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Panel Discussion: Business and Economics, Page Two

Continued from Page One.

Fishing, a Local Story Turns Global

John McQuaid

Special projects reporter for The New Orleans Time-Picayune.

[John McQuaid is a special projects reporter for The Times Picayune, concentrating on science, politics, and the environment. He has worked in New Orleans and Latin America for The Times Picayune, and been based in Washington since 1992. He was the lead reporter on a series on global fisheries issues that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1997, and on a series about the threat posed by the Formosan termite that was a 1999 Pulitzer finalist in national reporting. His work has also won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Association for the Advancement of science.]

I come to this panel with a slightly different perspective in that I'm not, strictly speaking, a business reporter. Prior to doing the series [on the globalization of the fish business] I had been a political reporter, I'd been a foreign correspondent, I'd done local coverage, I've done features, I've done all kinds of different things, some environmental stuff.

What’s a Business Story?

At some point in the beginning process we were discussing it and one of our other reporters was being kind of dismissive, saying, "This is a business story, why are we doing it or what can we do with it?" and I said, "That's a fairly narrow view of what a business story is. What is business?" So I tried to look at fishing and I think everybody came into the same point of view.

Fishing is obviously a means of resource extraction. It's also a culture. It's a very unique subculture, and it's very ancient, and some of those ancient habits are still in practice today in these isolated communities. So in terms of looking at this as a business, it was difficult because fishing is not really one business, it's hundreds of businesses. The businesses are both local in the sense you have individuals and family-oriented businesses that have been in the business for generations, doing things which they're used to doing and are unaccustomed to change. You have processors, you have seafood wholesalers, you have many different kinds of fish. You have regional differences between the Northeast and the Gulf Coast and the West.

A Reporter’s Dream

It was very hard to enter into this - this was a reporter's dream, actually. We started in at the most basic level in talking to fishermen and going out on the water with them, getting a sense of what their problems were, trying to find out what the big story was.

What gradually emerged was that this was sort of a textbook case of globalization transforming an industry. Globalization is this vast abstract concept to most people, it's very hard to illustrate on a local level, or even on a broader level than that.

What we also found was that the sources on this had very dramatic stories to tell. I got to know a number of fishermen and hang out with them. I went fishing with them, which was a classic male bonding experience, and kind of came to appreciate their point of view, their perspective.

I hung out with one guy and his family. We went fishing, shrimping, a number of times. He took me duck hunting, which was interesting. It was the first time I'd ever fired a gun - a kind of an interesting cultural clash going on between us.

Sad Story of a Dying Culture

What emerged on that level was a very sad story of a culture dying, and a culture that was unique to our area. It was a very strong local story.

We looked at a lot of different pieces. We looked at the regulatory piece of it, we talked to government scientists and regulators about why fish populations were disappearing, and often their information clashed with what the fishermen were telling us. The fishermen had some access to firsthand knowledge routinely dismissed what the scientists were saying, so we tried to get into that aspect of it.

We talked to people at higher levels in various fishing industries to get a sense of what was happening in markets around the world. What emerged was the story that the consumer marketplace for fish, of all kinds, had just exploded over the last 20 years, and so the fish went from being unique specialty item that people ate on Fridays, to having its own fast-food restaurants that were in Iowa and places that previously had never had seafood.

Dramatic Case in Thailand

So you had this interesting situation, and this was going on all over the world. To satisfy this consumer demand, you had capital flowing into the Third World out of the United States and into these undeveloped areas. The most dramatic case that we found, which was the essence of the story, was in Thailand. You had billions of dollars flowing into shrimp farming, which had caused this cultural and economic revolution on the coast of Thailand. So we were able to go to Thailand and interview shrimp fishermen and farmers there.

So we got the sense from talking to shrimpers in Louisiana that their lives were basically going to hell, they couldn't get good prices for their shrimp anymore, that there were too many boats, that there were all these problems there.

