Re: The Problem With Financial Commentary
Derek Thompson has a nice post on why financial journalism tends to be a bit boring. In particular, he's right that it's hard to write accessibly about a topic that comes complete with its own language. "Collateralized debt obligations" do not exactly invite the reader in for a warm cup of cocoa.
But I think the bigger piece is that it's hard for generalists to write accessibly about a complicated topic that they don't know particularly well. Most policy issues are recurrent on the national stage, and so a certain group of writers holds substantial expertise. There are large fleets of off-year generalists who reactivate when issues like health-care reform or climate change come around. Jon Cohn, for instance, is a general political writer who has also been studying health-care policy for a decade, as it's one of those major topic areas where you might specialize a bit. Dave Roberts spent a lot of time on the energy beat even before Barack Obama boosted cap-and-trade to the national agenda. When their issues jumped to the front of the agenda, they were ready to translate between the experts, the policymakers, and their readers.
But none of that was true when the financial crisis hit. No generalist writers were idly studying up in preparation for a catastrophe generated by the correlated tail risk of structured financial products. Meanwhile, most of the financial writers who were ready for the fall were used to writing for a specialist audience and had to recalibrate for people who didn't know what structured finance was.
There were a couple counterexamples to this. Michael Lewis, for instance, had been hanging out in sports writing for awhile, but his 1980s book Liar's Poker was fundamentally about the mortgage market. Roger Lowenstein, who chronicled the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in "When Genius Failed." They were the first out of the gate with excellent stories on the meltdown. They were ready. There were also a couple of financial specialists who beautifully adapted to the rush of general interest, like Felix Salmon and Justin Fox. And some lab somewhere grew the astonishing talent that is Mike Rorty. But fundamentally, the media was unprepared. It's not just that they didn't know the issue. It's that they didn't really know anyone who did.
July 9, 2009; 4:37 PM ET
Categories: Financial Crisis
Save & Share: Previous: An Inside Look at the Senate Finance Committee's Revenue Options
Next: Another Reasons Unions Should Support Capping the Employer Tax Exclusion
Posted by: wldowning | July 9, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: robinshuster | July 9, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: felixsalmon | July 10, 2009 1:08 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: SamPenrose | July 10, 2009 1:43 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bloix | July 10, 2009 2:34 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rpy1 | July 10, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dganchor2002 | July 10, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bloix | July 10, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ChristopherGeorge | July 11, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.