Also, given the amount of regulatory activity around Associates in 2000 and subprime lending in general afterwards, especially in 2002, it is worth asking whether it is more notable that these newspapers did the stories or that others did not?

Fourth, why is there an Audit?

One thing is for sure: it’s not here to attack the business press. The Audit, as an arm of CJR, is a friend of the press in general, the business press in particular, and of business reporters, who are on the front lines, most of all. And that’s how it will be as long as I’m running it.

The purpose of The Audit, obviously, is to make the business press do what I want. But that just seems to be what many but not all working journalists want, including the late Forbes editor, James Walker Michaels, as described Sunday by Morgenson:

He refused to play the access journalism game. (Better to have your nose pressed firmly against the glass than to be a guest of the people you report about.) He believed in congratulating true business achievers and slamming crooks and flops. What better way to celebrate capitalism, he argued, and keep it safe from the me-firsters who could wreck it?

If the business press doesn’t want to do that, then at least we can have a discussion about it.

So, I have a view on what constitutes good and bad reporting, and I often question editorial priorities. But that’s only because I think I have a healthy respect for the importance of what the business press does—especially in these times.

My generation of reporters—I’m forty-eight, (though still spry!)—came of age as President Reagan was winning the deregulation debate, ushering in an era in which corporate power has been ascendant and government regulators in retreat. People will argue about the merits of this philosophical shift and whether it’s about to end (and I hope it is), but not, I think, the fact of it.

And so, business reporting has faced extra responsibilities, even as its financial base has been about as stable as one of those whirling amusement park rides were the bottom drops out and everyone is pinned to the side, screaming.

These days, financial journalists need to, yes, provide timely information to shareholders, keep readers up to date on new technology, fashion, autos, food, and the like, write boardroom-level features, break news on deals, all of that.

But to remain relevant to readers, they also need to point out the good actors and go after the bad, no matter how big or mainstream. To me, that’s the main job; everything else is ancillary.

Basically, business reporters, to survive, must do what they want to do anyway.

1. Along With a Lender, Is Citigroup Buying Trouble?
22 October 2000
The New York Times


THE Mackeys complained of receiving harassing phone calls from the Associates after they missed some payments on the refinanced loan. They said that callers would even curse at their sons, and that they were eventually told that foreclosure proceedings had begun. Ibid

3. Lenders Try to Fend Off Laws on Subprime Loans
1585 words
4 April 2001
The New York Times

4. Profiting From Fine Print With Wall Street’s Help
15 March 2000

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.