You also had this very rapid development going on in Thailand, one side going down and the other side going up, and it was going up so rapidly that no one really knew what was going to happen because you had ecological degradation. These shrimp farms have caused quite a scandal in ecological and environmental circles, and they just totally transformed this rather bucolic coastal landscape into an industrial wasteland, essentially.

You have people who had been rice farmers who all of a sudden were - I don't know if they were becoming millionaires - going from being subsistence farmers to being small businessmen. However the sustainability of this enterprise was very uncertain, so you had an ecological catastrophe in the making. You also had all kinds of cultural problems going on because the traditional structures there were going out.

You could see all these forces were intersecting in the American marketplace, in the supermarket where you would go and buy your shrimp, and usually it would be shrimp from Thailand or China or these other places where similar things were going on.

Romance and Tragedy Among Fishermen

So drawing that line between my friend the shrimper in the U.S. and the folks we talked to on the Thai coast was just fascinating. It showed how this phenomenon, which really lies outside of the control of any lines, kind of an emerging phenomenon worldwide that no one quite knows how to describe or to control, or even if it ought to be controlled, how that was really having an effect on real people.

In terms of talking to some of these people, there was a sense of romance and tragedy that a lot of fishermen in the U.S. had about themselves. They tend to be kind of self-dramatizing people, which made for great copy, often. I did have to take a step back from that and realize that they were in the grips of forces out of their control, that they didn't quite understand, and that I didn't quite want to say, "This is a total loss," or, "This is a travesty," because it was a complex phenomenon, and frankly the fishermen, a lot of them in these places, are out of tune with things. They're angry white males who don't really know how to plug themselves into the new marketplace, nor are they any good at dealing with governments, nor are they any good at public relations.

So part of their problem was their own fault. In fact, they just could not really get a grip on what was going on, because there obviously were measures that could be taken in order for them to extend their survival time by a little bit. For that reason, it was just a fascinating story.

Going After Snappers With a Fisherman’s Family

The differences in perspective: I felt a little bit at strange at times. There was one fishermen who I also went fishing with. I went snapper fishing with this guy, with his dysfunctional family. I went out and spent two-and-a-half days on a boat with his wife, who was very neurotic, and his 12-year-old stepson who I think had [problems], and by the time I got back from this I was a bit shell-shocked. [Laughter] I basically got a lot out of this guy, and he had his own axe to grind.

Ultimately, when I wrote the story about red snapper regulation and what a travesty it was, he believed it was a travesty but he also wanted ideally for me to write a story that said, there are plenty of fish out there and it's a travesty for that reason. When I talked to the scientists, it became clear that he had a fairly narrow slice, both time-wise and geography-wise, of this picture, and the scientists, who were three steps removed admittedly from the picture, also had access to vast quantities of information and computer models.

So ultimately the story came down on their side, although it also indicted the regulatory system as being this very haphazard contraption that had developed kind of randomly over the years, and that in fact itself had alienated many fishermen from the process, and so that was part of the problem.

So ultimately we wrote a story which basically no segment or source would totally agree with, neither the regulators nor the fishermen, but which I think described the situation pretty accurately.

Market Destroying Lives

So that was fishing, and there are kinds of ironies in this about fishing and about American life. You have this notion that the market will fix everything, and this was a case where the market, frankly, was destroying people's livelihoods. And no one knew quite where this was going. The fishermen believed in the market, they had this very straightforward belief that if you went out there and fished and spent enough time and had enough skills you could make it; anybody could make it. If you didn't make it, you were a failure, and clearly that was no longer the case, and yet no one could really accept that that was the case, either at that level or at the higher level. It raised a lot of questions about open markets and the environment. Fishing is an extreme example because there are no property rights in fishing and thus it's sort of a free-for-all economically.

Case of the Formosan Termites

I also wanted to talk briefly about pest control. I got into covering these rather important yet kind of obscure industries that people rely upon, yet nobody ever really thinks to cover, and most papers don't really take a close look or even cover these things on a routine basis because it's difficult to get a grip on.

