I went to see Robert Peston, the Beeb’s business editor and ‘the face of the credit crunch’, talk at LSE last night. I posted on Londonist too, and have shared some of that post here to go into more detail on the angle that interested me. That’s not to say the credit crunch doesn’t interest me, but I don’t really feel qualified to blog about it – mind you, two hours with Robert Peston and I am full of soundbites to keep me going in the pub for ages!
The Power of Peston
It was obviously a top-notch account of the global financial crisis, but the bit that attracted my attention was discussion about Peston’s position as a financial journalist at such a time. Some of the LSE audience questions focused on the power of journalist and bloggers to affect markets in a world that’s all about confidence. Peston has been accused in recent months of increasingly being part of the story not just telling it, and achieving cult or soothsayer like status. This status comes from not just his BBC position, but also his hugely well-read blog, which some have speculated makes him too influential. LSE chair Charlie Beckett said ‘when Peston blogs, the banks put out alerts’, explaining that emails are sent round to bank staff warning them that Peston has posted, such is his impact on the markets. (They should get into RSS!)
Rules for financial bloggers?
That this happens is amazing although not surprising, and while it’s exciting as a fan of the power of social media it’s a bit worrying too. Amongst many others Peston pointed the finger back at himself and wider media as one of the many to blame for the financial crisis, and LSE have just released a report to formally set that debate going. POLIS is LSE’s media think tank, and their report – ‘What is Financial Journalism for? Ethics and Responsibility in a time of Crisis and Change’ – looks at the role financial journalism currently has to play. Having had a quick look at the report there’s much of interest for creators of traditional and social media, financial and online PRs, and I’m sure that debate needs to happen. What I found noticeable was that financial bloggers are prominent enough, and the consequences serious enough, that they to have to be addressed directly in the report.
The report discusses ‘Professional Closure: Who is the financial journalist’, and suggests:
“There has always been pseudo journalism in the form of tip sheets, rumour reports, and newsletters, and many bloggers do aspire to being financial journalists, describing themselves as such, but existing outside the ethical and professional – and to an extent, legal – constraints of the profession. This pamphlet is in part directed at them – to help them understand the implications of doing so.”
The suggestion being that if bloggers want to take part in this area, then rules for the greater good will have to be understood and followed. In current times, the role of all media in alleviating or exacerbating financial fears does need to be discussed, perhaps as recent months have formalised the role of political bloggers, this is the time for financial blogging to change?
And as for Peston and his power, he said his motivations for responsible posting – in context, multiply sourced and in the public interest – came down to personal brand. ‘Brand Robert Peston’ was showing impressive growth that he wouldn’t want to harm, when looked at by Hitwise’s Robin Goad in October, and .
While Peston admits he loves scoops, a he knows a rash comment or post would bring down his career with any bank he damaged, and he can’t think of anything he’d rather do than what he does now. That he may move markets ‘is not part of a journalist’s calculation’, he’s thinking about whether a story is useful, relevant and in context. Although it’s obviously important to him to get his voice out there, as a BBC source stated:
“Before the internet, the BBC would have had nowhere for him to go into things in greater depth and it might have been hard to have persuaded him to come to the BBC. Instead, he can also write the kind of stuff he’s used to producing for an informed audience.”.
Allowing him to blog is obviously valuable for the former print journalist, as an outlet and brand builder – as it is for so many bloggers across all sectors and niches.
Either way, when the only news has been financial news for months it seems, he’s certainly attracted attention. Guido Fawkes claimed he inflamed the Northern Rock situation and is ‘certainly a cult’ and The Times discussed his ‘Current Affairs totty’ status.