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In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dep In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dependent strain of journalism was soon opposed by the grand, sweeping work of the muckrakers. Propelled by the innovations of Bernard Kilgore, the great postwar editor of the Wall Street Journal, these two genres merged when mainstream American news organizations institutionalized muckraking in the 1960s, creating a powerful guardian of the public interest. Yet as the mortgage era dawned, deep cultural and structural shifts--some unavoidable, some self-inflicted--eroded journalism's appetite for its role as watchdog. The result was a deafening silence about systemic corruption in the financial industry. Tragically, this silence grew only more profound as the mortgage madness reached its terrible apogee from 2004 through 2006. Starkman frames his analysis in a broad argument about journalism itself, dividing the profession into two competing approaches--access reporting and accountability reporting--which rely on entirely different sources and produce radically different representations of reality. As Starkman explains, access journalism came to dominate business reporting in the 1990s, a process he calls "CNBCization," and rather than examining risky, even corrupt, corporate behavior, mainstream reporters focused on profiling executives and informing investors. Starkman concludes with a critique of the digital-news ideology and corporate influence, which threaten to further undermine investigative reporting, and he shows how financial coverage, and journalism as a whole, can reclaim its bite.


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In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dep In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dependent strain of journalism was soon opposed by the grand, sweeping work of the muckrakers. Propelled by the innovations of Bernard Kilgore, the great postwar editor of the Wall Street Journal, these two genres merged when mainstream American news organizations institutionalized muckraking in the 1960s, creating a powerful guardian of the public interest. Yet as the mortgage era dawned, deep cultural and structural shifts--some unavoidable, some self-inflicted--eroded journalism's appetite for its role as watchdog. The result was a deafening silence about systemic corruption in the financial industry. Tragically, this silence grew only more profound as the mortgage madness reached its terrible apogee from 2004 through 2006. Starkman frames his analysis in a broad argument about journalism itself, dividing the profession into two competing approaches--access reporting and accountability reporting--which rely on entirely different sources and produce radically different representations of reality. As Starkman explains, access journalism came to dominate business reporting in the 1990s, a process he calls "CNBCization," and rather than examining risky, even corrupt, corporate behavior, mainstream reporters focused on profiling executives and informing investors. Starkman concludes with a critique of the digital-news ideology and corporate influence, which threaten to further undermine investigative reporting, and he shows how financial coverage, and journalism as a whole, can reclaim its bite.

30 review for The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott Whitmore

