OLD Media Moves

Kantrow disses CJR for dissing

February 27, 2006

Yvette Kantrow, the executive editor of TheDeal.com and one of the sharpest analyzers of business media coverage, took Columbia Journalism Review to task in her weekly column. Seems the self-appointed media watchdog was too critical of Barron’s recent critical piece on Google for Kantrow’s taste.

Google coverKantrow writes: “If stories about the market, or a particular stock, must be “ironclad” and “unambiguous,” as CJR deems they must, any journalist now writing about stocks (or bonds or soybean futures or anything else bought and sold on an open exchange) should just unplug their computers, throw away their Rolodexes and retreat to that cute little bookstore in Vermont right now.

“For nothing about a market is certain; just because a stock trades at one price today doesn’t mean it will trade at that price a year from now, a month from now, even a day from now. There is no such thing as an ‘ironclad’ story when writing about the market, unless of course, you’re simply reporting what’s already happened. Once you get into predicting how a stock (or a company, for that matter) will perform tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, uncertainty is inescapable.

“That’s not to say, of course, that financial reporters should feel free to carelessly produce uninformed stories fueled by reckless speculation. But that’s hardly what [Barron’s writer Jacqueline] Doherty did. Right off the bat — the second paragraph, to be exact — she acknowledges that ‘there are those who disagree’ with her bearish thesis and expect Google to go as high as $2,000 a share. She then engages in what she admits is a ‘less than scientific’ exercise in which she shaves 20% off of an ‘uber-bull’s’ 2006 revenue estimates for Google; trims his projected expenses; makes a few other assumptions about compensation and cash and concludes that Google would be worth $188 a share, not its recent $360.”

Later, Kantrow added, “Does CJR really want financial reporting that does nothing but repeat or reinforce the conventional wisdom? Barron’s, interestingly enough, caught similar flak in March 2000 when it ran its infamous — or should we upgrade it to famous? — burn-rate story that claimed that scores of new-economy darlings were quickly heading for bankruptcy. Other journalists, Web companies and investors severely chastised the magazine for causing Internet stocks to fall with an analysis they viewed as deeply flawed. But when the tech-heavy Nasdaq crashed one month later, the piece was hailed as visionary for being one of the first to take sky-high Internet valuations to task.”

Read Kantrow’s entire column on the issue here.

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