More Journalism On Regulation Needed

Journalists need to do a better job covering regulatory agencies.

One of my classes this semester is a seminar called “Journalism of the Economics Crisis,” taught by Phillip Bennett, the Managing Editor of PBS’s Frontline. The reading list for the class is pretty incredible – when Michael Grunwald’s “The New New Deal’ is on the list, you know it’s going to be a good class. And one of the best parts of the class is that Professor Bennett has been able to get a few journalists to talk to our class via Skype. The first one was last Monday when Binyamin Appelbaum from the New York Times took a half hour out of his day to answer a few of our questions. He offered a number of interesting answers on economic journalism in general, QE3 and housing.

But what struck me most was a question I asked him about the media’s covering of regulation. Here’s how I see it:

Regulation is immensely important but very little of the media’s coverage focuses on it. Many regulating agencies perform vital jobs in our society. Imagine our health without the Food and Drug Administration. How many people really know how the FDA works though? What it really does? How much it actually protects us? There are many agencies like this. Now, it’s okay that people don’t really know what they do. If these agencies are working correctly, that’s exactly what should happen. But when Republicans start looking to cut the funding of the FDA and other important agencies, it becomes more important.

Which brings me to my main point: we need more coverage of regulating agencies. More coverage of these will mean greater knowledge of what these agencies do. With that greater knowledge, the public has a better ability to make an informed choice about them. Greater coverage of these agencies will also ensure that they are operating correctly.

Until listening to Appelbaum’s answer to my question, I always believed that journalists simply didn’t like covering regulatory agencies. And to an extent, I think that’s correct. Regulation is boring and wonky. It deals with minutiae in legal speak. That’s not particularly enjoyable to cover. But beyond that, Appelbaum said that covering these agencies is easier said than done. Connecting regulation to the real world is difficult, particularly before regulations take effect. I think this goes a step further: regulation is tough to connect to the real world until something goes wrong. Continue reading “More Journalism On Regulation Needed”