This was a series about Formosan termites, which is a kind of super termite that was imported from China in the 1940’s or '50’s, supposedly on military packing equipment that came back after World War II. The joke was we were giving the Chinese our missile technology and in exchange they were giving us termites.

The pest control industry is somewhat like fishing in the sense that it's very insular and traditional and small scale in operation. You have the small-scale pest control operators; they're not called exterminators, the politically correct term is pest control operator.

The philosophy is to spray as much stuff in the house, out of the house as much as possible to get rid of these things, and that had pretty much been disproved over the previous decade or two and the Formosan termite problem was a good example of that. So you have these people who are used to spraying stuff and they sprayed and sprayed it, and yet these termites kept coming in anyway.

So they didn't know what to do. At the higher level, you had a connection with large chemical corporations which manufacture pesticides, and for many years chlordane, which is a chemical related to DDT, was the main chemical used to control termites. It was the only chemical used to control termites, basically.

Even Chlordane Not Effective

Chlordane also proved ineffective against Formosan termites and eventually was taken off the market about ten years ago. But there was this mindset, and still is, that chlordane is the cure-all for all kinds of termites. So even after it was taken off the market there was this romanticism about this chemical, and what they did was engineer weaker chlordane substitutes, which also didn't work. It's sort of interesting. You expect again the market and consumer demand to drive innovation in an industry. In this case, the innovation didn't really come until much, much after this was a very serious problem, where I suspect someone could have made a hell of a lot of money had they played their cards right. Even after that happened, a researcher at the University of Florida developed an alternative method where termites would come and take some bait, put it in the ground, and then they would take it back to the nest and the other termites would eat it and they'd all die. This took about 10 years to make to the market, and then they started advertising it very aggressively. So we were the subject of a lot of press releases and pressure to make this a central part of our article, and the researcher was calling us all the time and the R&D people were calling us all the time.

While it looked promising, it did not look like it was necessarily a cure-all, particularly on the scale of the problem in New Orleans. So we talked to a lot of scientists and we ultimately took a very cautious point of view toward how we would play our stories on that particular anti-termite system.

So it's still an industry that's in a state of transition from this very traditional viewpoint to one that is more flexible and yet it's going to take a while.

Q. & A.


What Does Self-Interest Lead to?

Solman - Do you share in your dealings with, say, the pest control industry, any of Byron's concerns about how their self-interest leads them to do things that are, well, in that case heinous, perhaps, but here certainly with long-range deleterious consequences?

McQuaid - In this case, it was more just, I don't know, it was inertia more than anything else that verged on irresponsibility. It's a question of how innovation emerges, which we tried to look at a little bit, in any kind of technology, and often it's just accidental that it emerges. This researcher basically came up with this idea and tried it himself and then ultimately managed to sell it and is now making millions of dollars.

Solman - So this was just normal gung-ho. He believed in his product, he wasn't hiding its bad consequences, say, or anything like that.

McQuaid - Right, but it took a long time before anybody paid attention to him. I don't really know how to describe it, expect to say that it's not a straight line. These new products do not emerge to meet demand instantaneously. It often is quite by chance.

For TV, Reporter Needs Someone Else

Solman - I said that if we had enough time I would try to introduce a couple points from my experience, and I'll try to do it quickly. Many people here may not be familiar with this, but it is relevant, it seems to me, to today's session because of what Murrey Marder was talking about with respect to the solution of channel surfing as a place to get your sources. Speaking as somebody from the TV side of things, I would further add what I thought some of the insights were from Pete Souza's remarks about what exactly you see and how much to believe of what you see. That's what I was referring to before when I said that TV has these two source problems, one of which is physiological and the other one is in terms of egomania. So let me briefly explain what I meant.

With regard to physiology, if you're doing TV you are stuck with the sources who are going to appear on camera. It is generally not the case that you can just stand there. There are a lot of people who do live shots, quick kind of TV reports. This isn't entirely the case, but certainly the kind of thing I do and most TV correspondents and producers wind up doing is you need somebody there, whether it's John or Jim or Byron, whoever, to be talking, because how long can you go on paraphrasing somebody else?

