingly gloomy jobs report," unemployment was a tertiary aspect of the media's coverage of the economy.

November 15-21: "Even with no major new developments or numbers to report, the economy remained the top story in the news last week as the media settled into a kind of post-election holding pattern. … That coverage included a handful of storylines, mostly policy-oriented, including the federal debt panel and the debate over Bush-era tax cuts. Stories about the labor and housing situation made the news as well."

November 8-14: "Driven by the ideas from President Obama's bipartisan debt commission, and the vocal reaction to it, the U.S. economy supplanted the midterm elections atop the mainstream news agenda last week for the first time in two months. From November 8-14, the economy accounted for 15% of the newshole according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. About half that coverage focused on the draft proposal from the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which—in calling for some tax increases and spending cuts—generated criticism from the left and the right." The word "unemployment" did not appear in Pew's analysis; the word "jobs" appeared only in a mention of proposal to cut 200,000 federal jobs.

The unemployment rate has been above 9 percent for more than a year and a half. It's well past time for the media to start treating that like a huge problem.

Posted In
Economy, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment
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