As a journalism major, I'm always interested in stories that have to do with journalists, their education, and their schools. Where is the major going? And what do experts have to say about it?
I recently read a blog that brought a large error to my attention. In the New York Times, there was an article about corporations not paying taxes. Go follow the link and head to the bottom of the page. You'll find a correction there - apparently their journalists (or editors, for this case) didn't know the difference between revenue and profit.
More in-depth information about the "why" behind this huge mistake can be found here . Here is an excerpt, offering background information on their mistake:
"Yesterday the New York Times ran a story on a study by the Government Accountability Office that was commissioned by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Byron Dorgan. The study found that from 1998 to 2005, two out of three American corporations didn't pay any corporate income taxes. Levin and Dorgan trumpeted this finding as though it meant something.
As usual, the Democrats were preying on ignorance. As Levin and Dorgan undoubtedly know, most small businesses, and many large ones, don't pay federal income taxes because they don't make any money. Most companies, especially small ones, pay their employees, after which there is nothing left to report as profit. Those salaries, of course, are taxed as ordinary income. If the corporations are Subchapter S, any earnings are passed through to the owner(s) and taxed at that level. The idea that "corporations" represent some kind of magical money pot for the government to steal from is just one more Democratic Party fantasy. On the contrary, the United States has the second-highest corporate income tax rates in the world, a fact that hurts our economy badly. As dumb as the Levin-Dorgan press release was, however, it wasn't dumb enough for the New York Times. The paper got out its calculator, multiplied the gross revenues of the companies in the GAO study by 35%, and came up with this classic of economic ignorance: 'At a basic corporate tax rate of 35 percent, all the corporations covered in the study in theory owed $875 billion in federal income taxes.' In theory, a company pays 35% of its net income to the feds, not its gross receipts. That reporters and editors at the New York Times should be ignorant of this basic fact is shocking. How in the world can these people purport to instruct the rest of us on economic matters, when they lack the most fundamental understanding of how our tax system works?"
This whole ordeal really took me by surprise. I guess that as a journalism major, we tend to focus solely on the aspects of writing and reporting, as well as ethics. But how ethical is it to make such broad, hasty assumptions, like the ones made in the NY Times article? To state that corporations owed $875 billion in federal income taxes, when corporations are typically taxed on their profit (net income) rather than their revenue, is a major ethical issue.
I personally dislike mathematics and things that have to do with numbers. Many journalism majors probably do, considering the fact that they have chosen to devote their careers to the written word rather than number crunching. But I am convicted about my responsibility to stay educated in all matters that I may need to report on in the future - this includes history, political science, international affairs, and yes, economics.
Right now, the University of Florida School of Journalism requires an economics class of every student who wishes to graduate with a journalism degree. I think that is an awesome idea. I plan to take a basic economics class in the spring, but then if I have room in my schedule, I would definitely take more of them. Learning about the math behind our nation's economy is both beneficial and imperative for today's journalists.
For those interested, NewsUniversity offers an online class entitled "Math for Journalists." If you have some spare time, go through the course and let me know what you think. Hopefully I can join in on this class and use it as a mathematical refresher.