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July 24, 2009

The Columbia Journalism Review points out what I have observed from time to time regarding journalists’ tendencies to over-hype their own pet issues:

All this tea-leaf reading might be harmless enough, a way for journalists to claim some bragging rights when some of their predictions—as some predictions must—turn out to be correct. But besides being of limited value to readers, this approach depends on an understanding of politics that can’t really justify the exalted treatment we give it in our news media.

The problem here is that the free market is operating in the context of a significant information asymmetry.  When the free market and profit motive are the ultimate arbiters of what is important to know, just like scientists trying to get their research funded, any given journalist has serious incentives to make their beat, their issue, their story cataclysmic or quasi-religious.  Because in a cutthroat and sometimes winner-take-all world of corporate media profit-impulses, the need to grab attention is imperative, even if it means resorting to the distortion of opportunity costs, morality, and reality.

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