So you send the physical person there. And there, physiology actually becomes a major factor. I'm trying to be amusing or catch your imagination but I'm not being flip. I've been doing this for about 22 years now - that is, TV reporting on business. One year I did a story on a restaurant called Betty's Rolls Royce, and it was a bar, a restaurant. A woman, I can't remember her last name, but her name was Betty and she'd park her Rolls Royce out in front of the restaurant every day because she wasn't allowed because of zoning regulations a sign that stuck out. It was a historic district. So she parked this yellow Rolls Royce and the city would tow it. And she'd bring it back, and the city would tow it again, and this was like an expense for her business.

She was complaining to the city, asking why didn't they just give her season tickets, why did she have to keep going back and forth. This is a tiny little story, but she was a very amusing and dynamic person. I was working for the local news at the time.

So there was Betty, dynamic, singing "Hello, Dolly." She sang and sat on customers' laps, so it was great TV. On the other side of it was the local traffic guy from the city of Boston. He was so nervous appearing on camera that his upper lip kept sweating. This is the classic Nixon problem, and the last thing that's going to reassure him is to say, "John, your lip is sweating. If you'd just wipe off, that'll be fine and we'll just do another take, if you remember the question at this point." I would say things like, "It's hot under the lights here," and give him a napkin. You'd just wipe it off completely because I didn't want to focus on the lip.

He lost. It was a perfectly evenhanded story. Betty won, the city lost. The guy from the traffic department could never make the case that it really wasn't a good idea to allow Rolls Royces to be parked in historic sections of Boston on narrow streets. All you noticed was he nervous.

Case of the Nervous Professor

I interviewed a guy, we brought him up from Johns Hopkins once. This is a famous professor who studies inventions, a guy named Henry Petroski. Henry Petroski is in a room in New York and I'm interviewing him about something to do with the history of the pencil, I think. Henry was so nervous that his glasses kept fogging up, and there was no way you could do an interview with this guy because you couldn't see him. So we'd put water, every damn thing you could think of on Henry’s glasses to clear them and you'd say, "Could you make that answer shorter?" because you wanted to get enough before the glasses fogged up.

We had a guy from Harvard Business School, a professor whom we were interviewing about Au Bon Pain - he was the vice chairman. These are national stories. You know how when you get nervous your spittle dries up and sometimes it'll form little white deposits on the side. Well, this guy's spittle would dry and when he would talk, little projectiles of spittle would come out. They were shooting and we couldn't use what we had recorded.

There's one class of people, one class of sources, and I don't use the word lightly here, whom we cannot use on television at all. Anybody want to hazard a guess as to who that would be? Stutterers. Can't use stutterers. A wonderful guy once, world authority on open-book management, and I said, "Do you want to take a shot at it?" He said, "I'm game if you are but I think it'll drive us both crazy." Or words to that effect. I won't torture you with the actual verbatim exchange.

Some You Cannot Deal With

There is a whole set of people whom you simply can't deal with. Those are obviously rare examples and, but if you think about it in terms of the people who are articulate or aren't, the people whom you can rely on for the snappy sound bite, the articulate sentence, the not stopping in the middle, the knowing how to finish with a flourish, as opposed to the people who stumble their way through, get nervous, as most people do, certainly the first few times they're on television, especially live, but even on tape.

You realize that you're seeing, or if you think about it, I certainly realized and assure you you're seeing a very select sample of the world's sources when you're watching television. That's just on the physiological level.

Then of course there's the issue of accessibility and my flip use of the word egomania. The fact is that if you're in our business, TV, and particularly with respect to TV on business and economics where people, as has been pointed out, have no obligation or even incentive to talk to you most of the time, then you go with the people who are articulate and accessible and are willing to talk to you.

