The Business Press MIA Before the Crisis

by Chris Sturr | June 18, 2009

From the current Columbia Journalism Review: a detailed review of whether the U.S. business press was paying attention in the years leading up to the financial crisis. The brief answer is—no.

These are grim times for the nation’s financial media. Not only must they witness the unraveling of their own business, they must at the same time fend off charges that they failed to cover adequately their central beat—finance—during the years prior to an implosion that is forcing millions of low-income strivers into undeserved poverty and the entire world into an economic winter. …

We’re dealing with a financial press that is … a battered and buffeted institution that in the last decade saw its fortunes and status plummet as the institutions it covered ruled the earth and bent the government. The press, I believe, began to suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. …

The record shows that the press published its hardest-hitting investigations of lenders and Wall Street between 2000–2003, for reasons I will attempt to explain below, then lapsed into useful-but-not-sufficient consumer- and investor-oriented stories during the critical years of 2004–2006. Missing are investigative stories that confront directly powerful institutions about basic business practices while those institutions were still powerful. This is not a detail. This is the watchdog that didn’t bark.

To the contrary, the record is clogged with feature stories about banks (“Countrywide Writes Mortgages for the Masses,” WSJ, 12/21/04) and Wall Street firms (“Distinct Culture at Bear Stearns Helps It Surmount a Grim Market,” The New York Times, 3/28/03) that covered the central players in this drama but wrote about anything but abusive lending and how it was funded. Far from warnings, the message here was: “All clear.”

The story ends with a short list of lessons to be learned. Here there is a nod to the alternative press, but barely:

Fifth, seek alternatives. Read Mother Jones, or something, once in a while.

Read the whole article here.

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