Wednesday, 17 December 2008

No more news?

Here’s a curiosity. The Financial Times’ blog Alphaville went down for a day, annoying a number of people. The outtage provoked Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism to have a whinge about the Financial Times. She complains about the "sensationalistic" headlines, minor errors of detail and "way-too-frequent tech issues".

Well, if these make for a failing newspaper, then most journalists should worry. And the discussion beneath Yves’ post is full of bloggers and blog-readers complaining about the poor quality of mainstream financial journalists.

As one myself, it is interesting to read others’ views on the industry. However, I’m not sure if Yves or those making the comments add much to the debate.

Financial journalists are always swimming against the tide of facts, events and trends. Basically, there is far more out there than we journalists can ever track, log and explain. Much of our business is educated guesswork and a reliance on simple narratives.

So should we embrace trends and hope that blogs and other free internet sources will do a better job than newspapers? It seems a little unlikely. The only blogs that regularly break news stories are Alphaville, which is published by a newspaper and is run by two senior newspaper-trained hacks, and Robert Peston's blog at the BBC, and he is also an ex-newspaper man.

Most of the other blogs add analysis and views but do little in the way of systematic news coverage. In fact, many of the facts they use as the basis of their analysis come from newspapers and agencies.

One danger is that the newspapers will accept the ultra-modern thesis suggested by hyped up bloggers and so duck their ('boring') responsibility of reporting news and instead drift further to being newsy lifestyle guides. The Guardian has already marched a fair way down this murky track, as has the Telegraph. Any further along and newspapers will amount to little than this nonsensical fluff. If so, then the newspaper industry is really in trouble.

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