Business Seeks to Manage Press Process

Well, who's willing to talk to you? As often as not it is people - maybe it's a gross characterization to call them egomaniacs, exhibitionists might be a little milder, but certainly people who want to be out there, like to hear themselves talk, like to be heard. In the world of business and economics, where people are being paid to manage this process and have done it for years and years and are being paid very well and are ex-newspeople for the most part, where they're clients - that is to say the CEO’s and spokespeople from the corporation - are trained, they're given TV training now and have been for years, to do this well, you are seeing again a subsample of a subsample - you, that is, or we, the viewers of the world.

So I worry about the idea of even the kind of looking at the Duma, where after all when somebody gets up and the cameras are on, the guy at the Duma or woman knows well that he or she is on television,, too, and certainly when it comes to the kind of thing that I was doing even yesterday when I was doing an interview with somebody out on the West Coast, and they said, "No, we won't fly the guy here, we'll put a camera in front of the guy where we are," and he said, "Well, we have to wait a few minutes," what are we waiting for, I was on the telephone, "We're making him up now." Perfectly nice guy. Then he said, "Listen, we have some problems with the kinds of questions you want to ask; here's what we want to answer." It was innocuous, I'm asking this guy about Y2K problems and he was giving the technical stuff. But I said, "We talked about the fact that you get immigrant laborers and you get the best and the brightest from other countries and I think that's an interesting point." "Yeah, that's what I said to you as a person, but as the CEO of Reasoning Corporation, we don't really want to be known for that." I said, "But you're just explaining this to people, what's wrong with it?" "I'll just defer on those questions. No comment." He actually said no comment. Of course, he's videotaping this, his camera is out there doing it, and that happens of course time and time and time again.

So there's this entire issue of source management that you all face, but we face particularly I think within our beat, or maybe that's just from the vantage point that I have.

What’s Different About Business Reporting?

Solman - I promised there were differences on our beat compared to some of the other beats, but a lot of the issues that you guys have talked about have been ones that are very similar to what people are talking about on other beats. Byron, are there differences, or we just trying to be special thinking that there are differences in source issues on our business and economics beat?

Acohido - I think Jim covered them pretty well. I think what's common though is how you overcome the obstacles. I think it's the same, basically just trying to do good reporting and use all the tools that are out there and try and do it intelligently.

McNair - If you're fair with a corporation, you can eventually get the CEO to return the respect and return the phone calls. It's very controlled though. Anything a CEO says is going to move the market and people will want to latch on to what they say. Here I'm talking about big corporations. Small corporations, CEO’s, I could be a CEO of a company and I could go public and I could hire a PR firm to generate all kinds of interest in my stock and company. But if you're fair, the corporation will talk to you. It's just a matter of deciding whether what they're saying is worthwhile or whether they're obfuscating. It's very difficult to read and understand 10(k), a company's annual report filed with the government. Again, heavily lawyered, full of accounting terminology, yet there's a lot of juicy information in there. Reporters from other desks come over and maybe they've got a character who happens to serve on a board of directors of a company and they'll come over to me and ask how to decipher a proxy statement, which lays out all the salaries and bonuses and stock options. So whether the CEO is talking or not, there's a lot of information that you can draw from and you could really flush out the CEO if they know you're going to write a certain story.

Solman - There's a second-year course at the Harvard Business School on how to read an annual report. I think they do 10(k) which is the Securities and Exchange Commission version of an annual report, but people spend a lifetime figuring out how to present this data. There are a million ways to do it.

McQuaid - This may seem pretty obvious, but any time there is some sort of political conflict surrounding a marketplace or a particular business, that's helpful because obviously you have government regulators that are looking over things or different interest groups that might oppose or be slightly different from what a particular company or set of companies is looking at. So there are various entry points. Also obviously if you get down on the ground and talk to both consumers and the people who are doing the scout work for these people, then you can find stuff to take back to the higher-ups.

Solman - So we rely on the disgruntled just like everybody else does here.

Managing Relationships With Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

Q. - I was wondering for Byron especially how you manage your relationships with plaintiffs' lawyers as you're doing your beat. I could think your interest would overlap with theirs quite a bit, but I also could imagine that it would be easy to fall into a cabal with them, the way you described The New York Times and the FBI, kind of getting into such a scoop relationship that the information got distorted. So I was curious how you managed all that.

