Debit to Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard for his sunny-yet-dyspeptic column last week headlined “Four Wrong Reasons for Pessimism.”
If you think a U.S. recession is here or imminent, you’re in good company. Most Intrade bettors believe this and probably 99% of journalists and all Democratic office seekers do, too. We’ll soon see. For now, I still say the 2008 U.S. recession is oversold. Why the widespread recession fear when unemployment is low, interest rates are low and the Fed is on the case?
1) Americans don’t like Bush’s presidency, so they’re over-reporting their economic fears
2) Democrats are busy telling everyone how bad the economy is to win elections
3) The business press is incompetent and biased because the newspaper industry is in a depression
4) People don’t know numbers like Karlgaard knows numbers
All of these are problematic, but being business-press critics, we’ll focus on number three.
Think about what it takes to be a first-rate business journalist. One must be facile with numbers and financial statements and have the confidence to talk to CEOs, high-level executives, board members, analysts and so forth. One must delve deeply into the industry one writes about—what is the competitive landscape, what are the technological disruptions on the road ahead? It is also critical that one have a coherent global economic view to be able to put a story into context. And one must be a good storyteller.
Now, if one possesses all of these talents, what are the chances one goes into the low-paying field of journalism? Not great. One instead becomes a Wall Street analyst, a Booz Allen consultant or just goes into business, perhaps to raise money and start a company. Low-paying journalism can’t compete for pick of the litter. (Unless it’s Forbes, where journalists flock to a higher moral purpose!)
The thin talent pool in business journalism combines with two other forces: Journalism is populated by left-of-center people, many of whom are hostile to business; and traditional journalism itself faces threats of disruption from the Internet, leaving business journalists in a fearful mood, which gets projected into their stories.
So that’s why Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the rest read so much like the Daily Worker on Prozac, with spelling errors. We always wondered.
Karlgaard, we see, is a pretty tough talker—just not tough enough apparently to name any of those left-of-center failures-in-the-game-of-life (is there any other kind?) that he believes are so abundant on business desks. We’ll look for that in his next column.
We also find Karlgaad’s jokey attempt to exempt Forbes staffers from this loser class to be a bit gutless. Why not just make your argument—business reporters are losers—and accept the consequences during those long, awkward moments fumbling for change at the Forbes vending machines? Maybe because he doesn’t believe it, either.
Indeed, a generalized sliming of business journalism seems strange coming from a senior business-news executive. What does that say—that in this sorry circus, he’s top clown?
But then, this is a man who sees being a Booz Allen consultant or, get this, Wall Street analyst, as a dream job. Wow. Talk about a loser.
There is no need to dwell on this nonsense except to point out that it is another dent in our already degraded public discourse. It is provocation for its own sake, the kind of sweeping, ideologically driven name-calling that helped pave the way for our current economic mess, and our other messes as well.
That Forbes’s publisher employs such a tired and unhelpful trope says more about the magazine’s leadership—it is still living in 2004—than it ever will about business journalists, including those at Forbes.
The LAT is the worst here:
Economic populism was a key plank of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential win, stamped in the reminder that was always on display in the candidate’s Little Rock, Ark., war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.”