Storm brews over Labor Department jobs data

Executives from business media agencies told Congress Wednesday that Labor Department changes to the way financial journalists report jobs information could infringe upon the freedom of the press.

Just last week, a weak May jobs report rocked financial markets when the government revealed only 69,000 new jobs were created last month. Housing analysts rely on jobs data to assess the strength of the underlying economy, which is key to restoring the real estate market.

Specifically, representatives from Bloomberg, Reuters and various media organizations are pushing back against a Labor Department initiative that would prevent journalists from using their own software and hardware when reporting on jobs data from a lock-up area in the Labor Department. That closed off area gives reporters direct and quick access to job reports before their market release. The lock-up area lets journalists analyze the data, giving them time to synthesize the information before all of the data is released to the public.

Under new guidelines that the media is protesting, reporters would have to use government hardware and software placed in the room to compile their reports. This is a major point of contention for journalists who believe it would essentially amount to reporters writing news articles on government-controlled equipment. To date, reporters are compiling jobs reports on their own hardware and software that they bring into the room.

The government proposed the change, saying it was a measure to control data safety and promote cyber security since markets can be riled by this information.

“The department plan would require us to use government equipment to do our job,” said Rob Doherty, general manger for Reuters news, who testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform on this issue Wednesday. “It would be a major step backwards for news organizations.”

Daniel Moss, executive director of Bloomberg News, said “the government would essentially have reporters write news articles on government-owned and operated computers, which would give the government access to the reporters’ notes.”

He added that media organizations, including Sunshine in Government, are working with the Labor Department to come up with a solution that will not impact the integrity of jobs reporting.

The hearing also revolved around questions raised about how the Labor Department classifies green jobs.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow with The Manhattan Institute, told the Committee that new green jobs are in some cases just existing jobs that have been reclassified as green.

“It’s much easier to redefine an existing job as a new green job,” she told the committee. “The bureau of Labor Statistics decides which jobs are green and which ones are not. I’d like to argue that we should focus on job creation.”

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