Dig deeper, financial journos!

PEOPLE USED to dismiss sports writers as "fans with typewriters," but "too many financial journalists, like sports reporters are fans of capitalism with typwriters" (or modern equivalent)  who have "bought into the existing economic order, even more so than the advertisers." Most financial journalists play the market, are property owners, and have ISAs, shares and money purchase pension schemes. "Very few," however, "have the analytical skills or will to know what's going on."

Peter Wilby tells it like it is - © Guy Smallman
Peter Wilby tells it like it is:

That's the view of Guardian media columnist and former Independent on Sunday  editor Peter Wilby, speaking on the role of the media in a financial crisis at the London Freelance Branch Annual General Meeting in January.

Peter recalls how when he edited a Sunday paper, there was a "Friday night drop", in which "self- serving" tip-offs from financial PRs went round the Sunday papers to reassure investors, ramp up a takeover bid, or do in rivals in the financial sector.

When Peter spoke, the Treasury Select Committee had just had its first round of grilling journalists as part of its investigation into the role of the media in ensuring financial stability. While the Committee accused some journalists of "careless headlines or injudicious reporting which risk becoming self-fulfilling prophecies", Peter argued that if the system had really been sound, the rumours wouldn't have got anywhere, and that BBC News financial editor Robert Peston, by warning Northern Rock punters to get their money out fast, was doing them a service. Peter noted that the Newspaper Society had told the Treasury Select Committee that the media had no role in safeguarding financial stability, it was there "simply to report news events."

Peter's complaint is not that financial journalists overplayed the crisis, but that they underplayed it. He lost count of the number of occasions the Times said the crunch was over. According to Peter, in January 2007 the Times reported that Northern Rock was "firing on all cylinders", promising a "new era of bigger returns for savers".

By the spring, the same newspaper assured readers that the "jitters are overdone." Rather than restrict financial journalists, says Peter, we should "give them a kick up the hindquarters and tell them to investigate more".

[Site map] Last modified: 18 Feb 2009 - © 2009 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editors of the time
Send comments to the editors: editor@londonfreelance.org