    The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism by Dean Starkman (@deanstarkman) will appeal greatly to anyone interested in journalism, especially in how the field has dramatically changed the past few decades. The entry point for this highly readable book is the Mortgage Crisis of the mid- to late-2000s, and in particular trying to answer those critics who wondered why the “business news media” didn’t foresee and warn the public about the l The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism by Dean Starkman (@deanstarkman) will appeal greatly to anyone interested in journalism, especially in how the field has dramatically changed the past few decades. The entry point for this highly readable book is the Mortgage Crisis of the mid- to late-2000s, and in particular trying to answer those critics who wondered why the “business news media” didn’t foresee and warn the public about the looming catastrophe. In fact, a few individuals and organizations did see the danger, or at least some part of it — few but those on the inside (and therefore actually doing the harm) fully understood what was happening — but their voices were lost among the ever-increasing noise of information bombarding our lives in the Internet Age. The author examines the history of journalists and social crusaders digging into the affairs of businesses, starting with the “Muckrakers” of the late 1900s who took on the insidious corporate Trusts. This type of work, which Starkman calls “Accountability Journalism” sought to bring to light issues of concern to the general public, which were often terribly complex and deliberately masked or difficult to unearth, and present them in ways an average person could comprehend. Accountability journalism is expensive and time-consuming, and it is entirely possible once-promising ideas will be found unusable after months of research. Although not exactly the opposite per se, the other major type of newsgathering the author discusses is “Access Journalism.” In Access mode, a sort of symbiotic relationship develops between journalists and their subjects. Through press releases and “exclusives” granted to compliant journalists, subjects seek to steer the flow of information in a way favorable to them. The benefit for a journalist or news organization is that Access Journalism is cheap to produce and provides a steady stream of content — highly desirable qualities in the Internet Age. Both types of journalism can co-exist at a news organization but obviously it takes a commitment of resources to work in Accountability mode, resources the industry found itself lacking when the Internet wiped out the once steady influx from advertising. The negative to relying too heavily on Access, of course, is the news media — the titular Watchdog — stops looking for misdeeds and instead feasts on the scraps provided. And although business news is the subject of this book, in truth what is discussed applies to every aspect of a news organization including sports.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Where were the Woodward and Bernstein of the financial meltdown? Why did a crisis that was a decade or more in the making, not make the news until it was too late? Dean Starkman asks where the watchdogs were and why weren't they barking like crazy until after the crash. There are no simple answers. In the first part of the book, Starkman looks at the last century of reporting. The first major investigative reporting, or muckraking, of the 20th century was in 1903 when Ida Tarbell broke the Standa Where were the Woodward and Bernstein of the financial meltdown? Why did a crisis that was a decade or more in the making, not make the news until it was too late? Dean Starkman asks where the watchdogs were and why weren't they barking like crazy until after the crash. There are no simple answers. In the first part of the book, Starkman looks at the last century of reporting. The first major investigative reporting, or muckraking, of the 20th century was in 1903 when Ida Tarbell broke the Standard Oil antitrust story. There were other stories between that and Watergate, and a few since then. But the reader gets the impression that these were exceptions in journalism and that the norm was the cozy relationship between JFK and the press, for instance, and the self-censorship that reporters employ during wartime and other times of perceived crisis. Startkman points out that not all journalism has to be investigative to be good. There is accountabilty reporting, which is investigative reporting by another name, and access reporting, which is cultivating sources to get leads. Although that sounds like the opposite of reporting, Starkman points out that both types are vital. He points to a recent-ish example of access reporting getting the scoop -- when a friendly reporter asked presidential candidate John McCain how many houses he had and McCain couldn't remember, that was as revealing a tidbit as any undercover reporter searching for scandals could have dug up. So, why no Tarbells and Woodwards on the financial beat in 2007? Starkman points out that there were reporters telling many parts of the crisis story, but that the changing nature of news media was partly to blame for keeping the reports to a dribble rather than gushing forth. The reaction of print media to the internet meant news staffs were being cut and the remaining reporters had to do twice as much work. Newspapers and magazines, both digital and print, felt the need to increase output of content, faster. More stories, shorter stories, quicker stories, and less time and money for long term projects resulting in long-form stories. Starkman finds plenty of villains and heroes in financial crisis reporting, and he saves his most scathing comments for Rupert Murdoch, who bought the Wall Street Journal in 2007, and whose ideal newspaper is the (U.K.) Daily Mail, an entertaining (in small doses) paper that deals in gossip and sensationalistic stories that are completely fact-free. There's a lot to think about in The Watchdog That Didn't Bark and it may change the way you read the newspaper.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ba

    Full disclosure: This book was written by my cousin, whom I have admired and looked up to for my whole life. Dean Starkman is quite familiar with investigative journalism, having among his accomplishments a Pulitzer Prize for a series that exposed and dismantled corruption in the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He's familiar with the financial world, having reported on institutional bad behavior for the venerable Wall Street Journal. And he is an expert meta-journalist, reporting about reporting for Full disclosure: This book was written by my cousin, whom I have admired and looked up to for my whole life. Dean Starkman is quite familiar with investigative journalism, having among his accomplishments a Pulitzer Prize for a series that exposed and dismantled corruption in the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He's familiar with the financial world, having reported on institutional bad behavior for the venerable Wall Street Journal. And he is an expert meta-journalist, reporting about reporting for the Columbia Journalism Review's The Audit, an examination of business journalism. In the space of only 362 pages, Dean helps us understand the following subjects, any of which could be its own book: • The history of investigative journalism • The history of the financial press • The difference between access-based and accountability reporting • How corruption pervaded the subprime lending market and spread throughout the financial industry • Who among reporters saw the crash coming; Who didn't; and Why • What is the current state of the financial press (and the press in general) and where do we go from here? The book is well-written, accessible to a layman (which I certainly am), clever and most importantly, lives up to the promise of its ambitious title. I highly recommend that you read this book, but even so, will share the 3rd-from-last paragraph of the narrative, on the future of long-form investigative journalism: (view spoiler)[If someone tells you this kind of reporting is not possible anymore, don't believe it. And if someone tells you that the Great Story isn't important, tell him that you read somewhere that that's not true either. (hide spoiler)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    April Helms

