Yesterday, Tim Noah made a point in an MSNBC appearance that I think deserves a lot more attention. Media outlets have been doing lots of reporting on the problems of the Affordable Care Act rollout. What they haven't done is provided their audiences with practical information that could help them navigate the new system. Of course, most Americans don't have to do anything, since they have employer-provided insurance. But for all the attention we've been paying to the individual market, media outlets haven't done much to be of service. "The New York Times has published the URL for the New York exchange exactly twice," Noah said, "both before October first."
My experience in talking to journalists about the publication of this kind of thing—unsexy yet useful information, whether it's how to navigate a new health law or understanding where candidates stand on issues—is that they often think that addressing it once is enough. When you ask them about it, they'll say, "We did a piece on that three months ago." The problem is that for it to be effective, they have to do it repeatedly or people won't get it. What we have seen is that this information can be found somewhere on news outlets' websites (here's an example), but it isn't on the evening-news broadcast or in the print edition of the paper.
Of course, conservatives would allege that if a newspaper writes a guide to getting insurance through the new exchange, it has demonstrated its liberal bias and become an arm of the Obama administration. But it's the law. As of next year, if you don't get insurance through your employer, you need to go to an exchange. Media outlets would just be helping people do what they have to do. I suppose conservatives could also argue that if the local paper puts up a tool on its website that helps people find their polling places and tells them what the voting hours are, it's just trying to boost turnout, and everybody knows that helps Democrats. Or that if it reminds you to file your tax returns on April 15th, then it's just helping fund big government. Or that if it tells you to set your clocks back for daylight savings, it's just feeding the Illuminati/Bilderberg time-theft conspiracy.
People sometimes mock "news you can use" because it's often delivered in forms that aren't particularly useful ("There's a silent killer in your refrigerator right now!"). But helping citizens understand and respond to changes in the law is part of any major media outlet's mission. The fact that a law is controversial doesn't absolve them of the responsibility.
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