Audit Notes: Covering Investigations, the iPad Browser Threat, Rome

ProPublica managing editor Stephen Engelberg has some good thoughts on how the press covers investigations, noting all the stories coming out lately about Wall Street:

To be fair, this is honest journalistic labor. I’ve done it as a reporter in Washington, and we’re doing a bit of it ourselves right now on several stories, from Wall Street to New Orleans. Without doubt, there are moments when the mere fact of an investigation is worth noting, particularly if the principal figure is a leading financial institution or a public official…

But we should all be aware that this work is particularly subject to pitfalls. Stories about investigations often leave the impression that authorities are running full tilt at malefactors. And they often fail to answer basic questions. Are these investigations fishing expeditions, pro forma reviews, or the first steps toward significant charges?

These are good things for all of us to keep in mind.

Speaking of, ProPublica has a handy list of what banks are under investigation, by whom, and for what.

— Jason Fry makes a good point over at the Nieman Journalism Lab about news sites and the iPad: That whole browser thing is going to make the press’s app strategies (whatever they are) hard to implement.

For instance, why would you pay $4.99 for Time’s single-issue app (every week!) when I can read for free? And why would I pay $207 a year to read the Journal’s iPad app when I get (on my iPad!) and the paper delivered to my door six days a week for $140?


Barry Ritholtz hits the New York Times archives and digs up Great Depression clips of Iowa farmers taking to the streets, comparing it to Greece today. Here he is on why there’s not more social unrest in the U.S. now:

We are now defined by endless distractions, and 1000s of channels of hi def, flat screen, home theater. We have plenty of food. The nation remains wealthy, even if that wealth is unevenly distributed. Our never resting entertainment industry has managed to thoroughly distract us from our problems — perhaps too well.

The Romans had it right — bread and circuses are all politicians need to keep the population complacent and themselves in power.

This downturn isn’t as bad as that one yet, we have advantages now that we didn’t have then—like social-welfare policies that cushion the blow of unemployment and poverty and act as natural stabilizers of the economy. Still, it’s always worth remembering that it took four years for the Depression to hit its nadir in 1933. The bottom fell out of this one less than two years ago.

What did, say, The Wall Street Journal look like like in 1931? There’s a blog for that.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.