Acohido - Basically just try to corroborate and check out their information like everybody else. Their interest is a little bit different because the bottom line is their commission and getting a quick settlement. There are good lawyers and bad lawyers, as everybody knows, but essentially you just sift their information and find out what's useful and what you don't know and eventually you get to the point where you can find out - I do, anyway - where you sense where they're pushing it and where they're on solid ground. But lawyers are good in a way because they're so intense about getting their facts straight so they can pass a legal threshold. So you just try to figure out where their footing is in that respect and where they're trying to push it, or get you to push it. That's often what happens, they try to get you to do this exchange of information so they can get something else, they can issue the next legal motion, or whatever it is. It's no different than dealing with other sources, but they're better in the sense that they come from this industry where they have to be careful about getting the foundation set up under facts, and I think that's why they're most useful. And they'll point out where you're weak as well.

Solman - Jim, you have any take on that?

McNair - I welcome phone calls from plaintiffs' lawyers. If somebody's got a class-action discrimination suit, or some kind of a workplace-related suit, or if they represent a class of investors, or one investor who's been ripped off, I'll use that to get into a story, I'll listen to what the person's got to say and go from there. I usually find other lawsuits that are like that, and once they've pointed the finger at somebody, then I know I can plug that name and do a dozen computer databases to find disciplinary histories, bankruptcy filings, IRS liens. It verifies itself if there's a trail. Then I end up not relying on that lawyer. Sure, he wants his case to be publicized, and I might give him a quote or I might try and get his client and get a quote from the client, but it's not going to end up being a story where it's that client versus this company. It's going to be a story about this company and that individual.

Shooting From Hip on Plane Crashes

Q. - Byron, your presentation seems to argue against newspapers trying to draw conclusions quickly on airplane crashes; would you agree with that?

Acohido - Yes, I would. I'm a big believer in advancing the story but not hanging around. The project which won the Pulitzer was published two years after the Pittsburgh crash, a five-part series. That series was built on 60-plus stories, taking what I could develop one week and advancing it and pushing to get it in the paper.

Get the Tail Number of the Plane

Q. - What would you advice be to reporters who have to cover a major plane crash, because obviously there's competitive pressure to come out with the best story first, in relation to the difficulty in drawing conclusions in some of these things?

Acohido - Actually I have a tip sheet, but there's a set of basic things you can do - get the tail number, start checking out the airline, how it uses airplanes, check out the history of that model type of aircraft. Basically just be real skeptical about the official description right off the bat. That's why I chose to use this TWA 800, because right up front the industry will get involved and try to put their spin on and basically it's a classic corporate defense type of spin where they'll just flood the marketplace with all these red herrings. It's a real mine field, you've got to watch out for that. Sometimes it is the weather or the pilot, so you've got to be aware of that as well.

Solman - I, myself, since I don't do investigative reporting but explanatory journalism, have found - maybe it's because of my left wing background or something - that it's such a dramatic difference, but I'd be interested if anybody else on the panel had this issue, which is sort of the ideological cooptation, a word we used to use. For example, virtually every economist in the United States you can interview is a capitalist economist who buys a certain set of assumptions about how the world works. You were talking earlier, John, about the marketplace, and that's what made me think of it, this sort of natural assumption that the market is good, the fishermen think the market is good, everybody buys into that. Certainly in the area I've been covering often one stops and wonders whether or not one is taking for granted a set of assumptions that other people might call into question.

Dealing With Editors and Publishers

Q. - Because news organizations don't operate in a vacuum, I wondered, do any of you ever have a problem within your own news organizations dealing with people higher up, publishers or editors who might want to put a particular slant on a story or try to get you to be a little nicer in approaching people like the Boeing Company who have substantial clout and may affect your advertising revenues or may be even friends with the publisher and may have a special entree to those people. Do you have any of those kinds of problems?

