Public wants more news about the economy, but it’s getting more election news instead

Pew Research Center | Project for Excellence in Journalism
The public’s interest in news about the economy far outreaches media coverage of it for the second week in a row this year, with 20 percent of people surveyed saying it was the story they were following most closely, while only 6 percent of news coverage was devoted to it. The week before, 19 percent of people said it was their top story, while 8 percent of coverage was devoted to it. This discrepancy continues a trend from last year, during which the economy was one of the most closely followed stories 32 out of 52 weeks, and was the top story of 2011 with 20 percent of coverage devoted to it. And yet in December alone, there was about twice as much interest in the economy as there was coverage of it.

Even during weeks when the economy was the top story, interest surpassed coverage. For example, the week of Dec. 8, 41 percent of people said they were following the economy very closely; it was 13 percent of coverage that week. From Dec. 15-18, 36 percent said they were following it closely; it was 10 percent of coverage. Both of those weeks, the top story was the 2012 election, and coverage of it exceeded public interest. In fact, a just-released Pew study shows that campaign coverage “has come in place of attention that was being paid to the economy. From July 2011 to January 2012, the level of attention paid to the state of the economy has dropped by 80 percent. And that drop mirrors the increase in political coverage.”

New data from Pew show “the campaign overtook the economy in November… when allegations about sexual harassment by Herman Cain became a major subject.” So far, in 2012, about half of all news coverage (46 percent) has been about the election.

So why is journalism providing less economic news and more political news than people want? Speculate in the comments, and watch for our reporting on this subject in the days ahead.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZPX3WC5AFDCSF5KYFYWPVN6MMI Kyle

    Let’s keep in mind that just because people say they want more of one thing doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll actually read more of it. One reason could be that, while people say they want to hear more about the economy, their actual consumption patterns show they are more likely to read about the campaign.

  • William Holmes

    Because the media pukes ALWAYS take the easy way — they’re in the infotainment business!

  • Alfred Ingram

    People are foreclosed. People and their businesses go bankrupt. People are employed and unemployed. There are people and their stories behind those numbers. People also have a big political decisiun to make that’s mostly driven by the reality behind the numbers. 

    Unfortunately, obvious horse crap from politicians is treated as if it were fact because they say so. More subtle distortions are ignored in favor of who is ahead in a poll and whatever outrageous, often racist position they’re promoting today in the race to the bottom. 

    People want to know if anything is working and how long it will take. what jobs will come back and what’s gone forever. They want to know why. They need honest evaluations of how. They need to know who is actually working on the problem and who is just running their mouth.

    If all you present when covering the economy is whether this or that set of numbers is up or down, of course no one is calling you. 

    They know you don’t get it  They know you don’t get them.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    The numbers stories are a dilemma. It’s hard to know how readers want that information. They may be getting a lot of it online. The people stories about the economy are much harder to tell, especially while avoiding cliches or predictable characters. This may be a good project for Al’s Morning Meeting. Thanks for thinking out loud about this. It’s very helpful. –Julie

  • http://twitter.com/archweek Kevin Matthews at AW

    Interesting finding.

    A baseline piece of the interest disconnect here seems to be that “the campaign” is really mostly just the Republican primary campaign. Given that a good chunk people don’t follow politics and don’t vote, and of those that do, somewhat less than half are Republicans, “the campaign” is only fractionally relevant.And that’s before further discounts due to the foolish specifics actually being covered, and the lightweight way much of the coverage is  done (horserace horserace horserace, etc.).

    The main kind of curiosity satisfied by current MSM campaign coverage, of the current active campaigns, is the morbid kind.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll speak out of my hat here because I don’t know about newsrooms other than my own. Audience interest is tough for newspapers to measure accurately in a timely way on any topic. Partly as a result, I think newspaper editors have, forever, gone with their guts on news judgment. I never had reliable information on reader interest on such a specific topic or time frame. And national data, such as the one you cite, had dubious relevance in my individual market. Or that’s what I told myself.

    I did get calls for political stories from partisans and never got calls for stories about the economy. As far as these two stories are concerned, I think people are sick of the political horse race. It doesn’t really matter to them and won’t until the candidate is selected. As for the economy, I think one group of people wants to know how to find a job or a better job, one group wants to know how to make money, and a third want to read stories about the positive stuff happening with the economy because that will make people more optimistic and, perhaps, spend their money. (Yes, these are business owners and community boosters.) One thing I don’t think any of those groups want are stories about numbers — foreclosures, bankruptcies, unemployment percentages. They want stories of people.

