Tag Archives: Commentary
Robert MacMillan, an editor at Reuters, writes Tuesday about the process of translating corporate statements into useful English that can be used in business news stories while he visits the wire service’s Bangalore, India bureau.
MacMillan writes, “The easiest way to make that pain vanish is to accept what the companies say. We’re working people; we just want to do our piece for our subscribers, our readers and our bosses and get the hell out of work and go home and relax. After all, journalism might be a noble profession or a vile one, depending on whom you ask, but for most of us, we’re trying to get through the day and tell people some things that they want to know.
“All of us at Reuters and our competitors deal with this. Our Bangalore bureau deals with it more than most. These reporters and editors deal with the heavy volume of company statements. They’re the ones who publish the early versions of the stories that our beat reporters later update and prettify. You could say they’re just moving the copy, but their obligation, as much as anybody else’s, is to interpret what’s going on. They also have to do it within minutes, then update, then do it again, all while knowing that at some point, if the story is important enough, someone else is going to get the byline. A shared credit often is the best there is.
“The challenge we face in that bureau is how we move quickly while properly analyzing what the hell is going on when some company releases an incoherent statement. We need to find the drama and the narrative and say it correctly and say it quickly. Not easy. Every New York reporter who did this before we moved these operations to Bangalore knows it. When we do those things, people understand the importance of the news to their lives – or maybe sometimes just their portfolios – but sometimes their lives.”
Read more here.
Columbia University professor Anya Schiffrin, who recently edited the book “Bad News: How America’s Business Press Missed the Story of the Century,” writes for Reuters about how she recently reviewed early business journalism and how it compares to current business reporting.
Schiffrin writes, “Few today would accept the vagaries and obvious imprecision of those centuries-old dispatches. Yet reading recent press coverage of the parlous state of the U.S. economy, I often have the feeling that reporters and economists are just as confused today as they were in West Bengal in the 18th century. A recent New York Times story about new job numbers, showing that only 36,000 jobs were created but that the unemployment rate fell from 9.4% to 9.0%, left me perplexed, especially when I turned to Bob Herbert’s column saying the numbers didn’t really make sense. Floyd Norris also offered a partial explanation of why the numbers often aren’t reliable.
“Media critics and academics give many reasons for why economic reporting often falls short. They note that economists are often uncertain as to where the economy is headed, and that reporters lack the knowledge to analyze the data they receive. Writing a short piece to a tight deadline means there often isn’t the time and space to delve into deeper economic questions. And then there is the question of ‘cognitive capture’ (a term coined by economist Willem Buiter) which Financial Times editor Gillian Tett has used to describe the fact that journalists often take on the worldview of the people they cover. In the case of business journalism this means the view that markets work well and that U.S.-style capitalism is the best in the world.
“Today’s business journalism is more sophisticated than it was 200 years ago. And the financial crisis has produced some superb reporting from people like Michael Hudson, Gretchen Morgenson, and the late Mark Pittman. But since my book has come out I’ve heard many stories of journalists being told by their editors to downplay their warnings of how badly the economy is doing. If business journalists want to do an even better job, they would serve their readers well if they could be a bit more critical and follow their instincts as to what seems wrong, distorted or missing — even if it means questioning the conventional wisdom.”
Read more here.
DISCLOSURE: I contributed a chapter to “Bad News.”
Hal Morris, writing on his Grumpy Editor blog, notes that many media published more coverage of troubled actress Lindsay Lohan going to court than the capture by pirates of a U.S.-bound supertanker that provides one fifth of daily U.S. crude imports.
“Full front-page photos of her, attired in a tight-fitting white dress, appeared yesterday in the New York Post, Daily News and AM New York while The Los Angeles Times gave her three-column, front-page art with a story on an inside page.
“Even The Wall Street Journal gave the actress far more space (an inside three-column photo, with caption only) than the captured supertanker which was wrapped up in one-and-a-half sentences distilled from an Associated Press story.”
Read more here.
Peter Goodman, the business editor of the Huffington Post, writes about the role of the business media in the recent financial crisis.
Goodman writes, “The trouble was that a louder chorus repeatedly drowned out this probing reporting about the magnitude of the real estate bubble–a steady celebration of permanently rising home price, the fantasy that propelled a construction binge, a mortgage bonanza and no end of wealth that got created along the way. That chorus abetted and enabled the capture of the regulators who are supposed to be able to tune out such noise while dispassionately scrutinizing the numbers.
