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Television Did a Good Job

Question: How do you develop Wall Street sources? (Dan Indiviglio, Atlantic Business Channel)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  When I started doing this about 10 years ago in London, and when I first started this job, I used to literally make lists of people on Wall Street that I wanted to try to meet every given month.  So I would sit and make a list of 30 people.  And I would cold call, literally, and introduce myself as a reporter who planned to be on the beat for a very long time and thought it was important that we get to know each other in some way.  And I think hopefully over the years people have taken those calls and occasionally those meetings, and a trust level has developed.  And I think that's probably true of any reporter.  It's really about hard work, shoe-leather reporting, getting on the telephone, running around, in my cases, to meetings or events to see different people, and whispering in their ear, and hopefully they're going to whisper back and tell you the information.  You know, as a child I always enjoyed -- my parents used to have these little cocktail parties -- and I always loved trying to get the adults to tell me things they weren't supposed to say.  And in many ways that's what my job is today; it's getting people to tell me things that they probably are otherwise not supposed to say.  And I think you do that by developing some semblance of trust that you're going to be fair and that you get it.  I think that's part of it.  I've tried to study the industry.  I've spent enormous amounts of time.  I can, unfortunately, do a model, a DCF model, with the best of them.  I wouldn't say I enjoy it, but -- and I also think that when you've studied it up, when you've come to the table with the right questions, when it's clear to the other side, the interviewee, that you know what you're talking about, you can get a lot more. 

Question: What’s the biggest challenge for financial journalism going forward? (Dan Indiviglio, Atlantic Business Channel)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  The hardest part for a financial journalist going forward is actually going to be to get a straight take.  It's very hard to truly get close to the action any more.  I think there was a sense in the '80s and maybe even part of the '90s, and earlier, when you could really get the CEO on the phone any day.  You could really get inside the story.  But today most of these companies are pretty lawyered up.  They have a PR apparatus.  It's very hard in real time to actually get a story that hasn't come pre-spun.  And while the government is requiring more and more disclosures, as we've seen, some of these disclosures are worthless.  And so it makes it an enormous challenge to be able to really be able to spot the problems.

Question: Do you try to warn readers when you present the views of someone who is out to lunch in their assessment of the economy? (Dean Baker, Beat the Press)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  When I'm aware that they're out to lunch, my goal is usually to tell you that they're out to lunch.  I can't promise I've gotten it right every time.

Question: How bad would someone’s understanding of the economy have to be before you decided the person was no longer a good source for assessments on the economy and financial markets? (Dean Baker, Beat the Press)

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  That's a terrific question, because unfortunately, in the world of sort of Wall Street prognosticators, they only happen to be right once or twice.  So right now Nouriel Roubini, for example, who called the crisis, seems to be the guy that you'd want to hear from.  Or Meredith Whitney, who told you that Citigroup was in trouble, would be somebody you'd want to spend time to and listen to and perhaps quote in an article.  But other people would suggest to you that they were making these arguments for six or seven or eight years, and had you been quoting them then, most people would have told you they were absolutely and wildly wrong.  So it's actually a complicated issue because some of these people will look right and be right for the moment, and then won't be right for a very long time again.

Question: How did financial television do during the crisis?

Andrew Ross Sorkin:  Financial television played a remarkably large role as the medium with which people were receiving their information during this crisis.  This was probably the first televised financial crisis that existed.  And some people have blamed TV for the crisis, or for speeding up the crisis.  And there might be some truth to that in that as journalists who are trying to reflect what's happening in the market, it gets reflected back, and this sort of mirror gets mirrored back and forth and back and forth.  And there's a personalization to it.  TV as a medium is so different than reading a headline that's saying there's a problem.  But when you're sitting in your office, especially when it's about yourself or about a firm that you're trading with, and you're hearing and seeing another individual tell you these folks are in trouble, it really can exacerbate the situation.  That's not to say that I think all of these people were doing -- reporting irresponsibly.  There were some reports that were wrong here and there.  But for the most part I must say, even having finished this book, I watched a lot of TV tapes during this period, and most of the stuff actually stood up quite well, much better than I suspect many people would want to acknowledge. 

Recorded on December 3, 2009

Contrary to popular belief, Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks TV coverage of the financial meltdown stood up quite well.

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