Economics reporter critiques media, public over crisis

An important factor in understanding the recent economic downfall is comprehending the difference between public perception of the economic crisis with its reality, a business reporter of The New York Times said at the Elliott School on Wednesday.

Diana B. Henriques, a senior writer at The New York Times and a GW alumna, tried to qualm student fears about the calamity while critiquing its media coverage as she spoke to several students.

“People do not react to what has really happened, they only react to what they think happened,” Henriques said.

She said the public has failed to respond to repeated warnings of financial crisis from the media over the past several years. One of the factors Henriques cited as possible reasons for the lack of public perception of the worsening economic situation is the “paradox of the 24 hour news cycle.” In the effort to keep audience attention, channels are “spending less time on each issue” which leads people to “know less and less about more and more” different issues, she said.

Henriques also cited the inability of corporate leaders to communicate their technical knowledge to the general public as a possible reason for the financial downfall. She said it is essential for students to develop their communication skills and ability to explain complex issues clearly and persuasively.

Henriques, an alumna of The Hatchet, advises Elliott School faculty and staff as chairwoman of the school’s International Council.

In response to Tuesday’s election, Henriques said it will be interesting to watch President-elect Barack Obama’s efforts to communicate with the public. She said that Obama’s campaign showed him to be “more comfortable talking to the public about complex and often sensitive issues” and doesn’t “imagine he will drop these skills at the White House doors.”

She added that the public refuses to accept facts because politicians discredit the mainstream media and the sources of the facts.

“It doesn’t matter if the guy telling you that your house is on fire is a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative,” Henriques said. “Your house is still on fire.”

Elizabeth Gorman, a student in the Elliott School’s international affairs master’s program, introduced Henriques to the audience.

“I hope that (Henriques) gets across how important it is to make complex ideas clear for people to understand how bad the economic crisis is and to inform readers about policy issues,” Gorman said.

Elliott School Dean Michael Brown said Henriques’ discussion drew many parallels between her comments on economics and economic journalism and Brown’s field of international security.

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