Jon Stewart tore CNBC a new one this week, sending ripples throughout mainstream media and blogosphere. “CNBC hating is mainstream!” Screams one headline. Then came the slew of media pundits, rushing to defend CNBC and by proxy, itself. This one in particular is especially lengthy and defensive. Below are some of the author’s grievances in face of much critique of financial reporting, and my thoughts on them.
We were ignored, then we were cut
It’s been a lousy decade or so for print publishing, and it’s getting worse. Budgets have been cut, newsrooms slashed. Business reporting in most cities is pretty bad, often an adjunct of local chambers of commerce. In other media, there’s been a turmoil of business models, as the Web crowded in, bringing with it a different style and lots of new bodies. Roles have changed. Anyone with a clue (many without) now writes a column or a blog. The business seems full of younger folks (a function of advancing age perhaps); the era when every newsroom had a cranky wise man with a cigar that had seen it all is sadly over. This is particularly a problem in financial journalism, which demands historical perspective and expertise. To make matters worse, finance has grown dramatically more complex, opaque, global over the past few decades. And despite that complexity, the rise of financial television and financial blogging has simplified coverage to an equity horse race, with an omnipresent pressure to predict. Besides, since when has most journalism at any given time been all that stellar? Who correctly called the Great Depression anyway?
Whoa, easy there with the gripings! The newspaper industry did suffer from a drop in readership (some were made up on the web), and a significant drop in advertising revenue from some of its now-bankrupt clients. But the article failed to mention that the largest contributor newspaper failures are the massive debts incurred between 2006 and 2007. For example, had the Tribune Company not triple its debt in one single transaction in a deal to take LA Times and Chicago Tribune private, they would still be able to report earnings in the 10-20% range of their revenues. But the burden of debt changed all that.
As for the complaint that the web “crawled” in and somehow stole mainstream media’s spotlight and authority? Thank you and oh please. Anyone who has followed both streams of reporting can attest that first, mainstream reporting is far from disappearing; and two, the blogosphere supplies and supplements what most media outlets cannot provide: on-time, succinct, cut-to-the-chase reports and commentaries. Some are highly opinionated, even agenda-driven. But at least they do not hide behind the pretense of “objectivity”.