How to Fix Financial Television

Over the past 5 years, I have appeared on various Financial TV shows over a 100 times. But I am also a huge consumer of financial news, in print, on the web, radio, and of course, TV. Being on both sides of the camera gives me a fairly good perspective on what does and doesn’t work on TV. I also have some strong  ideas as to what is good and bad TV in terms of providing a social utility, being part of the democratic process, etc.

Indeed, this is a longstanding interest of mine. Over the weekend, I referenced the current Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) issue that focused on the role of the media in the credit crisis, stock market and economic collapse (CJR on CNBC, WSJ & Business Press). This area has long interested me (hence, our media panel at TBP conference). But I was surprised this post generated 100 comments from readers.

One emailer challenged me on CJR’s CNBC piece: “Its easy to complain, but what would you do to “fix” Financial Television?”

Challenge accepted. Here are my general suggestions as to how to “fix” what needs repair on not just CNBC, but all FinTV.


How to Fix Financial Television

1. Stop Yelling. Stop interrupting. Stop Talking Over Each Other:  This is not Jerry Springer, its serious business. People’s retirement and investments are at stake. Please treat it that way.

2. Bring us People We Don’t Have Access to.  What various FinTV channels do really well is when they bring us long, thoughtful interviews with the likes of Warren Buffett, WIlliam Ackman, David Einhorn, and others. People we wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. Example: This morning, CNBC had on James Rickard.  More of this please.

3.   S – L – O – W    D – O – W – N

4.  Risk:  All traders must appreciate the potential downside of trades. So too, must FinTV. Explain stop losses. Understand Risk/Reward. Recognize there are periods when Buy & Hold is a jumbo loser.

5.  Lose the Octobox. Fire whoever came up with the Decabox.   ‘Nuff said.

6. Separate the Signal from the Noise.  Understand that most of the day-to-day action is simply noise. Look at a long term chart, you can barely see 9187 or 9/11. If those major events get lost in the long term trend, what does the intraday jags, kinks and reversals mean? Very little. Recognize that not every data release, slice of news, or rumor is at all significant. Stop treating them as if they were.

7.  Fact Check: An awful lot of things on air get stated with authority and confidence. Much of them are little more than junk or pop myths. Why is it that the more dubious a proposition is, the greater the confidence the speaker seems to muster? Consider fact checking as much of the statements that are made on air as possible, and making frequent corrections.

8.  Accountability is important:  I am astounded at some of the money losing hacks that are various shows again and again. These are the “articulate incompetants” to use Bennett Goodspeed’’s phrase.  Why not keep track of the records of guests — and let the viewers know how their past few calls have been. Are they Perma-bulls or bears? Are their stock picks awful? Are they reliable money makers? If not, let us know. (Of course, the better question is, if not, why even have them on?)

9. Bring Back Louis Rukeyser: Not the man, but rather, his style. Wall $treet Week — Rukeyser hosted it from 1970 to 2005 — was plain-spoken, thoughtful and accessible. Quiet, contemplative, discussions, with intelligent market participants, revealing helpful information. The investing public would appreciate something of that sort — again.

10. Sound FX:  What is with all the bizarre sound effects every time a screen changes? Its financial news, not a video game.  Kill ‘em.

11.  Embed your video (on your own website or YouTube) instead of using WMP.  At long last, thank you.

12. Investigative Pieces:  David Faber seems to have a monopoly on deep, long thoughtful analyses. Be they on Wal-Mart, the credit crisis, whatever, his long format work is a highlight of CNBC. More of these, please.

13. Most stock picks are losers. That’s normal, but the audience does not realize this. A big part of the challenge is informing the viewer that finding the biog winners is a low probability, high outcome event. As in a baseball, a 350 hitter is a star. Explain this to your audience.

14. Stop the Bull/Bear Debate:  This is a vast over-simplification of the market, and often does not serve the audience well. There are nuances and variables that get lost when you reduce everything to black and white.

15. Partisanship: Leave your personal politics at home. Viewers don’t care what most of you think.

16. Respect the Audience: We are adults. Treat us that way.

Originally published at The Big Picture and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

5 Responses to "How to Fix Financial Television"

  1. Anonymous   June 12, 2009 at 8:13 am

    You have wonderfully diagnosed why I have all but abandoned CNBC for Bloomberg. But I do assume that capitalism is not entirely dead, and that CNBC has an understanding of its demographic, what drives ratings, what builds and keeps share. The bells, whistles, and attractive women are presumably all functions of the reality that financial TV is, first and foremost, TV. We should not be surprised that it is simply “infotainment”, not an intellectual exercise.

  2. TJM from Denver   June 12, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Now that defined benefits plans are dead, and millions like me are trying to understand the market to protect our IRA and 401k plans, I say YES please slow down and give us more Rukeysers . . . PLEASE. Otherwise we are stuck with, albeit nice guys, strutting their stuff trying to outsmart each other. They dirve me crazy with all the noise they make.

  3. Marcus from Oakland   June 12, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    As a 30-year TV professional I have to agree with your assessment of what is wrong with the current state of financial television news. Unfortunately your peeves are contrary to the ultimate driver, FUD. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. FUD keeps the viewers coming because THEY NEED TO KNOW THE NEXT BAD UGLY EVIL THING THAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM even thought they are usually far removed from the over-hyped crap. So yes its bears vs. bulls, it is personal politics like Cavuto and their ilk because political demagoguery is a great way to draw viewers these days and anything you can do to further polarize the situation the better, it’s having sound efx not because the audience should be excited but that the audience should be trained to be excited by audio cues – not to mention that it’s a good way for the production team to fight boredom. Fact checking and accountability? Only if you want to have a meat puppet with no guests.I think however that such would be an eventual boon and that the challenge of finding those pundits who are willing to live and die by their pronouncements makes for better TV but I am preaching to you, the choir, here. Slowing down is not going to happen because as part of the FUD system you have to be kept from thinking about how shallow their news content really is. Finally, as to respect, they don’t. It’s all advertising and bottom line driven. Go back and see the classic movie “Network”. It was a dead accurate prediction based on the trends in news departments of the time.

  4. Mike of Vancouver, WA   June 14, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Solution: Just watch BLOOMBERG. CNBC is typical TV BS.

  5. Colin   June 14, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I fully agree especially with number 8 there are always introduced as ……. who oversees $2b of funds whats their track record is what counts. More education on different trading opportunbities.