Acohido - I have a real fortunate circumstance of working for a publisher - he's third generation, maybe fourth generation. He was a pioneer in Seattle. He's filthy rich, he loves being a publisher and tilting at these big corporations and he's hands-off the newsroom. He's probably the ideal publisher, and he likes winning Pulitzers. When I was working on the rudder series, there was tremendous pressure. This is big stakes, hardball stuff. They hired PR people and there were phone calls going on to get me off the beat. When my project was nominated for a Pulitzer, there was a whispering campaign that went on, right down to the final jury to discredit the content. It's real heavyweight stuff. They did everything could to get me off the story. But my publisher stood up for it.

McQuaid - Yes, we've had that problem a little bit from time to time. Our paper's sort of the voice of good government, conservatism, economic development. Fishing is sort of weird; there are sorts of counterintuitive things going on. At one point we had a solutions box and one element of this was a boat buyback. In order to lower the number of boats in a fishery, the government spends millions of dollars to take them out of circulation. This was shot down by an editor as being a government program that did not fit with our point of view. In doing some of these stories, I try to take into account that point of view. It's a legitimate point of view. In that case I disagreed with it because I think it was counterintuitive, it was not that we were advocating this, we were just saying it was something that was suggested.

Acohido - I realize the situation is probably more like what Jim is alluding to in most newsrooms, and my theory on that is you just do what you can within your job and pick your battles and keep pushing, persevere. There are several examples here of people just persevering. You can't worry about the publisher and the pressure that's going on. All you can do is just do the best reporting job you can do.

So How Do You Handle the Publisher?

Q. - That was going to be my follow-up question, if there was anything you guys would suggest if you have that issue at play. How do you approach your editor or publisher knowing that there may be some sticky points?

McNair - What choice do you have? You're there to follow marching orders. You've got publishers or presidents leaning on the newsroom, which in turn is headed by a vice president or maybe a director of the company who walks down to the business desk and says, "This is going to get in the paper." And therefore it will get in the paper. Or not get in the paper, which is what you're more concerned about, right?

McQuaid - Fortunately, it hasn't happened to me. I know of some instances where advertiser pressure has caused stories to be treated more favorably for the advertiser, but that was off my beat. I stood and watched that one with amazement.

Solman - The Murrey Marder strategy of yesterday, blackmail, is one that I used once back in the '70’s. Didn't work, I might add.

Are Readers More Sophisticated?

Q - I'm not sure of the exact statistics, but the story of how Wall Street has gone Main Street has been widely written about. We've gone from a situation in this country where a small minority of people owned stocks and seemed to be interested in the business world to the situation today where I think almost half of the country owns stock and is reputedly savvy and interested about the business world. I was wondering if you buy this conventional wisdom, that there is a rising sophistication out there among American readers and viewers and consumers of business information, and if so, how does that affect your coverage and your relationship to those readers and viewers?

McNair - It's nice to have readers familiar with the terminology of the page. The sports page doesn't have to define what an RBI is, that a football game is played in quarters. Yet, from time to time, we have to explain the basics, almost repeatedly, and that's where these how-to pieces come in. Are we going to be doing these how-to pieces to infinity: "How to choose a mutual fund?" So I'd like to get past that stage, and I'm really happy to see readers delve into the stock market and become familiar with the basics. Then we can go to the next step, get into some of the more arcane subjects.

McQuaid - I think economic journalism is very difficult, particularly when things are changing so fast. You have the economic meltdown that occurred last year, and various explanations, sort of like the TWA disaster, various explanations emerge as this occurs to explain it. But nobody really seems to get a grip on the problem, and so there's all these prognostications of doom and then all of a sudden, boom, it stopped. If you read Slate's morning paper's column, they frequently note the latest Dow tops whatever it's topping and frequently they will cite totally different explanations in the different papers and say, "What's really going on here; nobody seems to know." I think that's something that needs to be improved and worked on, how you handle that.

Acohido - I think it makes sense. Yes, the readers' sophistication level is increasing and that's all the more argument for us to do a good job thinking about this information and interpreting it in a way that's useful to them. We can connect the dots for them.

