City & Corporate: Business news not taken seriously

When a former editor of the Financial Times, Richard Lambert (in his current role as director general of the CBI), attacks the way the press have handled the credit crunch it is surely time to take notice.

There are structural reasons why treatment of business stories tends to be apocalyptic. The main one is that business news is widely seen to be boring and too many people in this country have a numbers phobia.

Although in the recent past some business news journalists have become editors of national newspapers, it is still almost unheard of for most of the senior executives to have a business background. This means that when a business journalist is bidding for front page space, he has more resistance to overcome than a home news reporter, a political specialist or even a sports reporter, with whose subject matter the executives are far more comfortable.

To get the executives' attention the business news reporter therefore oversells the story - painting a picture starkly in black and white when most business is in varying shades of grey - and playing up its seriousness. The more apocalyptic, the more likely it is it will overcome the executives' instinctive boredom and resistance to anything to do with the specialist, minority area of business.

A second reason concerns the nature of modern markets. A generation ago journalists would have several hours to consider economic statistics or company results before forming a judgement. They would read the release properly to form a view and different papers would come to different conclusions. Today everything is instant - figures are good or bad, a buy or a sell - and anyone trying to take the time to form a balanced view, or even read the second page of an announcement, is trampled in the rush.

Society in general is losing the ability to give serious thought to serious issues. Everything is geared to instant judgements with instant pundits. The press mostly get away with it but when something as complex as the credit crunch comes along it becomes evident to all.

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