Monday, June 15, 2009

Financial Downfall

The Columbia Journalism Review has a hard-hitting (read: highly critical) review in its current edition of the business press and what they did or didn't report on in the lead-up to the mortgage meltdown last fall.

While many reporters and publications have been defensive about the accusations that they did not do the kind of investigative stories they could and should have, CJR concludes that the accusers are largely correct.

The information about sleazy sub-prime mortgage lenders and their ugly practices was reported on by a few media outlets and was ripe for further investigation. Unfortunately, it went largely unexplored, the CJR review says.

There are a number of reasons for the failure to uncover the danger more fully, but no good excuses for why it wasn't done. The whole article is worth reading, but here's the conclusion:

First, the public should be aware—warned, so to be speak—that its interests and those of the business press may not be in perfect alignment. The business press exists within the Wall Street and corporate subculture and understandably must adopt its idioms and customs, the better to translate them for the rest of us. Still, it relies on those institutions for its stories. Burning a bridge is hard. It is far easier for news bureaucracies to accept ever-narrowing frames of discourse, frames forcefully pushed by industry, even if those frames marginalize and eventually exclude the business press’s own great investigative traditions.

One bright note in the piece is the shout-out to Los Angeles Times' reporter Scott Reckard, who did some great investigative work on Ameriquest in 2005. Scott and his family are friends; he and my husband worked at the same small newspaper way back when.

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