The access and accountability balancing act in business journalism

by
Balancing act

Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review writes about the balancing act of access and accountability by most business journalists in the wake of New York Times business editor Larry Ingrassia announcing last week he was moving to another job at the paper.

Starkman writes, “Like I say, it’s a balancing act. And that absolutely means you can fall off, though usually it’s not so abrupt as a fall; more like a slow sinking into the warm, cushy, perfumed maw of access, where fancy canapés are served.

“On the other side, credit must be given where it’s due, and to say that the Times has walked away from accountability reporting would be just wrong. In 2008, I compared its coverage of the crisis favorably to The Wall Street Journal’s, a judgment that I think holds up. More recently, I’m thinking of the 2010 blockbuster that kept the News Corp. hacking story alive until the Guardian could blow it open the next summer; the iEconomy series, especially the Foxconn story; and the monster-blowout WalMart bribery story. We should call these and other similar stories what they are: a public service.

“(And it’s hard to tell how much the business editor had to do with this story or that one, but, generally speaking, it was Ingrassia’s watch, so he should get credit and blame.)

“Another way to think of it is, if Sorkin has (plenty of) space to do what he does, so does Gretchen Morgenson, who, I’ve written, represents the other pole, does as well. This is the far more vulnerable space, bureaucracy-wise, with its time-consuming, expensive longform stories, confrontations, legal risks, and bridge-burning nature. But there it is.

“Could it be bigger, better, with more? Sure.

“But big institutional journalism, especially in the business-news business, is a balancing act between access and accountability, and the business section of the most important American newspaper under Ingrassia, it should be said, stayed up upright and held on to the umbrella.”

Read more here.