Journalists face the mystery of economics

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Today’s Chronicle has a story on the challenges local food banks face with more fresh and frozen food being donated and the increased need for cold storage, which isn’t cheap:

To meet consumer demands for more healthful food choices, grocery stores are stocking more fresh and frozen foods — and donating their excess supplies to food banks.

“If you look at the grocery stores, the can and box aisles are shrinking. Produce is expanding. There are more frozen foods,” said Jan Pruitt, chief executive officer of the North Texas Food Bank and president of the Texas Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.

“Whatever those retail stores look like, food banks have to mirror because that’s the product that is going to be donated to us. We’re following the lead of the food industry.”

This increase in fresh and frozen food donations has meant a more nutritionally balanced meal for those who need food assistance, but it’s also meant agencies have had to expand their cold storage space — a costly proposition for charities already struggling with a tight economy and increased demand for their services.

“Once upon a time, food banks were mostly dry goods,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman with America’s Second Harvest, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

“There is now an increase in the amount of produce, fruit, dairy. To do that you have to have refrigeration and freezer space. It’s a big demand.”

The reporter, Salatheia Bryant, does a little editorializing by stating that cold storage space is “a costly proposition for charities already struggling with a tight economy…” What evidence does Bryant provide for the “tight economy”? Or, better yet, what does a “tight economy” actually mean to Bryant?

The U.S. economy is in pretty good shape, according to this Bloomberg story:

Initial jobless claims dropped to the lowest level since early September, and October new home sales rose to the third- highest ever, other reports showed today. Orders for durable goods, or items made to last at least three years, decreased 0.4 percent after a 0.9 percent gain in September that was four times more than first estimated, the Commerce Department said in Washington.

“The economy is in quite good shape,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital in Greenwich, Connecticut, in an interview. “We are looking at good growth, not blowout numbers.”

Thomas Sowell, who should have a regular op-ed place in the Chronicle‘s Outlook section, wrote a column on the problem of journalists and economics: journalists very often don’t understand even the basics of economics:

The time is long overdue for schools of journalism to start teaching economics. It would eliminate much of the nonsense and hysteria in the media, and with it perhaps some of the demagoguery in politics.

The Chronicle reporter passes on what is conventional wisdom in newsrooms, without providing any actual backup for the claim of a “tight economy.” If Bryant meant to say that current funding levels and donations need to increase so food banks can pay for cold storage, then that’s what should have been said, without the editorializing.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.