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Is financial journalism in crisis?

New compact needed between the financial press and the media  

'Financial crisis: a media failure?'. 'Are the news media making the economic crisis worse?'. ' Are journalists to blame for current financial crisis?' 

image of a pile of newspapersType media and economic crisis into Google and these are just a few of the headlines that come up. But while it would be disingenuous to lay the blame for the global economic crisis at the door of the financial press, recent coverage has raised a set of profound questions about financial journalism and issues of trust, influence and accountability.

'UK financial journalism is at a crossroads and the compact media has with the general public has been put under strain', argues Dr Damian Tambini, senior lecturer in LSE's Department of Media and Communications. 'If the demands of reporting modern markets and financial systems are to be met ethically and responsibly, financial media must reassess its roles and responsibilities and develop a common strategy to respond to the multiple challenges if faces today. 

Dr Tambini is the author of What is Financial Journalism For? Ethics and responsibility in a time of crisis and change. Produced by LSE media think-tank POLIS, the report examines the pressures of reporting both in a time of crisis and change and within the wider context of financial journalism.  

While it is far too early to draw any firm conclusions about the way last year's global crisis was communicated to the public, it is vital to begin addressing the questions raised. This POLIS report is an attempt to framethe underlying issues for financial journalism and aims to be the first step in a debate that is urgently needed between journalists, government, civil society organisations and the public about the future of financial journalism.  

Based on a year's research with financial journalists, print and web-based, their editors and lawyers, and supplemented by discussions with journalists' sources and the subjects of major stories, Dr Tambini identifies the key pressures facing financial journalists today and asks whether financial journalism is meeting its responsibilities.  

There are a number of key challenges facing financial journalists today: Stories are being driven at digital speed which allows little time for comprehension let alone reflection. Markets are growing ever more interconnected and complex. New media brings with it new practices and pressures. Journalists have to contend with increasingly pervasive PR strategies and the growing pressures of commercial interests. And of course financial journalism has not been immune from increased pressures on its resources. 

Despite these pressures, Dr Tambini found no evidence of a collapse of ethical standards or of serious levels of malpractice in financial journalism. 'Most of the journalists and editors interviewed responded in ways that revealed that they felt a sense of responsibility and had a strong sense that the ethics of business journalism involves much more than providing what the public demand in the short term' states the author.   

There is a widespread sense, however, that the traditional challenges of being a financial journalist are being redefined in the context of new technological, legal and commercial challenges. And while there has been work to establish protocol and professional practice, Dr Tambini believes there is a clear need for more concrete change. 'Journalists have begun to respond' he says, 'but the profession lacks a clear sense of purpose.'  

That is not to say that this is solely the media's problem. 'We're not here to play the blame game,' states Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS, 'but we do think that there is a valid case to be made that, as societies, we have neglected the value of critical financial journalism. The time is right for a new compact between journalism and society.'   

'Those that seek a more responsible financial journalism should open a dialogue about how best to support that, through promoting access to key financial information for journalists, clarifying source protection standards and defamation risk' agrees Dr Tambini. 'If a new regulatory settlement is to be agreed in the wake of the current financial crisis it will be useful not only for bankers, regulators and governments to examine their previous practices but for journalists as well to examine their role and how it might be improved.'

 

Useful links

For full details of Dr Damian Tambini's research and publications see his profile in the LSE Experts Directory: Dr Damian Tambini|

POLIS|

Department of Media and Communications|

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