The Columbia Journalism Review has a weird little rant today in which they predict the current Wall Street crisis will wipe out financial journalism. "The beat covered by many publications and thousands of reporters and editors has collapsed," Dean Starkman reports.
Business media outlets that claim to provide authoritative coverage of Wall Street during good times should be first in line for scrutiny now. These would include any publication with the words “wall” and “street” in its name, as well as anything named “deal,” “New York,” “business,” “investors,” and for that matter, “times” and “day.” Bloomberg also apparently boasts supremacy in coverage of the markets that just melted. Oh well. And Forbes and Fortune, you’re in this, too.
Wait, what? We're sorry, we know that journalists love nothing more than declaring journalism dead, but this is just absurd.
One of the things that's become wildly, hugely evident over the past year, from the early stories about subprime mortgages to the confusion over the bailout, is that there are frighteningly few people in America who understand complex financial instruments, or even just the basics of how markets function, and there are fewer still who are able to explain these things to others in a reasonable manner. And American people are hungry for information about the economy, they want to know what's going on, which is why CNBC's ratings have skyrocketed and Andrew Ross Sorkin, as one of apparently ten to fifteen people who can report stories on this, has had like twenty page-one bylines in the past two weeks.
"I'd say it is just the opposite," Sorkin confirmed when we asked him what he thought of Starkman's assertion. "Financial journalism is more important than ever. It's like we're firefighters and the biggest house on the street is now ablaze."
And when the fire is out, and we're looking at a changed financial landscape, won't there be even more of a need for journalists who can record the rebuilding of the American economy? We'd also argue that when — if — the turmoil does end, a channel like CNBC will retain a decent percentage of these new viewers, who after this scare might not want to slip back into ambivalence. In fact, bad as the market is right now? We'd even bet on it.
Editor's Note: Dean Starkman and the Columbia Journalism Review disagreed with our interpretation of his piece. Starkman's response can be found here.