Brad De Long thinks very highly of Greg Ip, even when Brad thinks Greg gets something wrong. Brad thinks Greg is very sharp. So do I. But the other reason why Greg Ip is such a good economic journalist is that he was thoroughly trained in both Journalism and Economics. And I'm very proud to say that he was trained in both right here at Carleton University. (Since I'm blogging on Carleton time, I might as well give Carleton some advertising, especially when it's well-deserved.)
But the data I have (warning: DataCubes is a very powerful tool, but it takes practice to figure it out) make for depressing reading. Greg is very much the exception. Very few Journalism students at Carleton study any economics.
Carleton has the top Journalism School in Canada. (OK I'm biased, but it's still true). We admit about 200 students into first year, about 100 continue into second year, and most of those graduate with a Bachelor of Journalism. (It was about 125 continuing into second year in 2006 and 2007).
On average, about 10 BJ students take ECON1000 each year. Most of those are in first year BJ, with just one or two in second year. So let's say 6% of Journalism students have taken Introduction to Economics (a full year course). Since ECON1000 is a prerequisite to all other Economics courses, we can say that 94% of Journalism students take no economics courses while at university.
There are about 10 BJ registrations in economics courses (full course equivalents) beyond ECON1000 each year. Since some BJ students will take more than one upper year economics course, we can say that even fewer than 6% of Journalism students take any economics course beyond ECON1000.
If they are not taking economics, what are they taking (outside of journalism, of course)? Compared to about 20 registrations in economics courses each Fall term, there are about 300 in history, about 190 in political science, 170 in English, 160 in French (OK, a second language is required), 150 in Arts and Culture, 90 in law, 70 in psychology, 60 in sociology/anthropology, 50 in other languages, 30 in philosophy, and so on.
And what else are Journalism students not taking? Compared to the 20 registrations in economics, there are about 15 in geography/environment, 15 in Business, and 15 in the whole Faculty of Science.
I have two theories of why journalism students take so few economics courses:
1. Economics is seen as hard. Journalism students are especially keen to avoid courses they think are hard, since they need good grades to continue in journalism.
2. Journalism students are "artsies". Students who enjoy history and English at school but want a job decide to take journalism at university.
Perhaps these two theories aren't really distinct; economics, like science, is seen as hard by students who are good at and enjoy history and English. And my data can't really distinguish between those two theories anyway. But why do so few journalism students take geography/environmental studies? It's even lower than economics!
I think Canadian econoblogger John Palmer used to teach economics to journalism students at UWO. I would like to hear his views on the subject.
Anyway, I can't explain why journalism students take so few economics courses. But I think that fact does explain why good economic journalists are so rare.
One tiny data point of good news: one journalism student has recently taken advanced micro, advanced macro, and econometrics (it must be the same one; it can't be three different students)! Maybe we've got another Greg Ip in the pipeline!