Matthew Fraser
A lack of specialist financial training led to bad reporting of the economic crisis, claims Matthew Fraser, research fellow at the INSEAD business school and adjunct professor at the American University of Paris.

Fraser, who earlier in his career was editor-in-chief of Canadian daily newspaper, National Post, told delegates at the Journalism in Crisis conference at the University of Westminster last week that he believed the way journalists in the US and the UK were trained had led to inaccurate and tardy reporting of the economic crash.

American financial journalists were left ill-equipped to report the crisis as a result of general journalistic training; while British counterparts frequently arrive at quality nationals and the BBC with general degrees from either Cambridge or Oxford University, he told

This had 'serious implications for business journalism, especially in times of crisis', said Fraser, who also lectures at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.

Fraser's comments echoed accusations made in the POLIS report published last year, at the think-tank's high-profile debate in February, and also the Columbia Journalism Review's assessment of coverage.

"In the US there are hundreds and hundreds of journalism schools and there students receive training in journalism; what they don't get - with very few exceptions - is financial training: quantitative skills, learning how to read balance sheets, economics, understanding how economies function, macro and micro economics," Fraser told

"Most journalism students enter the 'profession' - and I put the word in quotes because it's not really a profession - without any quantitative skills whatsoever.

"They go into business journalism and they're very ill-equipped to cover markets. They sort of learn it as they go."

In the UK, he believes a different tradition of training has led to a similar dearth of skills: "Until recently there weren't many journalism schools in the UK. Journalism education is an American import into Britain," he said.

"Traditionally, the top newspapers in Fleet Street and the BBC recruited from Oxbridge. They're the students who studied classics, or PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) or anthropology or sociology.

"Because they had a good second, or a first, they would get a good job at the BBC, the Financial Times, the Times or the Telegraph, and off they went. Good example is Boris Johnson, currently the mayor of London. Fleet Street and the BBC rarely recruited from these peripheral universities like Bradford or Keele.

"The British tradition is very amateur, amateur in the noble sense of the word. I don't mean amateur in the sense that they don't know what they're talking about, but amateur in that you could get a very good, senior job on Fleet Street with simply a very general degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

"Like in the US, they entered the profession without any financial or quantitative training."

Too little, too late, says Fraser
Very few journalists covered the financial crisis ahead of the first major crashes, and those that did, were senior columnists who were not writing big investigations, he added.

"With rare exceptions, journalists were not writing about the crisis before [it happened]: most journalists in the US and the UK started writing about the crisis after the institutions started to collapse," he said.

It would be, he said, like reporting on the Second World War, once war had already broken out: "Think about journalists only writing about the war after Hitler invades Poland and not actually seeing that Nazi Germany posed a threat to Europe and the world.

"There is always a market for sharp analysis and commentary. The problem - at least in the US - is that commentary and news are not only separated in the newspaper, but they're separated physically in the building."

What is needed, he added, is 'forensic accounting', which is key to discovering which companies are hiding things, via expenses and bonuses, for example.

"You need reporters who absolutely understand the numbers and understand balance sheet mergers and acquisitions, how companies are valued and audit procedures."

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