Sunday, April 12, 2009

Financial News, Front and Center: What Took So Long?

The New York Times - THERE is a well-worn but telling newspaper industry joke: “If it bleeds, it leads.” But that has never applied to the elementary, if trickier, parts of business news — things like the federal budget deficit, current account shortfalls, or quarterly losses at companies like G.M.

Despite the dramatic rise in stock ownership among ordinary Americans through 401(k) plans and electronic trading, financial news has remained, at best, an afterthought for most general-interest publications. Even though many financial threats the world faced in recent years were hiding in plain sight — in the pages of the business press — the broader media’s longstanding indifference to economic news helped keep it safely out of the public dialogue.

Forget about television. Viewers tend to find business chatter more boring than a test pattern or a Charlie Rose interview. It has never delivered ratings — even CNBC considers an audience of 600,000 a pretty good day, and the network’s unaccountable loudmouth, Jim Cramer, is lucky to get a quarter of that.

Now that the global financial system’s belly-flop has become Topic A, the mainstream media has stifled its yawns and is digging in ferociously. In this news cycle, the press has become so obsessed with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Edward M. Liddy, A.I.G.’s dollar-a-year C.E.O., that even Octomom and Rihanna have trouble grabbing air time and column inches.

Suddenly, everyone has an opinion about how to retrofit financial markets for the next economic earthquake. The same talking heads who once prided themselves on their inability to balance their own checkbooks are now engaged in “Crossfire”-esque shouting matches over newly proposed hedge fund regulations or debt-to-capital ratios for banks. Television, predictably, is discovering that sexy extra little something that had always been missing from the financial story: lynch mobs.

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