The defenders of good journalism at the Columbia Journalism Review have put together a truly impressive project in cataloguing years of good financial stories written prior to the financial crisis.
As you know, journalists these days are fond of bellyaching about how their profession totally whiffed on the crisis. Not only is this wailing an attempt to assert a level of influence that just isn’t there, it’s also not true. Great stories were produced that warned about all manners of the crisis — the housing bubble, Fannie & Freddie, credit default swaps, government spending, moral hazard, bailouts, you name it.
Here’s part of how they explain the project:
We went into our story with a hunch: that the press, in fact, did not provide adequate warnings. To find out if that was true, we searched for stories that could reasonably be interpreted as significant warnings, with a particular eye for investigative stories into the heart of the problem—predatory lenders and their Wall Street backers (e.g. “Mortgaged Lives: Profiting From Fine Print With Wall Street’s Help,” NYT, 3/15/00). We took several steps, outlined below, to do so.
Warnings come in many forms, of course. In our search, we came across plenty of stories that were useful to readers in all sorts of ways, even if they weren’t investigations (e.g. “Blacks Are Much More Likely To Get Subprime Mortgages,” WSJ, 4/11/05; “Clouds sighted off CDO asset pool,” FT, 4/18/05) and added them. We also found stories that covered lending and Wall Street in depth, and may have been fine stories in other ways, but weren’t really warnings (e.g. “Battle Ready: In Morgan Stanley Rebellion, Purcell Puts Up Tough Fight…,” WSJ4/4/05). We included those, too, to give a sense of what Wall Street coverage during the period actually looked like. We also included bits of context to give a sense of what was happening on the finance beat at the time (e.g. “Spitzer Probes Sub-Prime Mortgages,” NYT, 4/29/05). As we went, we saw that stories fell into identifiable types (e.g. “consumer stories” about bad mortgages, “investor stories” about a housing bubble, etc.) and so placed them into seven categories.
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