OLD Media Moves

Steiger: Biz journalism better, but could be more skeptical

February 16, 2009


Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and now the head of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism operation, says business journalism has improved a lot in the past 25 years, but it could be even better.

“Reporters and editors understand much better the importance of the credit markets and of trade and global finance than we did a generation ago, but the crucial role of credit default swaps in setting up the recent disaster wasn’t picked up soon enough,” said Steiger in an e-mail interview. “Usually when people ask this question, they are asking whether we are sufficiently skeptical, but the level of skepticism tends to be cyclical, peaking after an economic or market collapse.”

Later, Steiger added, “That’s why it is always important for journalists to ask themselves whether the vogue of the moment is overdone, and vogues can lean downward as well as upward. When an economic expansion lasts as long as from 1982 to 2006, it is seductive to see market declines as buying opportunities rather than intimations of mortality.

“Indeed, for most of that period a reader was better served by optimistic coverage than by the opposite. Taking career risks and being deeply invested paid off, for the most part, far better than hunkering down and staying in cash. At the same time, when everyone buys into the same upside story, particularly when it is hard to explain in words of one syllable, that is a great opportunity for journalistic skepticism.”

Steiger also  said that he believes that the Journal is overall better under News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch’s ownership, reiterating a comment he has made in other media.

“I’m particularly impressed by Rupert’s willingness to invest large sums in a difficult market to improve both the print and online versions,” said Steiger.

Read the full interview here.

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