The economics of every story

JAWS CAMP 2012, JAWS CAMP blog l

By Sarah Angle, JAWS Fellow

NPR national economics correspondent Marilyn Geewax talks numbers, jobs, and the economy. And tells JAWDESSES what it takes to be a business reporter.

Quick takeaway: The economy is still sluggish and slow to change, but hope is on the horizon.

BUSINESS SPEAK BREAKDOWN

Jobs: Government jobs are growing. But jobs in the private sector aren’t following the curve.

Housing: Data shows that things are getting better, “but it’s got a long way to go and the upside won’t be dramatic,” Geewax says.

Inflation: It’s not a huge factor now—it’s “tame.”

Interest Rates: “Boy, are they low.” And The Federal Reserve has taken steps to keep it that way.

“People are feeling poor; people aren’t feeling really good about the economy. Americans feel that jobs aren’t plentiful, wages aren’t growing,” says Geewax.

BIG RISKS ON THE HORIZON

  • The European debt crisis: “There will be another financial crisis that breaks from this crisis.”
  • China is weaker is than it admits: The gigantic emerging economy is plagued with corruption and leadership woes. “It’s dicey.”
  • A fiscal calamity caused by Congressional gridlock: People are not investing; people are not spending money. Most likely scenario? “More of the same for the future.”

FOUR REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

  • Energy: Gas and oil drilling is big money in many regions of the country. Unemployment rates in places like Nebraska and Alaska are incredibly low.
  • Agriculture: It’s booming, with the best farm economy we’ve seen in years. The world’s population is growing and so is the middle class, which means American products are in demand.
  • Autos: Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! U.S. automakers are making a comeback and Americans are buying. Even foreign auto manufacturers are setting up plantsin the U.S.
  • Insourcing: More jobs are staying in the U.S.

THERE’S AN ECONOMIC ANGLE TO ALMOST EVERYTHING

How should local reporters cover the economy? Just follow the money. And think about what’s going on around you. Geewax gives some great examples of how to mix the economy into everyday life and work:

Football:

“Sports and money is a really rich area of reporting.” If you need a job, Geewax says, cover the money of sports.

Religious beliefs:

“You could be a religion reporter and blend it with a business beat and come up with some amazing stories. It is a totally unexplored area.”

Weight:

Businesses adjust to larger customers. Bulging waistlines are big business issues at hospitals and airlines. “There are huge business costs embedded in this change in our physiology. And an infinite numbers of business stories you could find discussing weight.”

TIPS OF THE TRADE

“Always remember when covering the economy: You really have no idea what’s going on. Stay alert to surprises. Look for stories you don’t expect. Keep your ears open,” says Geewax. And “stay curious.”

How much do you need to know to be a business reporter? “Not much. Not at first anyway. You don’t need a master’s degree in business to succeed. Ask questions. There’s a lot to learn and it’s always interesting,” she says.

“Life is letting go and embracing the new thing. Democracy depends upon us doing our work.”