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September 5, 2011

Not Really Much of a Deal

The New York Times Public Editor has an insightful, if incomplete, piece in today’s paper on the very profitable Dealbook section of the paper and its web presence entitled “Financial News for the Rest of Us.” 

He correctly notes the approach Dealbook takes to “news”: 

“But the new DealBook has a strangely precrash feel to it.  We can all remember what things were like before 2008: Wall Street was king, New York was the center of the financial universe, the titans of finance were gods.  DealBook’s offerings remain closely aligned with that paradigm, even though the titans have lost their shinemarkets have been shifting away from New York, and the postcrash world is determined far more than before by China and the broader global economy.”

Like the lapdog reporting before the Iraq war, pre-crash business news was too often little more than a transcriber of what business said, a cheerleader or both.  That’s too often the pre-crash feel of Dealbook, who’s creator is now a co-anchor on CNBC’s Squawk box every morning.  Of course, CNBC is a cheerleader for all things markets/business.  

But, the article, while dead-on regarding resources dedicated to Dealbook vs. to news more broadly (and news that the broader audience really needs), it missed a few key points.  One follows from this statement: “The Times’s DealBook expansion is a strategy for capturing digital readers interested in this narrowly defined perspective. Larry Ingrassia, the Business Day editor, told me that while in print The Times can succeed by broadly addressing ‘the five or 10 most important things you need to know,’ the Web demands narrower and deeper offerings.”

Well, yes and no.  The “Dealbook expansion is a strategy for capturing” revenue and increasing profits, which it is reportedly doing very well.  Like the rest of the web, eyeballs = cash from advertisers and others.  That’s what’s going on here.  Hard-hitting, critical, analytical deep dives on what business and/or Wall Street are really doing is really hard work and not likely to win lots of friends in the corner offices and board rooms, which is where so much Dealbook’s “news” comes from, be it deal, personnel or party related.  

That’s also very pre-crash.  Too many cozy relationships with the moguls;  to much identification with their interests; too much credulity when “evaluating” their claims;  too much traveling in their circles; too much interest in getting their cell phone numbers, getting your calls returned, getting invited to the “right” parties and generally becoming one of the elite looking down their nose at the other 99.9% of America at worse or, at best, simply not understanding due to total lack of familiarity with that other 99.9%



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