    I think much of this audience kickback on politics has to do with TV news, rather than newspapers. It’s easy to simply not read the political coverage in a newspaper; it’s impossible to avoid it on television. But we both know that the audience rarely distinguishes when they think of “news media.” I do think newspaper editors want to give readers information they want. But it’s much, much harder to do that with economic news. And no, we didn’t do anything special in Greensboro…except that we didn’t pay a lot of attention to the political horse race anyway.

    I guess I’m not answering your questions. Sorry. I don’t have the answers. I do think people want more economic coverage and less of the political BS. Basically, I think the news media is taking the easy way out in covering the political horse race rather than the more complex, time-consuming economic issues.  But I also think it takes a while to make news coverage changes. It wouldn’t surprised me for some papers to read the Pew data and make some adjustments. But it will take some time to pull back the politics and move back toward the economy.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    All excellent points, John. So, I have a few more questions. First, are newsrooms using the tools available to them to monitor/measure audience interest? If so, are they adjusting when appropriate? It’s not pandering to give people more coverage of the economy if there are signs they want it (vs. giving them more coverage of Casey Anthony). And, is the behavior matching the stated interest? Are people consuming news about the economy or do they just say they want more? I also wonder how journalists could overcome all the news values you list — powerful players, immediacy, events, etc. — to get the audience what it wants in financial news. Is there anything you did in Greensboro that you can recommend to others? –Julie

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    All excellent points, John. So, I have a few more questions. First, are newsrooms using the tools available to them to monitor/measure audience interest? If so, are they adjusting when appropriate? It’s not pandering to give people more coverage of the economy if there are signs they want it (vs. giving them more coverage of Casey Anthony). And, is the behavior matching the stated interest? Are people consuming news about the economy or do they just say they want more? I also wonder how journalists could overcome all the news values you list — powerful players, immediacy, events, etc. — to get the audience what it wants in financial news. Is there anything you did in Greensboro that you can recommend to others? –Julie

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    All excellent points, John. So, I have a few more questions. First, are newsrooms using the tools available to them to monitor/measure audience interest? If so, are they adjusting when appropriate? It’s not pandering to give people more coverage of the economy if there are signs they want it (vs. giving them more coverage of Casey Anthony). And, is the behavior matching the stated interest? Are people consuming news about the economy or do they just say they want more? I also wonder how journalists could overcome all the news values you list — powerful players, immediacy, events, etc. — to get the audience what it wants in financial news. Is there anything you did in Greensboro that you can recommend to others? –Julie

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    All excellent points, John. So, I have a few more questions. First, are newsrooms using the tools available to them to monitor/measure audience interest? If so, are they adjusting when appropriate? It’s not pandering to give people more coverage of the economy if there are signs they want it (vs. giving them more coverage of Casey Anthony). And, is the behavior matching the stated interest? Are people consuming news about the economy or do they just say they want more? I also wonder how journalists could overcome all the news values you list — powerful players, immediacy, events, etc. — to get the audience what it wants in financial news. Is there anything you did in Greensboro that you can recommend to others? –Julie

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    All excellent points, John. So, I have a few more questions. First, are newsrooms using the tools available to them to monitor/measure audience interest? If so, are they adjusting when appropriate? It’s not pandering to give people more coverage of the economy if there are signs they want it (vs. giving them more coverage of Casey Anthony). And, is the behavior matching the stated interest? Are people consuming news about the economy or do they just say they want more? I also wonder how journalists could overcome all the news values you list — powerful players, immediacy, events, etc. — to get the audience what it wants in financial news. Is there anything you did in Greensboro that you can recommend to others? –Julie

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t a difficult question. The political coverage is dramatic with interesting and polarizing candidates saying interesting and outrageous things. There are great narratives involving people you know, and to a great extent, it is like watching The Bachelor. Who is up today? What do the polls say? What is the strategy? It is the ultimate horse race.

    The economy is harder to cover and is fullnof depressing stats and stories. The narrative rarely changes from day to day, and the dramatic story arc is too short to maintain constant coverage. And the economy is complicated. It’s difficult boil down to a soundbite, as opposed to politics, which strive for the pithy soundbite.

    Plus, campaigns have people who feed reporters stories, and partisan audience members and readers who call and demand equal time for their candidates. As a result, reporter and editors THINK there is more interest than there is. Does this happen with the economy? I don’t think so.

    John Robinson

  • Anonymous

    All economic news, all the time: http://stateimpact.npr.org/idaho/