Experts in media speak about economic crisis at Communication Week 2009

On Tuesday morning, three panelists spoke to a student audience about the difficulties journalists face covering the economic meltdown. Lisa Gibbs, business editor of the Miami Herald, Brett Graff, a freelance journalist with training as an economist, and Dan Grech, of American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” made up the panel.

This meeting was part of the School of Communication’s annual Communication Week, the theme of which isCommunication Connection, which runs from Feb. 16 to 20. Moderated by Jackie Sousa, a UM journalism professor and metro columnist for the Miami Herald, the panel commenced with an overview of the crisis.

“It all began with the housing bubble bursting, supported with easy access to credit,” Grech said. “Very quickly we started to see this all unravel. Regular people started getting dragged into it recently. Until we hit rock bottom, there is no way to get out of this.”

Graff then explained how different approaches are necessary to covering the issue, specifically in the magazine industry. 

“Magazines want to know what readers can do, how we can use the information to better our own lives,” she said.

Sousa then asked panelists for their opinions about the roles of journalists as watchdogs and if they had failed society by not foreseeing the imminent crisis.

“Only one or two economists actually predicted this. It was not a problem with the press that was reporting about it… but there’s certainly more that could have been done. We do rely heavily on the experts, and the experts got it wrong. We are not independently experts,” Grech said.

“We were criticized as being cheerleaders during the boom and now we are being called doomsayers. But we reflect what our sources are telling us,” Gibbs said. “However, as journalists we have to take the time to put it all into context for our readers and use understandable terms.”

The panelists then asked the student audience to speak about if they have been affected by the recession.  One student spoke of a parent losing their job, making college payments a greater challenge. Another told of her search for a second job, since she is not able to rely as much financially on her parents.

“Every single one of us is affected by these issues,” Grech said.

Sunamita Da Silva, a junior, felt she learned a great deal. 

“It was interesting that they actually admitted that their sources can be wrong and how important it is to describe stories to the public in understandable terms,” she said.