The paper deals with other challenges to effective reporting, some touched on elsewhere, including the problems to journalism posed by financial complexity, the speeding up of the news cycle, and, interestingly, globalization.

And I haven’t seen much discussion about the rising clout of public-relations pros in the dissemination of business news.

One Business Editor with a long experience in the UK saw the rise of financial PR as the single most important change to have taken place in recent years:

“In the last ten, twenty years I suppose the biggest change has been the rise of the financial intermediary, financial public relations services. They are putting up barriers to information. I think they were always around but they’ve developed and become much more sophisticated. When I first came across them they were really kind of press cutting services. But now they are really strategy advisors. And there are some company directors that do not talk or answer phone calls without consulting them. And they have enormous power. In many ways, they set the agenda. They are the access point. They are making these people available for interviews or they don’t make them available for interviews. They release information in a, what’s the word, in a way which is carefully orchestrated to happen. […] Things are very controlled in a way compared with the way it used to be.

And here’s an interesting fact: Financial PR revenue in Britain increased nearly seven-fold from the ’80s to the ’90s:

Financial PR has been a high margin, rapid growth industry in recent decades. In 1986, British companies spent £37m on financial PR. A decade later the annual figure had risen to £250m. (Michie, 1998: 26). The evidence is that the past decade has seen similar or perhaps larger rates of growth. Industry sources estimate that financial PR consultancies can command fees up to 1 percent of the bid values in M+A deals (Miller, et al. 2000).

Wow. What do you think it did in the U.S. in, say, the last ten years? It’s a big number, I’m sure.

In the end, I like the Tambini paper because it does business journalism the honor of taking it seriously. That’s both good and bad news for the field, since that particular honor also brings scrutiny.

The paper is part of an attempt to pave the way for a much broader project on the financial media, its roles and responsibilities. Here’s hoping it succeeds.

1. Press May Own a Share in Financial Mess,
< i>The Washington Post
6 October 2008

p.s. For anyone reading this in London, Tambini is presenting his paper next Monday and will be hosting a conference in February: “Why did nobody see it coming? Reporting the Global Crash of ‘08.”

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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.