Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the last book I ever read (Twilight of the Elites, excerpt three)

from Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes:

Former Wall Street Journal business reporter Dean Starkman undertook the most comprehensive analysis of the business press's coverage of the housing and financial sectors before the crash, combing through more than two thousand articles. "Business journalists as a rule are as smart, sophisticated, and plugged-in as they seem," he wrote. "And yet that army of professional business reporters--an estimated 9,000 or so nationwide in print alone--for all practical purposes missed the biggest story on the beat." He concluded that while there were many excellent articles about the underlying problems in mortgage markets, the business press was "a watchdog that didn't bark."

While proximity grants access to information others do not have, it also has a tendency to produce cognitive capture: reporters who spend all their time covering and talking to investment bankers come to see the world through their eyes and begin to think like investment bankers. There's nothing nefarious about this tendency--it's an inevitable outcome of sustained immersion--but what it meant was that when all the investment bankers were seeing a bull market and a securitization bonanza that would last forever, so were many reporters on the beat.

More perniciously, access is not something reporters can achieve unilaterally. In the highest circles of politics and finance, it must be granted by those who hold the power, and they are, for obvious reasons, more inclined to grant that access to those reporters they feel are sympathetic.

In practice this means that access and proximity don't simply confer superior insight or knowledge. They provide both benefits and costs that can be difficult to untangle.

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