The FT Talks to the Little Guy

A story told through regular folks in Ireland, rather than Davos Men

This isn’t a particularly great story by the Financial Times, but I’m going to applaud it anyway, because it shows the paper doing something it all too rarely does: Putting a human face on the economy.

All too often the FT is content to talk about financial and economic matters at a high level, as if the people they ultimately effect are abstractions. There are prominent exceptions to that, of course—first to mind is Edward Luce’s excellent story a while back about the staggered American middle class—but the people the FT talks to typically range from Davos Men and Women to wannabe Davos Men and Women. You know: prime ministers, CEOs, hedge fund managers, stock analysts and the like. Man on the street interviews are few and far between.

Today, the paper devotes a whole story to these men and women on the street, reporting on how the Irish debt crisis is filtering down into the economy and affecting people and small businesses

Cash is definitely king in Ireland - if you can get it. John Myley, a cobbler in central Dublin, used to allow his customers to pay when their monthly pay cheque came in.

Now he has a small notice pinned to the counter asking clients, many of them civil servants from nearby government offices, to pay in advance.

There’s a nice nut graph about how Ireland’s $74 billion bank bailout was supposed to free up lending, but has failed as banks sit on cash and rein in loans. Which leads to this:

“The banks have taken it upon themselves to become aggressive and unhelpful,” adds Mike, an orthodonist who is also hoping to come to some arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners. “They’ve reduced my overdraft by €50,000 to a level where it doesn’t cover half the tax bill. They’ve threatened to bounce my cheques - their words, not mine.”

Like I said, this story is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s nice to read and it illustrates a critical element of the overall macroeconomic story—how it’s playing out on the ground.

And newspapers like the FT, with their readerships concentrated in the cloistered elite, have a special obligation to show how these readers’ actions are affecting the little people who fix their teeth, defend their country, and cobble their shoes—and to hear directly from them. If you’re only talking to the top 0.1 percent, you’re not going to present a true picture of the economy.

More like this, please.

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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. Tags: , ,