OLD Media Moves

Assessing the performance of business journalism isn't that simple

October 15, 2008

Dean Starkman, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, argues that there are many business journalists who have been sounding the alarm about the problems in the housing market and on Wall Street before the economic turmoil, but that assessing the business media’s performance is more complicated than finding the negative stories in archives.

Dean StarkmanStarkman writes, “This isn’t about individuals, after all, but news organizations and the business press as an institution. Any fair measure of press performance will have to take some measure of the record in its entirety. What was the business-press narrative about, generally speaking? What else was written about Wall Street and the financial-services industry? Who was on the covers?

“Were the good stories the rule or the exception that proves it?

“It will also be important to reconstruct the news cultures created by senior editorial leadership, which, it should not be doubted, sets the tone and sends the unspoken-but-unmistakable message to reporters as to what kind of stories are in favor and which are not. If you don’t think this is important, you haven’t worked at one of these places. We’ll never know what wasn’t done. There will be no list, for instance, of goats, the mid-level types who responded to unspoken signals from above and sat on valuable stories, kicked away ideas, and shied away from confrontation.

“And, I’d argue, if you’re really going to do this right, a fair assessment will also have to take into account what was in the available public record and match that—keeping in mind the benefit of hindsight—against the priorities adopted by the leading news outlets.”

Read more here. Starkman argues that the public record on unfair lending practices has been out there, but business journalism wasn’t that aggressive in covering the issue.

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