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‘Booking Wars’ Show How Naïve and Childish Financial Media Can Be

There has been lot of silliness lately about the so-called “booking wars” between financial outlets. Politico’s Dylan Byers was the first to pile onto this story with a revelation that “NBC always wants to be first.” A subsequent report from David Folkenflik at NPR revealed the following silly policy from CNBC leaders:

“CNBC POLICY REMINDER: Per CNBC policy, we cannot use guests who have a same-day appearance on Fox Business or Bloomberg…By accepting a booking with CNBC, you acknowledge and accept the terms of this policy.”

Yeesh.

For the record, this includes not just commentators and purported “experts,” but also bigwig CEOs. Being in financial media myself, I have plenty of connections who share ridiculous anecdotes — including none other than Larry Schmidt of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) being harassed for double booking, among other execs. That’s not a new trend either, based on this January article in the New York Post that says CNBC had a “hissy fit” and went into “hysterics” when Fox landed an interview with sought-after sources at a trade expo.

You might wonder, “Who in the world does CNBC think it is?”

The answer is simple: CNBC thinks it’s still a sacred gatekeeper, some kind of oracle of financial news content that cannot be rivaled or replicated.

How quaint.

This Is Not How Media Works Anymore

Now let me first say I can’t quibble with CNBC’s quality. The network regularly produces programming both on the air and on the web that I enjoy — American Greed is excellent and Fast Money is frequently both entertaining and insightful.

But I take big issue with the booking policy because it’s willfully naïve and ignores how media actually functions in the digital world of 2013.

In short, who cares if you’re “first” and who cares if your source speaks elsewhere if you asked the best questions and got the best answers?

Every modern media consumer uses multiple sources, and that’s ultimately a good thing for public discourse. Secondly, every modern media organization should know that it’s willfully naive to act like they have any old-school gatekeeper power now that there are so many options and the Internet responds instantaneously.

CNBC’s competitors know this. The Folkenflik piece on NPR quotes Andrew Morse, president of Bloomberg Television’s U.S. operations, saying as much. “People aren’t in the world of just consuming one source of news and information now.”

There are no ivory towers anymore. The world is flat, with StockTwits microbloggers sometimes posting better insights than well-heeled Wall Street hedgies.

So come on, CNBC. Stop living in the past.

More Than Ever, Multiple Views Are GOOD

More importantly, it’s disturbing that CNBC would think that if it isn’t first, then it has nothing to add.

Especially in this confusing market, investors relish multiple points of view. It’s dangerous to trust just one talking head, and I would argue that traders have an obligation to check multiple sources before acting.

Similarly, the media has an obligation to revisit sources and topics that have been featured by their competitors because — shocker! — sometimes there’s more to a story and better questions to ask.

This goes for all media disciplines, but it’s a particularly crucial feature in the fast-moving and high-stakes world of capital markets.

Sure, timeliness matters. But context and quality matter a hell of a lot more given the choices out there.

One last thing: There’s another rub to this too, beyond how consumers are affected by this kind of “booking war” mentality at CNBC: That’s how CNBC treats its guests.

Industry experts, commentators and corporate executives regularly appear free of charge on the air. They are doing these networks a huge favor. Sure, while they get some nebulous “compensation” through the exposure and the opportunity to push a particular agenda, any journalist worth his or her paycheck would never just hand over the mic without any strings attached.

For some reason, CNBC apparently thinks these experts have no choice but to talk to it.

If I were in the booking department of CNBC, I would think twice about some of this lest big-time CEOs and hedge fund managers tire of the whole affair.

Or as Kevin Magee, the executive vice president of Fox Business Network, said to me more bluntly, “Business leaders are not going to be blackmailed, much less be dictated to by some booker in Englewood Cliffs.”

Magee uses the right word there with “dictated.” The problem is that CNBC thinks it has a captive audience and captive contributors, and thus can tell all parties whatever it feels like.

This apparent focus on timeliness and exclusivity at the cost of both consumers and their sources seems a poor way to conduct a media outlet — particularly in a vertical where stories are more complicated than ever, and where consumers don’t know who to trust and already think the game is fixed by bigwigs.

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Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. 

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