“This is not to exonerate the press or chastise the lazy reader, the reflexive posture for many a scribe whose words have failed to produce happy results. Though the press rarely has the power to dominate events and does not make policy, we are collectively responsible for the understanding that our audience takes away from our words. And it is a fair hit to assert that we are prone to being manipulated and getting swept up in the excitement of the times, rather then stopping to ask the critical, typically difficult-to-answer questions that public service journalism demands.
“This is not so much because we consciously decide to become cheerleaders, urging on bubbles that take shape on our watch, but rather because cheerleading is the product of the easiest options that present themselves on any given day. Rising prices, soaring stock markets and the wealth accruing to executives overseeing the festivities are verifiable facts, whereas warnings and worrying entail the indulgence of conjecture and speculation, and they might turn out to be wrong.
“It takes a special breed of reporter to do the digging and put faith in their convictions as they take on the dominant narrative of the moment–particularly when that narrative is championed by prize-winning economists celebrated as wise men, such as the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben Bernanke, who played leading roles in convincing the public that everything was fine.”
Read more here.
Craig Ey, the editor of the Philadelphia Business Journal, writes in Friday’s edition about the role and responsibility of business journalism in a free society like the United States.
Ey writes, “That begins to break down when the business press sees itself differently; when business journalists stop taking on the same kind of watchdog role as government and political journalists. In a way, that’s what happened over the last decade. The tough questions weren’t asked.
“When you read the Philadelphia Business Journal online or in print, you need to know that what you’re getting is accurate intelligence about community and business leaders, your competitors and your industry. Cheerleaders can’t do that. The old saying among ink-stained — and now monitor-weary — wretches is that our role is ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’
“While we may roll our eyes at such idealism, it’s really still true. Life and business may be unfair at times, but an active press can certainly help level the landscape.
“The logo of California-based Ameriquest included an image of the Liberty Bell, which has become the symbol of what it means to live in a free society. But with freedom comes a ton of responsibility, and all media, including the business media, plays a central role. Hopefully, the lesson has been learned.”
Read more here. A subscription is required.
Jonathan Berr writes on 24/7 Wall St. about the relationship between business journalists and analysts, including Rochdale Securities banking analyst Richard Bove.
Berr writes, “Bove is one of an elite group of go-to analysts who journalists can count on for pithy commentary under tight deadlines. Many analysts and fund managers are either unable or unwilling to do it because of the time involved. Others flock to the press when they can to raise their profile. Bove, for his part, has mediocre ratings which he argues is a reflection of his firm’s small size rather than his performance as an analyst. For instance, in order to do well on the Institutional Investor rankings ‘you really need to have a much larger marketing force,’ he says, adding that he last ranked on the list for 9 years in the 1980s. ‘My work is judged by how much money I bring in.’
“Some analysts with great reputations in the media, such as Meredith Whitney, who is credited with being one of the first to see the coming financial crisis in 2007 and is now forecasting a wave a municipal defaults, also are not considered by Institutional Investor and Starmine, another rating service owned by Thomson Reuters, to be among the best in their field. Neither is Gene Munster of Pipper Jaffray, the often-quoted pundit on Apple Inc., or banking analyst Mike Mayo of Caylon Securities, rival of Bove. Some analysts are quoted more often than they should be because they are accessible to the press, either because they are publicity hounds by nature or their firms force them to be that way. Reporters and producers also turn to analysts like them oftentimes out of habit or laziness.
“Sadly, their mediocre performance may not matter. The media loves to write about colorful analysts such as Bove even if they think they are wrong.”
Read more here.
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon writes Monday about journalism sites that want to charge consumers for access, in the wake of being asked to be on the advisory board for Fiwords.com, the site for The Financial Writer’s Stylebook, which is charging for access.
“The site’s content is useful, and the site itself is very well designed, so one would think that the most natural thing in the world would be to make it free. It would rapidly rise to the top of many Google searches, it would become a loved and much-used resource, it would be able to crowdsource help with tricky definitions, and it would be a sought-after advertising venue for many financial-services companies. Instead, Roush and his publisher have put up this paywall, on the grounds, he told me, that ‘we’ve put all of the content from the book, and more, onto the site, so if we gave it away for free, no one would buy the book.’
