Last night’s panel at Columbia came up with some interesting thoughts around what sort of job the business press had done in its coverage of the current recession.
The general feeling was that it would be fair to charge the media with a broad decline of skepticism – and that’s leaving aside specific complaints about the ratings agencies, who may or may not be lumped in with the ‘press’ – at the same time as a ‘cult of personality’ had grown up around many of our leading business figures.
The lionizing of corporate leaders that had become mainstream in the 1980s had helped feed into a notion that the market was somehow ‘unstoppable’.
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating success, but what’s important is how it’s judged. There were also thoughts about the effect that has had on journalistic access and the relationship between Wall Street and those who cover it.
Asked from the floor 'where's the outrage?', the panel gave the sense not so much that the business press had been negligent in the run-up to the recession, but rather that by being cheerleaders rather than skeptics first and foremost, it's more likely that things get missed that shouldn’t be.
Is it harder to ‘do the right thing’ when conventional wisdom is piled up against you?
On the panel, investor Bill Ackman had some observations around monetizing the web news model – and the value of products like specialist market newsletters; ultra-niche publications that deliver a specific need and realize a high value because they impart genuine knowledge.
But whatever business we’re in, whatever commodity we’re producing: as long as we’re dependent on someone else’s preferences – whims, even – then we can lose sight of what it was that originally gave us value. If we don’t plan for what might happen when those whims no longer include what we’re offering, then we probably deserve to perish.