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Journalists need to challenge conventional wisdom. Start with house prices and retirement age

June 17, 2015

There is too much lazy journalism around. I don’t mean the sort where under pressure junior journalists cut and paste whole press releases onto  websites in order to meet pressing demands for more and more stories per hour to go online. I am talking about the stuff written and broadcast by experienced, senior journalists for major media outlets.

There is too much unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom on a wide range of economic, financial and political issues. This does not serve readers and listeners well and does nothing to promote constructive, intelligent debate on some of the key issues of the day. Two examples illustrate the problem very well.

The first is rising house prices. This is invariably presented as a good news story. Experts are quoted “welcoming” rises, “warning” of slowdowns, frequently the headlines are about house price “booms” with the clear implication being that this is a good thing. There is some awareness that rising houses prices are not good for everybody – such as first time buyers – but if this is acknowledged it invariably appears low down in a piece. Surely this is a story that deserves far greater scrutiny and a more balanced approach. There are so many downsides to rising houses prices – affordability, young people priced out, rising debt levels, impact on rent levels, distorted incentives to build the wrong type of homes in the wrong places and so on – that journalists should take a deep breath before accepting an uplift in prices as a positive angle.

Another topic that recurs frequently nowadays is retirement age. Every time suggestions are made that retirement ages should rise this is inevitably treated as a bad news story. Why? Working until, say 70, is not bad news in itself. People live so much longer than when retirement ages were set nearly a century ago, causing all sorts of sociological and economic challenges. We need people to work longer so they earn longer and save more for retirement. The state cannot support a rapidly growing retired population so raising retirement ages is surely good news from that perspective. Many people even welcome the opportunity to work longer – just look at the success of B&Q in recruiting older people to work for it.

Journalists are, along with everybody else, surrounded by what we might loosely label conventional wisdom. But they are also in a privileged position where they can challenge it. They should do exercise that privilege and their critical faculties far more.

From → Publishing

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