Solman - In my own experience, I remember when I would talk somewhere, being interviewed in some setting or other, 20 years ago as a business journalist when there weren't a whole lot, and certainly not on TV. I used to make the point, actually, about RBI’s. The definition of an RBI, which is a fairly fancy thing for those of who know it in detail, but I used to say as well that batting average is the same calculation as earnings per share, just a simple division. And yet, everybody, when I would speak to them, would make the point that lots of people know how to do batting average, know what it means, and very, very few people know how to do earnings per share. Now that's certainly dramatically different. I wouldn't use that example any more if I were talking how much people knew or didn't know about business. On the other hand, with the rising sophistication that you're talking about and everybody here has to some extent experienced, and it may be why we have these sections of papers and TV shows where we get hired to do this stuff, there's a rise in credulousness. I spent a day a couple months ago, the entire day, taping a day trader and this woman is at the higher level, presumably, of the kind of people you're talking about. She's spending her life trading stocks all day and she had a chart up on her TV screen and I said, "What does the chart mean? What are you tracking?" She says, "It's a moving average," and I can't remember the term she used even for it. I said, "Could you tell me what it means?" She didn't know. She had no idea what it was. It was actually only the minute to minute difference between the stock price and the stock price of the same company a month ago. So it was just tracking the movement of the stock. She thought it was some kind of arcane, fancy concept that she had some differential insight into. So the sophistication, we'll see the flip side of that when the inevitable but never apparently coming downturn actually materializes.

Q. - I was waiting for those Internet stock tips. [Laughter]

Monetary Fund or Stock Tips?

Q. - I have a short question, and it's to the panel. This year we've heard a lot from academics about the international economy and global economics, whose interest the IMF has at heart, how they clash with the World Bank. I don't see it reflected very much in the business supplements of the daily press, and I wondered if my perception's right, and if it is why is that?

Solman - I'm probably the one on the panel who has the most to do with that level of coverage. You've heard, actually just in the last few seconds here, what I think is a good part of the answer. What people are interested in is the Internet stock tips, as joke or as reality. There is always this curious differentiation or lack of differentiation on this beat, business/economics, and what people tend to want to know, particularly now, is what's the latest, what's the tip, what am I missing, why wasn't I in the market, and so forth. IMF is tough to do and it's much easier to hook viewers, readers, or anybody else. They're always asking us to do stock pieces on the NewsHour and I say, "What do you want to say about the stock market? What could you possibly say that you couldn't haven't already said?" Nobody knows.

Acohido - I think that coverage is out there. John's work is an example of that. I think it's happening at the regional level. We do a lot of work about the global European versus U.S. fight over aerospace products and about sales of coffee overseas and use of child labor to build shoes, and that kind of stuff. You're not seeing it in The Wall Street Journal necessarily because they take a bigger picture view, but it's the good regional papers, like The Boston Globe and New Orleans Times-Picayune and Seattle Times and Miami Herald that are doing that kind of coverage,, coming at it from the companies that exist in their backyard. So that's where it's happening.

McQuaid - I think part of the problem is that there's this emerging international financial system that is obviously plugged into all these local markets, but that it's disaster-driven. Basically, everybody started paying a lot more attention to the IMF last year when the disaster occurred. They said, Is the IMF underfunded? Is it good? Does it have good policies? Is it woefully small and limited in its reach in order to deal with some of these problems? Then basically, as we noted, the problem settled down and then everyone looked back at the Dow and forgot about it. But these problems are still kind of lurking out there and the next time the disaster occurs I'm sure all the journalists will rush in that direction.

Solman - And if the Dow had hit 6000 or something on the basis of the global financial crisis, we would have heard a lot more about the kind of thing you're talking about.

Kovach - Please keep yourselves involved in this project. Think about ways we can move this process forward. Think about ways we can help generate more understanding, more depth, more knowledge and more interest in this caliber of journalism and this aspect of this journalism, the monitoring obligation of the press.

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