Back in 2002 the Columbia Journalism Review published a piece on “Invisible Agencies,” which focused on the rarity of prominent reporting on administrative law decisionmaking. It was a superb piece of meta-journalism, explaining in detail the blinders of the MSM:
Reporting on the regulatory beat, of course, is hard. It requires a reporter to know science, law, administrative procedure, and politics. Journalists must understand the industry in question and the subtleties of regulation – what’s proposed, what the regulated industries prefer, and how the public will be affected. Learning all this takes time. Where once reporters like George Anthan, who covered food safety regulations for the Des Moines Register, could spend weeks plowing through stacks of inspection records at the Department of Agriculture, reporters now tend to want and need something quick and dirty.
Maybe that explains why some of the best reporting on the regulatory beat is done by trade-press reporters, whose job it is to accurately report the nuances of regulation for the regulated industries that have profits riding on the agency decisions. For example, Allison Beers, who recently left her post as managing editor of Food Chemical News, became an expert on the workings of the Department of Agriculture when she was covering food safety regulation, and her stories stand out.
Fortunately, a couple of recent stories break the trend of administrative obscurity. I’ll post on them in a bit.