'Expert' opinion requires expertise

People's reasons for talking to the media have always been varied. Some businesspeople gossip endlessly on the basis that the more stories they provide about others, the less likely journalists are to look too closely at them.

Anthony Hilton: "A lot of effort goes into putting people forward as sources of informed comment when they don’t have the credibility."
Anthony Hilton: "A lot of effort goes into putting people forward as sources of informed comment when they don’t have the credibility."

Then there are rafts of businesspeople who see providing information that undermines their competitors as a major part of their strategy. There are those whose motives are pure – they want to stimulate informed discussion on a topic –or slightly less pure, in that they want to mobilise public opinion to bounce government or business in a certain direction.

There are those who don’t realise they are talking to the press; there are some who do it to feed their ego; and there are a growing number who see it as an opportunity for self-promotion.

It is this last group that is the most irritating. A huge amount of effort goes into putting people forward as sources of informed comment when they just don’t have the credibility.

The result is that whenever there is a news break, the floodgates open to admit a deluge of emails with people offering comment on why things have gone wrong and what needs to be done about it.

This week following the relatively poor trading figures from Morrisons, the supermarket group, I counted 28 unprompted emails. These were not only from the usual tally of accountants, lawyers and academics, but also from a raft of advisers of various guises.

The trouble is not the volume, but the quality. The ideal expert comment is not nakedly self-serving, is perceptive enough to highlight the not immediately obvious, and comes from a person whose occupation conveys credibility. But this requires balance, knowledge and perspective, each of which is in short supply.

What one gets instead is a press release full of shock and awe, where the extremism of the comment is used to mask the absence of intellectual content.

The result is counterproductive. However negative one’s perceptions of Morrisons, one will think a lot worse of the low-grade consultants trying to feed off its troubles.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London’s Evening Standard

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