Financial Times small
News organisations need to offer better analysis and commentary on financial issues if they are to win back the public's trust, a former BBC economics correspondent has recommended.

Professor Steve Schifferes said the next generation of journalists would have to knock down the divide between political and financial reporting and take a much broader, analytical view of the economy than they have done in recent years.

In his first lecture as City University London's new professor of financial journalism, Schifferes said the financial crisis had "shed a harsh light on financial journalism" and "raised questions about its effectiveness".

He said: "It would have been astounding if journalists alone had been able to spot something that neither regulators nor economists nor politicians saw coming, but I think journalists could have done a better job of examining the roots of the crisis and then explaining the serious consequences sooner. Why they didn't reveals quite a bit about the nature of the trade."

One of the key problems to fix, he said, was that financial reporters today are too specialised. By concentrating on clearly defined patches, they failed to pull together the bigger picture of what effect the crisis would have.

"The sheer scale of the amount of information [produced by news organisations] has increased specialisation among many journalists, reinforcing the beat system of reporting where journalists specialise in one narrow stretch of the financial world rather than taking a broader view," he said.

"This does lead to a bit of a silo mentality. Reporters in different fields are not necessarily trained or able to connect the dots and look at what's happening across sectors and financial markets as a whole. The problem we had was pulling all those things together."

He added: "The editors above the financial journalists didn't really have a background in business and finance and didn't really understand this crisis.

"Once the crisis broke, they were willing enough to be guided by financial journalists but before that time they were very reluctant to put stories about things that seemed very obscure anywhere near the front page. This was a failure of imagination.

"I think we still have a split between the general press coverage of financial news and the specialist coverage, read by insiders, traders and executives. It is a dilemma how financial journalism will balance between the two and that dilemma has become greater as the newly awakened general public are really interested in financial news."

Schifferes said tomorrow's financial journalists would need strong analytical skills "to understand how the news agenda has become global rather than national or regional, and to make sure that the vast wealth of information that now flows from financial institutions can be reported and understood in a timely fashion".

"There's going to be an increasing convergence between political journalism and financial journalism," he said. "I think we really are moving into a time where we will require journalists who can move seamlessly between the boardroom and the committee room and understand the political economy - not just the politics or the economics of the crisis.

"We are going to have an increase in analysis and perhaps less emphasis on investigation. Budgets for investigation have been squeezed. The influence of the internet providing a commoditised quick hit of the news has increased the need for more commentary. We need to make sense of it."

Looking back, Schifferes said financial journalism had come a long way since he started at the BBC some 20 years ago.

"The profession barely existed outside of the specialist press, the Economist, the Financial Times and the business-to-business press," he said.

"What business and financial journalism existed in the mainstream media was in a real ghetto where it struggled to get on the main news bulletins and on to front pages. There was very little training of financial journalists and many of my colleagues regarded it merely as a stepping stone to move on to something more glamorous."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).