Decline in journalism standards offers unprecedented opportunity

There’s a secret many financial journalists want to keep under wraps. It’s that they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

At best their technical knowledge of financial services is cursory, at worst non-existent. To top it all off, they can’t write for toffee, either.

I’d like to say they know who they are. But they won’t, as half of them wouldn’t even recognise themselves in a mirror.

Shrinking minority

OK, I’m exaggerating here. This goes against my usual balanced editorial approach but Phil, the Mussolini of the intermediary sector, urged me to be histrionic.

In truth, there are some exceptional financial journalists out there, people who can write extremely well and know their subject matter inside out — as much as the professionals in the sector they are focused on. I’m sure many of you have met one or two along the way.

These journalists can cut through the corporate nonsense, hold financial companies to account and relay their subject matter clearly. But they are a small, not to mention shrinking, minority.

The reality is that journalism standards today have hit the deck — and this is especially the case within financial services. The good hacks out there lament this fact more than anyone else: it pains them to see their industry deteriorate as much as it has.

Ctrl C, Ctrl V

Nothing underlines the decline in financial journalism standards more than the way it tends to be done these days. Rather than speak to IFAs, or fund managers, or economists, many journalists simply ask for words to be sent over on email.

These ‘copy and paste merchants’ then stitch it all together, without really understanding the subject matter, or frankly giving a damn. You can sense the total lack of understanding in their narrative. Well we can anyway. They remain frozen in their almost animal-like oblivion.

Vaguely credible

Back in the good old days, journalists had a decent understanding of their subject matter, too — or were at least better at hiding their ignorance. Peter Adcock, Chris Budd and some of the other old farts reading this will remember FPC 1 and FPC 2.

I‘m not sure whether these exams even exist today but I was forced to do them when I worked at Money Management magazine so as to make me vaguely credible as a financial hack — on paper at least.

But these days, that technical knowledge too often isn’t there. I once met a ‘money’ journalist on a national newspaper who’d never heard of gearing. I swear I could hear the sea as we ate.

Immense pressure

Now journalists today will argue that they’re up against the clock, and always on deadline. And often this is true.

The walls are closing in on the media, the financials aren’t stacking up, the ranks of journalists depleted — and the pressure many journalists are under is without doubt unfair.

Some hacks I know have to bang out five or six stories by 10am, and that’s hardly going to result in quality, informative copy. In short, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone — journalists and consumers alike. Or is it?

Opportunity

What’s increasingly clear is that the implosion of financial journalism offers an unprecedented opportunity for financial services firms themselves to create great content — and attract the traffic that would previously have gone to the media outlets.

There’s no doubt that the firms that can produce or host great content regularly — and by ‘great’ I mean original, unbiased and informative content presented with panache, not sales garbage — will reap some serious rewards. Because online, it’s an even playing field.

And look at it another way. If Phil can create a decent website that people go to for information and informed debate, then anyone can. So what are you waiting for?

9 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Robert Davies
    Robert Davies 2 years ago

    Excellent article and good comments. What is needed next is a relaxation of the rules surrounding communications by product providers to the public to fill the gap left by non-existent journalists. But the ideas put forward by Merryn here
    . http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6e428d14-60f8-11e4-894b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3J20LfJA5 of open days where investors could talk to fund managers directly without advice would give the FCA the heeby-jeebies.

  2. Profile photo of Phil Melville
    Phil Melville 2 years ago

    We write a monthly Newsletter to our clients trying to give a picture of what we might think are relevant world events in what we hope are meaningful, understandable words.

    This is done to help our clients understand why we do what we do and to try and cut through the media hype and jargon.

    It is certainly not an easy task but we always get significant positive feedback and thanks for providing a useful perspective.

    After more than a hundred of these attempts at journalism we do seem to have established our opinions as credible alternatives to mainstream financial media.

    There is an archive on our website if anyone is interested.
    http://www.argylefinancialgroup.co.uk

    • Marquis de Sade 2 years ago

      Good on you, Phil. Will have a goose. In the meantime, if you need someone to alienate your entire client base in one simple mail shot, I’m available.

  3. Profile photo of Paul Alkins
    Paul Alkins 2 years ago

    Dominic, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a financial journalists career might take off it they did understand what they were talking about.

    The real question is how do advisers combat this? Is Brett right? Does one of the solutions lie in social media?

    • Marquis de Sade 2 years ago

      I’m pretty sure Brett and I are saying much the same thing. We’re witnessing a wholesale democratisation of the media. Good journalism will always play a role but the days where we consume our information exclusively through mainstream media are well and truly over. These days companies can hoover up significant traffic of their own if they produce high quality content themselves – and share it through the appropriate social media channels. Quality content, ideally explosive content – written by people with extensive knowledge and direct experience in their field – can travel very fast and have a major impact on a business. The only problem is creating it, and doing so regularly.

      As for your top point, any decent financial journalist will do well, and should do well. There are still plenty of them out there but their number is being diluted due to a combination of a lack of resources (ad revs dwindling), and the priority many publishers give to quantity over quality in an effort to attract traffic (and therefore advertisers). A churnalist costs way less than a good journalist but in the end I suspect this blind obsession with volume will cost publishers dear.

  4. Profile photo of Stewart Hutcheson
    Stewart Hutcheson 2 years ago

    Interesting post Dominic particularly given your background. A question. Do you feel that the decline in financial journalism is worse than in other areas? If so why should that be particularly? Sorry that was two questions!

    • Marquis de Sade 2 years ago

      Hi Stewart. Financial journalism is more technical than other forms of journalism and requires a level of expertise to do correctly. Getting your head around financial products, the markets and macro-economics, etc, isn’t easy. What I think is happening is that we are increasingly seeing ‘content’ writers enter journalism. And I think a lot of these content writers don’t have the skills of journalists. There is a huge difference between a content writer and a journalist, and because of the technical knowledge required in FS, that divide is far more pronounced within FS journalism.

  5. Brett Davidson 2 years ago

    I was hooked by the histrionics Dominic, but I agree there is huge opportunity here for advisers.

    Creating content is the 21st century way of marketing yourself and it can be leveraged using social media. The beautiful part is that all you need do is call it as you see it. Credible content is truthful, educational and accurate. Who better to create it than the people & businesses who know it inside out?

    • Marquis de Sade 2 years ago

      You can thank Phil for the histrionics, Brett. He is a crow on my shoulder.

      To reiterate, there are some fantastic journalists out there who deliver great content consistently but at the same time there are increasingly sites that seem to be focused on SEO and monetising traffic than delivering quality journalistic content.

      The content era is definitely a great opportunity for any business, including advisers. If you can produce unique, interesting and informative content then you will attract people to your website – and pick up business as a result.

      The problem for many firms is that they find it hard to resist plugging their product or service – in reality, however, the best way to sell your firm online is to not sell it at all. Simply create content that’s useful or people will share.

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