Financial news has been for finance guys. That has to change. 

December 16, 2020
Adobe Stock

I started paying attention to finance news in March, when we were ordered to quarantine at the start of the pandemic. I watched not because I had the foresight to realize the detrimental effects COVID-19 would have on the economy, but because I was suddenly forced to work from home alongside my partner, who regularly tuned in to Bloomberg TV for work. 

The daily performances of the S&P 500, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, and others ticked across the bottom of the screen. A sidebar filled with headlines like “Citigroup Says Dollar May Drop by 20% Next Year on Vaccines.” I did a lot of Googling. 

Gradually, the connections between the national news of the pandemic and the health of the economy became more clear. Finance news granted me a new perspective on American life. Phrases like taxing the rich, or boosting wages, or shifting to stakeholder capitalism, and issues like debt and the role of central banks, began to make sense as real issues that affected real people. And I was not alone in realizing that financial news should, in the midst of the most complex financial crisis for some decades, be news for everyone. 

In November, the Financial Times began an initiative called the Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign, which aims to provide a basic understanding of finance so that new audiences can become more adept at navigating their own money. “We felt there was a big gap of people who were never going to pick up the FT, who might never have heard of it”—but who, paradoxically, need the information the most, Patrick Jenkins, the FT’s deputy editor, says. 

The FT decided to focus its campaign on basic finance, to help people navigate cell phone plans, or credit cards, or the myriad complex financial decisions we all have to make.  It’s working with organizations who help bring financial literacy to young people, women, and disadvantaged groups, such as those who have newly arrived in the United Kingdom. The “distribution” portion of the program was imperative to making sure this information reached a greater audience—a good thing to do, morally. 

It might also be good business. Morning Brew, a newsletter company founded in 2015 by two university business majors, was designed to offer fellow students pithy industry updates in clear language.  It now produces five different email newsletters, four of which focus on business and one on lifestyle, as well as a podcast. Its largest newsletter reaches 2.5 million subscribers daily. A recent piece, headlined “Markets 101: How to Read Stock Indexes and Securities,” notes that readers “don’t need an MBA, PhD, or fleece vest to understand what they are, how they work, and why they matter.” In October, Insider Inc., the parent company of Business Insider, bought a majority stake in Morning Brew, giving it a valuation of about $75 million. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reporter Matt Levine has amassed an audience of more than 150,000 subscribers for his free “Money Stuff” newsletter. A New York Times profile of Levine praised the newsletter for providing a more “comprehensible take” on Wall Street happenings, with definitions and shrewd explanations for often comically complex finance jargon.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

“More and more people around the world are realizing that there are wide gaps between the haves and the have-nots in society,” says Jenkins. The FT, he says, “recognizes that capitalism, in the way it has been defined for decades, is changing and has got to change.”

As I watched over the summer—in the brutal last days of the Trump administration, and following the death of George Floyd—the coverage on financial news television began to shift. Amidst a sustained wave of protests against police brutality and racial injustice, and a new awareness of the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, the exclusivity and jargon gave way to something more inclusive. Finance journalists, Jenkins says, are in a position to reach a “much bigger, and arguably, fundamentally more important,” audience through expanding the topics they report on. 

On Bloomberg, experts and executives faced questions about race and inequality. There were new segments targeted at lower-income Americans—on avoiding unnecessary bank fees, or saving for retirement. They highlighted the work of the activist and rapper Killer Mike, a long-time advocate for Black-owned banks. To me, eventually, the tickers finally made sense.

There is, of course, work to be done. Not every outlet is focused on how to connect this news to the people who it’s most applicable to. If Wall Street’s dismal diversity statistics are any indication of finance-news audiences, then the typical viewer or reader probably zoned these new segments out. As we embark on rebuilding an economy devastated by disease and political turmoil, it’s important that more people begin to see the links between the baffling world of financial news and their own lives.

Feven Merid is CJR’s staff writer and Senior Delacorte Fellow.