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How to cover economics: An introduction

May 2, 2011

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By Grant Hannis

This primer is for the novice economics journalist working at a local media outlet. Your editor is expecting you to know something about economics data and to report interesting stories that give a local flavor to the big economics stories. This primer tells you how to do that. No prior knowledge of economics is assumed.

The economics beat is one of the most important for any journalist. It reports on major events and phenomena that affect people’s daily lives—prices, interest rates, trade, unemployment, wages, government spending, taxes, etc.

Economics reporters who don’t have formal economics training can still do a great job covering the economics beat. By avoiding the dense technicalities of advanced economics and statistics, they can report and interpret the data for a lay audience, interpreting the information for those in the real world.It is not the business beat. While business journalists report on companies’ activities, financial results, etc., the economics journalist takes a much broader perspective. Economics reporting covers the impact of economic activity on businesses, consumers and the public at large.

The story of a country’s economy is told by the economic indicators that statisticians collect and publish. There are a host of economic indicators produced by federal and state governments and by other agencies. The focus of this primer will be on understanding the main economic indicators and finding stories from the numbers.

Grant Hannis has taught business and economics reporting at universities in the United States and New Zealand. He is head of the journalism program at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand. His doctorate is in economics, and he spent 14 years as a senior financial journalist at Consumer magazine (the New Zealand equivalent of Consumer Reports).


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