Will financial reporting ever have a Woodward and Bernstein, the two metro desk Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate Scandal? After attending last night's panel on Financial Journalism Under Fire: Did We Do Our Job?, hosted by the New York Financial Writers Association, the answer is clear: no. (Changes may and should happen, and I'll touch on a few of those).
I have a theory that if you took a psychological assessment of a sports writer, a political reporter, and a financial writer to see who was the most cynical, the answer would most definitely be the financial writer. They're reporting on an industry ruled by greed and people who make more money in a year than they'll see in a lifetime. The system is just too large, too shady, and too encouraged to be bad in the name of profits (deregulated) that reporting on any of this would be best reserved for some hippie outlet like Mother Jones, not the respectable Wall Street Journal. Big scoops in finance usually involve mergers and acquisitions, company and exec failures -- going after anything else is cute idealism. (In fact, someone last night compared it to steroids and baseball -- you don't want to know where those home runs are coming from, you just want to enjoy the game).
Even last night's panelist, Erin Arvedlund, who first questioned Bernie Madoff's record in 2001 in Barrons, failed to stay on top of the story. She opened the panel by saying she deeply regrets this now, but also, it must be pointed out, her reporting fell on deaf ears. What should we do, continue to push the story, report on it again and again, Diana Henriques, senior financial writer of the New York Times, asked the panel. Panelist Jon Friedman, who writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com, answered, yes. "If you do that you don't work for the same editors I work for," Henriques grumbled.
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