I heard Jeff Jarvis on the radio this week say he wanted someone to, in easy link-and-click fashion, explain what’s going on, what the current financial crisis is about. And I suppose he's right (while hoping he’s wrong) that that easy click and see doesn’t exist. (He did on his site say he likes this explanation.)
And, in so complaining, he put his finger on a major problem with journalism as it’s practiced. Amid all the tit-for-tat accusations, running around trying to dig up, follow the latest, get the scoops, journalists too often forget to explain to those who desperately want it what the story at its deepest levels is really about -- which also would serve to tell the reading/listening/viewing public why they should care. That kind of depth, of course, doesn’t get the quick pageviews, nor is it the kind of investigative journalism that tends to win Pulitzers and other prizes. In a business sense, it’s not the kind of journalism that will pay for the resources it takes create it. But it is a big public service that can accrue pageviews (on pages carrying ads) over time. And there are ways to “monetize” it beyond the pageview-ad formulation. (partnerships, re-branding, syndication, books, new sections ... that would be another blog post.)
Not that it’s easy to explain something like this crisis. A lot of people tasked with explaining what’s going on probably themselves don’t understand, and good journalists are trained not to let their grasp exceed their reach. Heck, some of the smartest professors I had in business school seem at a loss to completely explain what’s happening in the economy right now. (One wrote an email about the opposing views of who’s to blame, without answering a question I asked about whether models he taught us projecting increased value as debt is taken on were still valid, or formulations for calculating risk should be changed). And, the ones who can explain it all to us -- smart MBAs who do financial modeling -- are, after all, ones who helped get us into this, with the very financial models they created or followed. They’re likely to earn a lot more than the ink- and pixel-stained wretches working in newsrooms. Then, again, there’s a few of those folk who have a bit of free time at the moment. Maybe they could write a little something for the papers, even help come up with some graphics and videos to explain it all.
Even without the business justifications, though, the explanation would be worthwhile and a public service.