Decoding the Media

Brad DeLong explains how to maximize your chances of getting accurate information if you are among what Jay Rosen calls The People Formerly Known as the Audience and are restricted to the traditional media. Brad’s focus is on economic reporting where the problem is especially large, but I think it’s more widespread than just economics:

If you want to understand Washington DC, the American government, and American economic policy, then: trust the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, trust the Financial Times, trust the political and lobbying coverage of the National Journal. Trust Bloomberg and Knight-Ridder to try as best they can to get the story straight under immense time pressure. Trust nothing else until it is verified. Use yesterday’s *Post* for fishwrap. Use today’s *Post* to line the kitchen floor while you continue to housetrain the new puppy.

Why is the Washington Post so bad? Because too many of the big hitters at the Post (on the National desk as opposed to, say, Metro) are not actually particularly interested in policy reality but rather are focused on its first derivative, which is politics, and its second derivative, which is inside-the-Beltway chatter about the future of politics,

The problem is not that the Washington Post hires people who are unintelligent or lazy while the Wall Street Journal hires whip-smart workaholics. The problem is that conveying accurate information about the economy is high up on almost all the *Journal’s* news reporters’ and way down on almost all the Post reporters’ list of priorities.

Making a splash–yes. … Saying who is one-up politically inside-the-beltway today–yes. Pleasing your editors so they’ll give your stories better placement–yes. Pleasing your sources–like Denny Hastert–so they’ll keep talking to you first–yes. Informing the public about the functioning of the economy and about the dilemmas of economic policy–what’s that?

All of this seems very sad and largely true, although there still are some terrific reporters on the print Post who are still doing great traditional reporting (e.g. Pincus), not to mention several folks at the online But it’s striking how often the Post’s editors bury some of their work deep inside the A section…

Reading Brad’s media guide, though, I was struck by how it felt like half of a Europe joke.

The classic Europe joke goes something like this:

Hell is a place where …

the police are German;
the British are the chefs;
the Norwegians are the singers;
the French are in charge of repairs;
the Swiss provide the night-time entertainment;
the Belgians put up the signposts;
all the comedians are Swedish;
the Irish provide the birth control;
the speech therapists are Scottish;
the Italians run the postal service;
the tour companies are run by Icelanders;
the Spanish are the priests;
…and the common language is Dutch;

Heaven is a place where …

the Germans make repairs;
the police are British;
the environmentalists are Norwegian;
the French are the chefs;
the Swiss are the bankers;
the Belgians make the chocolate;
the Swedes are the models;
the storytellers are Irish;
the distillers are Scottish;
the opera singers are Italian;
the fishermen are Icelandic;
the Spanish run the holiday resorts;
and the Dutch are the merchants.

Brad’s decoder reminds me of half the joke because the heavenly news diet he prescribes bears so little relation to how even most elites consume their news, not to mention the mass audience. That’s the hell…

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3 Responses to Decoding the Media

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    Where did you find a version of the joke with the Dutch as the punchline? I’ve always heard it with someone else in the punchline: the English are the cooks… the Swiss are the lovers… the Germans are the police… the French are the bureaucrats…

    My mother says she had a very nice lunch with yours on Monday…


  2. Sounds like there’s a pretty good similar joke which could be written

    Hell/Heaven is where
    Financial news from …
    Political news from …
    Tech news from …
    Local news from …

    though someone else is going to have to take the hit of naming names to flesh it out for the “Hell” part :-).

    By the way, I found Rosen’s piece to be annoying blog evangelism pandering that’s self-disproving to The People Who Are *STILL* The Audience (we can’t talk back in any effective sense – we can talk forever, but we won’t be HEARD).

  3. Bruce says:

    In Europe jokes, doesn’t “heaven” always go first? I thought heaven was the setup, and hell is the punchline.

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