The opening panel at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual meet in Denver addressed an interesting question: Did 9,000 business journalists blow it when it came to ringing the alarm bells on the financial meltdown?
The five SABEW panelists — The New York Times’ business editor Larry Ingrassia, Columbia Journalism Review critic and former Wall Street Journal reporter Dean Starkman, personal finance columnist Jane Bryant Quinn, Emmy-winning former ABC News investigative reporter Allan Dodds Frank and Greg Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan — agreed that the financial press could have done more. Newspapers, wire services, magazines and television stations could have been more aggressive, and they could have taken more pains to explain why complex things like mortgage-backed securities might matter to the average reader.
But journalists can hardly be accused of “blowing it” when even doomsday pundits like Bob Shiller and Nouriel Roubini could predict only parts of the nightmare scenario that is unfolding in the U.S. economy right now, the panelists said.
CJR’s Starkman, who’s just completed a “deep dive” into the news coverage leading up to the financial crisis, said his report, which will be up for public consumption next month, found that the top journalism outlets didn’t do a good enough job of signalling that the tiny sparks in the housing and securities markets could flame up into a giant financial blaze.
“If the question is, did the business press provide adequate warnings to the public about the crisis, the answer is negative,” Starkman said. His 6,400-word report, which surveyed scores of articles in publications like the NYT, WSJ, Forbes, Fortune and others between January 2000 and June 2007, concludes that the investigative reporting started out strong but then downshifted to “good, but not sufficient,” as reporters wrote about the housing bubble and defective mortgage products, but failed to focus on the lenders.