Reflecting on a tumultuous five years in business journalism
On a special Sunday each spring, I make a trek to UCLA to help judge the Gerald Loeb Awards, one of the top awards in the field of financial journalism.
It is a chance to see some of the best work in my field and also an opportunity to schmooze with longtime friends among reporters and editors. I’m not supposed to talk specifics about our group’s top picks, but this year’s judging gave me a look at some excellent work on CEO excesses, a global scheme to avoid corporate income tax and amazingly in-depth reporting on the European economy.
Because the Loeb Awards judging takes place at the same time of year and on the same day — Monday — I get a once-a-year chance to look at what was happening in both financial journalism and the broader world of finance. It is a rare opportunity to get a sense of perspective, something that so badly lost in the 24/7 news cycle. As an added bonus, the judging takes place just as the Business Times is celebrating another anniversary.
Looking back five years, a friend from the Financial Times reminded me that in the winter of 2008 he was forced to cancel his trip to California and remain at his desk in New York because the investment house Bears Stearns collapsed that weekend. The time from then to now has passed very quickly and the world of banking seems to be a very different place. The global economy, for all its problems, seems to be on much steadier footing.
Four years ago, the talk was of the steep decline in the stock market — the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was hovering around the 700 mark. With the S&P 500 at 1,550 and flirting with a record high, it is hard to think that just 48 months ago we were wondering how low things might go.
When it comes to the future of finance, it may be that we have lost some institutional memory. Pundits are comparing the current rise in the stock market to the dot-com era or the 2006 housing bubble.
But the correct analogy may be to the early 1980s, when a terrible decade for investors ended amid massive intervention the Federal Reserve. The beginning of the stock market rally of the 1980s carried the Dow Jones Industrials from below 1,000 to more than 14,000. When people like Warren Buffett say they are excited about the future, it’s that kind of a growth era they are talking about.
In financial journalism, it seems the future belongs more and more to the specialists. I know I’ve written about this previously, but the happy faces at UCLA belong to folks at Bloomberg, Reuters and the Southern California business journals. The panicked folks are at the regional dailies and even the New York Times.
I can see a future where journalism organizations look more like talent agencies and they put their content out in whatever form — digital, broadcast, print or Twitter draws and audience that can be monetized.
Data and data analysis are driving more and more reporting — sadly at a cost to good old fashioned shoe leather and talking to people.
Finally, while the barriers to entry for freelancers and bloggers are low and getting lower, the path to building a small, privately held company like the Business Times is getting harder and harder. There are more workplace rules and regulations, access to financing is a lot more heavily scrutinized than in the past, and new technologies mean that choices are not quite as simple as they were 14 years ago.
Meanwhile, all cities say they want good paying “head of household” jobs, but new companies can’t always pay the wages they want to pay right off the bat.
Still, you can’t give up on the spirit of American entrepreneurship. Which is a big part of the reason why despite the fact that some of my peers have fancier titles and others a few more plaques on the wall, I would not trade places with any of them.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at firstname.lastname@example.org.