Cash, Crises and Journalism was the title of a session at last week’s Journalism in Crisis conference at the University of Westminster. One of the participants was Matthew Fraser and he had this to say about financial journalism.
1 – Competitive pressures for scoops. In the modern media environment, journalists are just too busy to do off diary features like the potential state of the economy.
2 – Lack of professional training among business journalists, with most of them coming from Oxbridge but not having any financial experience.
3 – Business journalists simply have short memories, like everybody else, and failed to see the signs of the oncoming crisis.
4 – “Implicitly, everybody in the industry knows that business journalists don’t rock the boat of the audience with their careers”.
5 – Finally, many journalists were cheerleaders for the businesses, were having a great time in the club and simply had no interest in raising the alarm.
Financial journalism (FiJo) – coverage of financial markets and corporate finance – remains a largely unexamined field of professional journalism, despite its prestige (cf. the cricital acclaim of The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal), widespread concerns about its role and responsibility and a weak investigative track record. For example, no reporter uncovered the Enron collapse a few years ago. And also, how did we miss the 2008 credit crisis?
This question will be addressed during a POLISmedia panel discussion on Feb. 23 at LSE, entitled: “Why did nobody tell us? Reporting the Global Crash of ‘08″.
Belgian multimedia company Corelio today announced that it will be laying off some 6 percent of its workforce. 60 full time employees, including 15 journalists, will lose their jobs. Corelio, Belgium’s largest newspaper publisher, boasts a diverse portfolio that includes such household names as De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad.
The job cuts come as Corelio, like other media companies, adjusts to major shifts in media consumption, advertising spending and the current economic downturn. In short, audiences and employers are vanishing. Expect more (Belgian) media companies to follow suit.
Fortis also announced that it was planning to call a shareholder meeting in eight weeks. I would give good money to attend this meeting because investors are outraged over what they see as “mismanagement” and “misinformation”. Lobbygroup Fortisaction.com argues that shareholders are left with:
a marginalised company with a 66% stake in a structured products portfolio (worth 6,8 billion euro)
a small insurance business that could not be sold directly (Insurance International) worth between 1,5 and 2,0 billion euro.
The shit has hit the fan. The CBFA, Belgium’s Banking, Finance and Insurance Commission has reportedly suspended Euronext trading of Fortis shares until the market can adapt to the BNP Paribas takeover. No official press release confirming this news could be found on the CBFA website at this time. Lame.
**UPDATE (22:30): BNP Parisbas to acquire Fortis (DT)**
According to a report in business newspaper De Tijd, French bank BNP Paribas has come to terms with Belgian and Luxembourgian authorities regarding the takeover of Fortis. The French takeover is reported to consist of two operations: the Belgian government would first complete the nationalization of Fortis (purchasing the additional 51% for 5 billion euros) and then sell a 75% majority share in Fortis Bank Belgium to BNP Paribas. Instantly, the French bank becomes a major (and new) player in Belgium, while the Belgian government becomes the largest minority shareholder (25%) in BNP Paribas.
**UPDATE (21:15): (unofficial) BNP Parisbas nets majority
share in Fortis Bank Belgium and Luxemburg (DS, DT)**
First Belgium, now Iceland, the UK and Germany are scrambling to save their economies from collapsing. What’s next, OJ Simpson behind bars? Oh wait.
All eyes were set on Filip Dierckx, Fortis’ newest CEO, at the annual Flemish investment club conference in Antwerp today. Alas, Fortis cancelled at the last minute, sending apocalypse rumors and cholesterol levels flying.
This was an eye-opening day among corporate high rollers, financial analysts and frustrated investors. As I mingled with attendees and exhibitors during coffee breaks, I was casually told that it used to be fairly easy to make your first million on the stock market – yes, I kept the Lil’ Wayne jokes to myself – and that, as an entrepreneur, cornering a niche market is key. Just ask Omega Pharma.
(research mode: on) The CEO and CFO presentations provided rich arenas for displaying competence and illustrated, at least to this investment novice, how crucial the interpretive work of the audience (nodding, taking notes, asking questions, chatting) is in acknowledging and enacting the speaker’s expertise. These performances are research grants waiting to be written (research mode: off).
Lessons learned: Zetes is, IMHO, a company with killer technology and a sound business plan. KBC is sitting pretty for now. The art of public speaking is not exactly lost on Agfa Gevaert CEO Jo Cornu. Eyes-on-stalks boring. And Fortis? They’re in rocky waters. Expect more drama soon. In the meantime, roll with the punches. And please don’t make a run on it.
At a press conference earlier today, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme announced that the Fortis banking and insurance concern will be dismantled. Belgium will acquire Fortis Bank Belgium and the Netherlands have agreed to purchase ABN AMRO and Fortis Insurance The Netherlands for 16.8 billion euros. Luxemburg is expected to follow suit by nationalizing Fortis Bank Luxemburg. (Source: De Tijd, De Standaard).