Fixing Financial Television

Barry Ritholtz posted a list today of ideas for fixing financial television. Since my CNBC Boycott post generated some interest (I was interviewed for the fantastic recent CJR piece), I would be remiss in not balancing invective with coverage of some constructive comments.

I agree with every item on Barry’s list and I wouldn’t add any others, mostly because the list is already utopian. Given the business models of CNBC and FOX Business, it’s difficult to conceive of a world in which:

  • the pinball machine ethos – sensory stimulation with no role for cognition – is abandoned in favor of long-form rational analysis; and
  • financial television attracts and keeps advertisers sufficient to cover its costs.

That possible world either doesn’t exist, or it’s inaccessible from here. It’s crazy to expect either network to make any advertiser-alienating changes until there is a profit motive for doing so; and given how readily FOX opted for the CNBC model when setting up its own network, I’ll assume they determined that the most profitable approach was to target synaesthetic bipolar libertarians with attention deficit disorders.

Wait, this was supposed to be a constructive post. So: I appreciate CNBC’s willingness to make pink sheet microcap spam seem positively erudite. In all seriousness, I pick at the cynical politics and jaundiced aesthetics of business television because those are the easiest targets to mock. The more urgent problems have to do with what financial journalists don’t say and whom they don’t interview.

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