OLD Media Moves

Weiss: CJR Daily gets it flat wrong on WSJ piece

June 28, 2006

Gary Weiss, the author of Wall Stret versus America, complains mightily on his blog tonight about how the CJR Daily web site makes some unfounded complaints about a Wall Street Journal article focusing on Warren Buffett‘s gift of $37 billion on Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Gates Foundation.

Weiss noted that the story from the Journal was a “Heard on the Street” column that focused on the impact of Berkshire’s stock price. Yet, the CJR Daily, a blog about journalism run by the Columbia Journalism Review, failed in the most basic understanding of how business journalism works.

The CJR Daily’s critique was this: “Is it because the Journal’s sources actually stand to profit from the very fluctuations they claim to fear (and profit even more if they can whip up some market hysteria with an article in a prominent business newspaper)? We can only speculate, but there is no doubt that there is a deeply cynical strain of business reporting that has come to reduce everything to numbers, seemingly blind to the reality that business affects people — real lives that are either trampled or uplifted depending on the decisions of market players like Buffett.”

And Weiss replied: “Jumping butterballs! What is wrong with these people? There is absolutely nothing in the article suggesting that dark, nefarious market players were feeding info to the Journal, hoping to ‘profit’ from ‘market hysteria.’ Besides, it is beyond me how a story like this, a story so non-earthshaking, could whip up ‘hysteria’ for a stock as large as Berkshire.

“But that’s not what I find bizarre. The obvious answer to the ‘why write it’ was that an editor assigned it or that a reporter thought, with good reason, that it was a good story. For the CJR website to allege, without evidence, that a couple of Journal reporters (this was a joint byline) were manipulated by market players is just… it’s just… yecch. (Oh, and full disclosure: I have never met either Journal reporter.)

“The CJR Daily piece concludes with this sanctimonious cheap shot: ‘Maybe one day the folks on Wall Street will come to realize that good deeds add value, and maybe the journalists who cover that beat will report on the perfect negative correlation between the rise in Berkshire’s stock and the demand for tasteless fortresses and marble statuary in Greenwich, CT.’

“There are plenty of reasons to find fault with financial journalism. I criticize the media severely in my book for touting investment managers and being overly deferential to hedge funds, among other things. But this kind of snarky article seems only to prove that the folks at CJR Daily are having a hard time filling space.”

Read more here. Weiss makes a good argument.

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