OLD Media Moves

When business journalists make fact errors, despite good writing

December 15, 2009

Paul Smalera of True/Slant has issued with business journalists Matt Taibbi and Chris Lehmann making fact errors in recent stories and downplaying their significance.

Smalera writes, “Can I say, when I started in research at my first business journalism job, how daunting it was to be handed the monster tome of Barron’s Finance and Investment Handbook and be told to get familiar with it. Or to untangle even superficially simple-looking financial data, only to realize the maze underneath all the cray numbers? Or that similar terms and acronyms can mean very different things? I haven’t been at this as long as Heidi, but finance is absurdly complicated and you need years of experience, regular talks with analysts and experts, regular study of the news and ideally a newsroom full of similarly focused people to work with, to even BEGIN to write knowledgeably on finance, let alone to make it clear to the average non-technical reader.

“There’s only a handful of institutions that can provide this sort of apprenticeship in the financial media world right now, one of which is the Wall Street Journal. Heidi worked there, and I was lucky enough to work with several smart Journal reporters who imported that climate, for a short time, to my magazine. Even so, I realize that any financially complicated article that I undertake is going to take me three times as long to write as a profile about a tech startup, because there’s very little in the way of opinion that a writer can use to lead a reader through a financial article. Financial articles require analysis, based on facts, that lead a writer to a limited set of possible conclusions. And finally, that’s what’s missing from Taibbi’s screeds and Lehmann’s piece on Taibbi and Moore. In disregard, disinterest, misunderstanding or ignorance of the facts, they tee off on the personalities, the nepotism, the cronyism -– anything but the numbers and analysis that actually tells the story.

“Really, my training was just enough to realize how little I know about financial reporting and to insure I be triply careful when I undertake stories in that area myself.”

Read more here.

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