The issues of business journalism on TV
The challenge of business journalism on television is getting past the visual aspect and focusing on the content, said a former CNBC show host at a business journalism symposium Thursday.
“My three years there made it asbsoultely clear to me that for them, serious business journalism was third or fourth on the list,” said Alan Murray, whose CNBC show “Capitol Report” was canceled 19 months ago and who is now an assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. Murray spoke at “The State — and Future — of Business Journalism.”
“That’s not to say that there aren’t people there who do good business journalism,” added Murray. “You can do serious journalism on television, but its awfully hard and there are a lot of things working against it. At CNBC, there weren’t enough people.”
News meetings at the Wall Street Journal discuss with the news that has broken since the beginning of the day, said Murray. News meetings at CNBC begin with what was in the morning’s paper.
“I left the Wall Street Journal on a Friday, and I started at CNBC on Monday and did my first show on a Tuesday,” said Murray. “I was booking guests and pulling stuff together. At the end of the first week, my head was spinning.”
Before joining CNBC in February 2002, Murray served for nearly a decade as the Journal’s Washington bureau chief. During his tenure, reporters he led were part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes, as well as many other awards.
Part of the problem of business journalism on television is the Nielsen ratings system, which doesn’t take into account the high demographics of typical business journalism consumers.
“The Nielsen system doesn’t measure people at work at all,” said Murray, noting that advertisers such as Charles Schwab and Merrill Lynch who advertise on CNBC during the day are reaching people in the office.
“The folks at CNBC are first-rate journalists and are committed to producing first-rate business journalism. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they succeed spectacularly. But they have a lot going against them.”
Still, Murray later said that he enjoyed his time at CNBC. “I don’t regret the three years I spent in television for one minute,” he said. “If I could throw back the clock, I would do it again. I enjoyed it a lot, and I learned a lot. But we have to think about what we do in as many mediums as possible. It’s about getting information to people.”
Murray said that Fox News has done a good job of torturing CNBC by threatening to start a business news cable channel, but he wondered if they would actually start it because Fox and parent News Corp. are better at providing content that is attractive to a lower demographic. He also said that he doubted the Journal would start a business cable network.
The Journal maintains a contractual relationship with CNBC in which it uses some of its reporters and editors on its shows and has access to some of its editorial content.