Last week’s sensational confrontation between the Daily Show’s John Stewart and CNBC’s Jim Cramer has brought into stark focus the role the media played in the lead up to the crash/credit crunch/recession/financial meltdown. It’s impact has gone way beyond the US where the two shows air. “I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a fucking game”, is one of many John Stewart quotes that must have about ended Jim Cramer’s career and caused editorial policy reviews across the entire business and financial news media.
I heard the BBC’s Robert Peston on the Radio 4 Today programme a couple of weeks ago deflect praise from the presenters about his role in covering the crisis by saying he wished he had done more. This from the reporter who probably did most in the UK. And I imagine there is a lot of debate in news conferences now about trying to find the right balance. Between being sceptical and yet also giving due consideration to the real issues being faced.
The US media has always been more business friendly than the UK media. I cannot count the number of times I have had to explain to bemused and shocked US clients and Edelman colleagues the cynicism and sensational approach of many UK journalists. But that does not mean, in my view, that the UK media is any more right in this than their US cousins. Anthony Hilton (another one who did a good job calling out excess and risk) talked recently about the unhealthy focus of the British press: ” One of the grave weaknesses of the business sections of the UK national press is that there is no business coverage. We have a financial press, not a business press, by which I mean we have a press that sees the world in terms of share prices. Everything without a share price gets ignored. There is no coverage of management skills such as marketing, production, engineering, logistics or training.”
I am not an expert on US media, but a little dose of British cynicism might not be a bad thing. And over here, I hope that one of the fallouts of this crisis is that British newspapers do begin to recognise that business coverage, rather than just financial coverage is important if they want to do their job of giving people the information they need to make important decisions. And in that they have a lot to learn from the US.