    This is an informative, details read on the history of business reporting and the business world, particularly in the light of the 2008 Great Recession. The first couple chapters are a bit dry and rambling, but by the third chapter it comes together. It dispels many myths surrounding the toxic subprime mortgage fiasco and the general corruption in the financial industry (and how the business news field in general dropped the ball in reporting on it.) The path which led to the meltdown seen in 20 This is an informative, details read on the history of business reporting and the business world, particularly in the light of the 2008 Great Recession. The first couple chapters are a bit dry and rambling, but by the third chapter it comes together. It dispels many myths surrounding the toxic subprime mortgage fiasco and the general corruption in the financial industry (and how the business news field in general dropped the ball in reporting on it.) The path which led to the meltdown seen in 208 had been in the works for decades. The history aspects could have been streamlined and better organized in the first part of the book, but otherwise, I do recommend this for those interested in government, journalism and/or business.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    Dean Starkman's book takes a long, careful look at the history of financial journalism, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt's famous indictment of muckrakers, coursing through the works of Nellie Bly and Jacob Riis, and winding through the tumultuous eighties, the dot-com-burst of the nineties, and the downsizing and reductions of the new millennium. He concludes that, due to a number of factors up to and including what he calls the CNBC-ization of financial reporting, the business press did not d Dean Starkman's book takes a long, careful look at the history of financial journalism, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt's famous indictment of muckrakers, coursing through the works of Nellie Bly and Jacob Riis, and winding through the tumultuous eighties, the dot-com-burst of the nineties, and the downsizing and reductions of the new millennium. He concludes that, due to a number of factors up to and including what he calls the CNBC-ization of financial reporting, the business press did not do anything close to accountability reporting (in-depth investigation, watchdog journalism, high-price and critical pieces), their claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Moreover, the business model, ill-equipped and sluggish to deal with the changing paradigms of the profession in the Digital Age, tended to encourage the easy profits and glitz of access reporting instead (puff pieces of hardworking executives; behind-the-scenes features of CEOs' new yachts). Starkman puts to rest any claims the mainstream media might have about trying to warn the public about the shenanigans on Wall Street leading up to the financial collapse: he points out that, yes, there were some accountability pieces here and there, but the main thrust of them were in 2001-2003 or thereabouts. After that, it virtually disappeared. He's got footnotes. He tells an engrossing narrative. He refutes counterarguments from the establishment. And while his forecast is bleak, it's not without hope. As far as I've been able to tell, this book has received next to no reviews or coverage, which seems to me a pretty good reason to read it. I first heard about it in an excerpt published in the Columbia Journalism Review, and got immediately hooked. If you want a few reasons provided as to why the bigshot financial gurus missed something as big as the near-collapse of our entire economy, this is just the bitter pill you're looking to swallow.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary Bitney

    Dense book, not something you can read quickly. Comprehensive review of the development of financial reporting. The last 1/3 of book provides a great foundation for understanding the why & how of the mortgage collapse in 2008. After reading this book, I'm left wondering why do the officers of financial institutions (banks, brokerages) get the salaries they do. One of the best observations was sellers of financial investments make their money from the wallets of the people making the investments. Dense book, not something you can read quickly. Comprehensive review of the development of financial reporting. The last 1/3 of book provides a great foundation for understanding the why & how of the mortgage collapse in 2008. After reading this book, I'm left wondering why do the officers of financial institutions (banks, brokerages) get the salaries they do. One of the best observations was sellers of financial investments make their money from the wallets of the people making the investments. As a former elementary teacher, I think our priorities are skewed regarding who get the high salaries.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Mitchell

    This book does a good job of exploring both the failure of journalism to hold those in power accountable but also the roots of the financial crisis of 2008. There is not much in the way of solutions but offers a solid foundation for the history of investigative reporting and how the media is incented to avoid it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Stevenson

    This is a very informative book that highlights the importance and history of investigative journalism and how it lost its important role in American press. Fewer real reporters and computer algorithms writing stories mean less opportunity for the press to fulfill its watchdog role. We all lose.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Theodore Kinni

    A fascinating book that details the evolution of business journalism in the U.S., the always changing dynamics between access and investigative reporting, and the consequences when they become imbalanced.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Pairs well with The Big Short.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alonso

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Savage

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charlesjhelm

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott Smith

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ken Silva

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Newson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

  20. 4 out of 5

    Masseyalum

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Warner

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ismael Mercado

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Santiago

  24. 4 out of 5

    Saurabh Katkurwar

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jed Sorokin-Altmann

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Davis

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rj

  28. 4 out of 5

    Terry Albee

  29. 5 out of 5

    DIY$

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rik Wassens

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