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What are financial journalists for?

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In order to understand why so little media attention was paid to risks in the banking sector in the run up to the financial crisis, we need to understand the framework of law, regulation, self-regulation and professional incentives that structure the practice of financial and business journalism. This paper focuses in particular on what role financial journalists play in the system of corporate governance, the ways in which law and regulation recognize that role, and the extent to which this role is accepted and understood by financial journalists themselves. The first part of the essay reviews recent debate on financial journalism and investigates the role of financial journalism from a systemic perspective: looking at its role in corporate governance, and its impact on market behaviour. I develop the notion that financial and business journalists operate within a framework of rights and duties which institutionalize a particular ethical approach to their role. The second half of the article, which draws more extensively on interviews conducted with journalists and editors, asks how journalists themselves understand and describe their role and what they see as the key challenges they face as they attempt to perform it. It emerges that there is no consensus among financial and business journalists about their “watchdog” role in relation to markets and corporate behaviour, and whilst the financial journalists interviewed tended to agree on the key challenges they face, they are uncertain how to respond to them.

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