Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jim Cramer Just the Stock-Picker Tip of Business Journalism's Tainted Iceberg

Last Friday on The Newshour, two journalists tried to use CNBC stock picker Jim Cramer, who did not have the best week last week, as a foil and distance their brand of business news from CNBC's notorious reputation for unreliable stock market coverage. The guy from Business Week maintained that they wrote critical stories on the financial sector rather than merely hawking financial stocks. The syndicated columnist agreed and complained that when newspapers act as "a voice in the wilderness" nobody pays attention, so they give up.

Leave it to the Columbia U. professor, whose academic journal is monitoring journalists. For him the problem boils down to one of power:
There were good stories about warning about housing bubbles, also good stories about dangerous mortgage instruments, consumer-type stories.

But I think, when you look back at the record, you'll see that confronting powerful institutions about their lending practices, not to mention Wall Street, was inadequate.

"Washington Mutual is using creative retail approach to turning the banking world upside down," Fortune in 2003. "Sachs Appeal: Goldman Sachs has Emerged from the Market Bust as a Trading Colossus," Forbes, 2007. You could really pick any number of these stories.

And what you're looking at there are stories that aren't really warnings, but, in fact, is the opposite. They're basically saying, hey, these institutions are all clear.
I thought that the academic put journalism's problem in a larger context than that of the journalists, who were strictly focused on cherry-picking counter-examples to CNBC's coverage and complaining about how hard critical reporting is. Of course it is. If it weren't it would not matter so much.

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