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?

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