The skinny on financial journalism
Couldn't make it to the Canadian Journalism Foundation's forum on financial journalism? Catch up by scrolling through J-Source's liveblog for some juicy and informative quotes, or sit down with Students' Lounge editor Rhiannon Russell's round-up.
CBC’s Amanda Lang remembers watching a television program as a young girl and seeing a lion pursue, wound and kill a gazelle. At that moment, Lang realized that someone must have stood there, holding a camera and simply watching the event unfold.
“Journalism is, to me, about being on the sidelines, it's about not being involved,” she told the crowd at last week’s Canadian Journalism Foundation’s “State of Financial Journalism” forum. “That's what journalists do: we just watch it, or we should or we're doing something wrong.”
As moderator of the event, Lang lead the conversation between panellists Elena Cherney, editor of the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, and David Moorcroft, former senior vice-president of public affairs and corporate communications at RBC. In addition to discussing bias in business journalism, the discussion also delved into the relationship between banks and reporters, and the future of business journalism.
Certainly, both panellists and Lang agreed today’s 24-hour news cycle can lower the standard of news, especially in smaller markets like that of Canada.
“I think it is hard to fill that void sometimes,” Moorcroft said. As a result, many organizations run stories with manufactured, or exaggerated, importance. Cherney added that it can also turn financial journalism into sports journalism -- are the markets up? are they down? – and that this may not be a financial journalist’s, or journalism’s, strongest point.
Panellists also discussed whether journalists are held captive by the institutions they cover.
Cherney said this is where specialization can get you into trouble. "If you know too much about something, maybe the risk of becoming a captive is greater.”
Moorcroft stressed the importance of not putting CEOs on a pedestal. “You need access,” he said, “But you can never be in awe of that person.”
In other words, though it’s crucial for beat reporters to develop relationships with their sources, it’s just as important not to go overboard.
On the flipside of too much love, Moorcroft said the biggest complaint business leaders have about journalists is that they publish things out of context. “That’s why they don’t like to do interviews,” he said.
Cherney countered with a journalist’s perspective. “We would do a better job of getting the story across,” she said, “If companies were more cooperative in terms of providing context. That’s where the relationship of trust is important.”
Then, Lang added, there is perhaps the biggest obstacle for financial journalism as a whole: the public’s lack of interest. The numbers and figures tend to scare people off – as well as potential financial journalists. Not so Lang. She loves business because “the numbers are people, they’re stories.”
Ultimately, diligence is key to succeeding as a journalist in this field. The panelists stressed reading as many financial publications as possible and also to take everything you read on Twitter with a grain of salt.
“There have to be checks and balances in terms of what gets disseminated,” Cherney said.
With journalism school enrolment on the rise, editors at business publications are faced with a choice – hire young journalists who know little about business or hire business enthusiasts with a lack of journalism know-how.
Lang advised young people who want to write about business to study it first, then go into journalism. Specialization is important, especially when it comes to finance.
“There’s nothing better than a young journalist who loves what they do,” Moorcroft added.