This week, SMPA Assistant Professor Nikki Usher travelled to Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy Communications Colloquium, where she presented her research regarding The New York Times’ coverage of the financial crisis.
Usher spent five months with The New York Times business desk conducting an in-depth field study in the wake of the recession. Her research yielded a number of fascinating conclusions about the role of watchdog journalism in the midst of the current financial crisis.
Usher contends the harsh criticism the press garnered for its handling of the lead-up to the financial crisis was undeserved and that it is obvious that newsrooms, like all people, have an aversion to chaos and want what is best for the nation and society. However, she makes the case that newsrooms also hold two conflicting values: on the one hand, the desire for a successful market economy, and, on the other, the desire that corporations not profit at the expense of the people.
Usher believes these opposing values can explain the coverage of the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Business reporters have a more sophisticated understanding of Occupy Wall Street,” said Usher. “My sense is, because these reporters both empathize with the sense of anger of the protestors and understand that there is good reason why markets work the way that they do, the coverage becomes very nuanced.”
This nuanced reporting, according to Usher, frustrates readers, who then believe reporters are defending Wall Street over Main Street.
Moreover, Usher argues that watchdog journalism actually takes two forms. While newspapers tended to simply provide necessary information to the public on the financial crisis, the public has judged these papers using a second definition of watchdog journalism, holding them accountable for actions produced as a result of the information published.
Usher currently is using the results of her field study as a foundation for a forthcoming book.