Saturday, October 06, 2007

An Alternative Magazine Scoops the Business Press

Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review's Audit website had a fine blog item a few days ago, describing how it took an obscure magazine to describe how Sandy Weill's empire was built on subprime lending.

I missed this when it first appeared, mainly because I had grown accustomed to ignoring the Audit. However, the site, under its new editor Starkman, is clearly worth checking out every day.

One observation is worth repeating:

This troubling Tale of Two Citis shows how the business press, even as it produces oceans of copy, can lose its way. I don’t think the business press is lazy or lacks courage. I know the opposite to be largely true. I do think, though, that it is poorly led. An overemphasis by senior editors on deals and other scoops has forced reporters to give away far too much in the never-easy trade-off between access and arms-length scrutiny. A lack of investigative experience and overall editorial vision at the top has produced coverage that is too narrow, too incremental, and insufficiently confrontational, in my view.
What I've placed in boldface is, I think, and is kind of a sour undercurrent that one sees in a lot of business journalism.

The tendency to trade access for scrutiny pervades a good portion of the coverage that you see, and is most troubling in reporting on hedge funds, financial services, and CEO coverage generally.

Dean is also correct in his observation about the lack of investigative experience of newsroom management -- though I would modify that somewhat.

For most of my time at Business Week, my immediate editors had no significant investigative experience. However, they were advocates of investigative reporting, and that is what counted. Other editors may have had some investigative experience, but were unwilling to jeopardize their careers by pushing stories that might result in complaints.

The crucial trait is a will to be investigative and confrontational, a kind of fire in the belly and a strong feeling of right and wrong.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

Digg my article


Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site,

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