Archive for the ‘City’ tag

Representing a financial crisis

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What to say and what not to say.

In the current financial maelstrom, when news can send share prices plummeting and lead people to rush to withdraw their life savings, the question of whether a news report is representative suddenly becomes rather more pressing.

Broadcasting pictures of people queuing outside banks is likely to convince other people to do the same. This is not to say a news organisation should not show such pictures, but that it needs to think carefully about whether the pictures are representative of general behaviour, or limited to an isolated few.

It was for this reason that Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s head of television news, made the decision not to show people queuing outside branches of Halifax in Middlesbrough and Glasgow, until the BBC was sure it was a nationwide trend:

we decided that queues in two places were not conclusive evidence of a widespread financial phenomena. We decided to wait and watch. The queues later dissipated” (from Editors Blog).

The mood is so febrile right now that there seems little question that, had the BBC screened people panicking, more people would have panicked.

Contrast this with the front page of the Mail over the weekend, reporting that a City financier killed himself because, we are told, of ‘mounting financial pressure’. Clearly a shocking story and newsworthy, but representative? How many City financiers commit suicide each year? Given there are many hundreds of thousands working in the City, it cannot be that unusual for a single person to kill themselves. Each death, though tragic, is certainly not necessarily significant of a trend.

No, the reason this story made it to the front page was because of the parallels with 1929. Because someone committing suicide makes the current situation feel more precipitous. Perhaps it will become like 1929, but if deaths such as this are not representative, then we don’t need the media nudging the story in that tragic direction.

Written by Martin Moore

September 29th, 2008 at 10:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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