“That’s silly — and just as solipsistic as those newspaper publishers who fear cannibalizing themselves. If people want to look up financial terms online, they’re going to do so whether or not fiwords.com is free. If it is free, they’ll use it; if it isn’t, they won’t. They’re not going to buy a fiwords.com subscription on the off chance that the definitions there turn out to be substantially better than the definitions elsewhere.
“More to the point, they’ll be more likely to buy the book if they regularly get a lot of value out of its content online. The experience of publishers who have put works up for free online is very consistent: print sales go up, not down.”
Read more here. DISCLOSURE: I am one of the authors of the stylebook. I disagree with Salmon, but I think it’s only fair to post his argument.
Kellaway writes, “The problem with Fortune’s rankings – and with all similar ones – is not that the exercise is a daft one. Actually, it is quite worthwhile. It is helpful both to prospective employees and to managers. The problem is that it makes an extremely simple thing seem fantastically complicated.
“We all know what distinguishes a good employer from a bad one. A good one provides four basic things. First, it makes sure that everyone has a proper job to do. Second, it pays them fairly. Third, it makes employees feel that their efforts are recognised. And fourth, it gives them nice people to work with. That’s all: there is nothing else.
“Fortunately, there is an easy way to measure whether a company is succeeding at these things. It doesn’t involve answering tiresome questions on long feedback forms. It does not require any examination of benefits or of corporate social responsibility policies. There is nothing subjective about the test at all.
“It simply measures how long people stay with a company. This is the only consideration that matters. Anyone who is not happy with their job will eventually go somewhere else. If most people stay put for a long time, the company automatically proves itself to be a good place to work.”
Read more here.
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon doesn’t like a recent Wall Street Journal article that looks at for-profit educational institutions and their friends and how they’re attempting to discredit investors shorting their shares.
Salmon writes, “Now, the results of the FOIA requests have been made available to the WSJ, which devotes three bylines and 2,000 words to their entirely un-newsworthy contents. What the WSJ doesn’t do is even attempt to ask any of Fernholz’s questions, let alone answer them. CREW is presented as an entirely unconflicted organization:
A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week that “certain hedge fund managers had direct and sustained input into the regulatory process.”
In what the group called “more troubling,” it said Education Department officials sought and received investors’ input despite knowing their financial motives, and asked for an investigation…
Investors were on the scene as well. Their efforts are revealed in large caches of documents and emails reviewed by the Journal, many of which surfaced as a result of a freedom-of-information suits filed by CREW, the Washington watchdog, and of legal action by a Florida for-profit college.
One investor, a New York firm called Quilcap Corp., sent a research article to an Education Department official, the emails show.
“It goes on from there — but the fact that the WSJ’s list of revelations is topped by an emailed research article says all that you need to know. The only reason the WSJ is covering this story at all seems to be that the information was not public before — but just because something was secret doesn’t make it newsworthy.
“The fact that the WSJ is covering a non-story is no big deal. Much worse is the fact that the real story — the corruption of liberal organizations — was right under their nose, and sitting in plain sight in any Google search, yet they completely ignored it. It seems that even the WSJ is much happier gratuitously participating in the demonization of short-sellers than in impartial coverage of the debate over for-profit colleges.”
Read more here.
Marketwatch.com media columnist Jon Friedman gives guidance Friday on how Apple out to be covered by business journalists.
Here is an excerpt:
Follow the money
The best measure, as always, with a public company, is to follow the money — that is, the stock price. The Wall Street traders are usually highly reliable indicators of how a company is doing now and what its prospects are — much like the Las Vegas odds makers who handicap the sporting events.
Don’t be blinded by Apple’s light
Meanwhile, don’t assume anything. Just because Apple’s stock surged 70% during Jobs’s last health-related absence, it is no reason to suggest that lightning could strike twice for Apple and its stockholders. Make Apple earn its accolades.
Be skeptical, not cynical
This is really the watchword for journalists. Apple has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making lofty predictions about its glittering product line. The longer Jobs is forced to stay away, the longer the shadow on new products. When it comes to the second generation of the iPad, for instance, it should be a lead-pipe cinch for success, regardless of whether Jobs is on the scene or not.
Read more here.