The Business of Financial Reporting

Distinguished Lecturer Paul Steiger Speaks Out

Any seasoned journalist will proclaim that the field of journalism has changed drastically in the last two to three decades. According to Paul E. Steiger, the J-Faculty’s most recently featured speaker, the world of financial reporting especially, has undergone a complete makeover since the 1970s.

“In that period, people started to become much more concerned about financial issues,” the past managing editor of the Wall Street Journal said.

“All of a sudden,” he continued, “financial reporters got moved to the front of the room.”

It was Wednesday afternoon in the auditorium of the Howard University Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center when Steiger jokingly recalled the old days; the days when business reporters were stashed at the rear of the newsroom, and considered secondary citizens by their counterparts.

Phillip Dixon , chairman of the Howard University Department of Journalism expressed similar sentiments as he opened the afternoon’s proceedings.

“The business desk was a place for people who didn’t have the legs to gun anymore,” he said.

“I’ve seen this thing go from a place where you put people to die, to a place where if you do it, it puts you ahead of other journalists…things have changed,” Dixon explained.

Paul Steiger’s is the fifth installment in the Distinguished Lecturer Series being hosted by the Preparing Future Journalism Faculty Program , dubbed the J-Faculty Program.

Director of the program, Dr. Rochelle Ford , explained that funding from the Carnegie-Knight initiative coupled with Chairman Dixon’s vision, enabled the creation of the J-Faculty program at Howard University.

The program at Howard seeks not only to offer advancements in the media industry by way of diversity, but also hopes to equip future educators in the field of journalism.

“If we’re going to have an awesome future of journalism, then we need to have an awesome faculty to teach people about modern practices,” Ford said.

It was these very practices which Steiger addressed, especially in the financial and business sectors of journalism. Alongside Steiger were three faculty members spread across journalism and business at Howard: Yanick Rice-Lamb , professor of journalism in the School of Communications , Todd McAllister and Pamela Turner, both of the School of Business, all sat in on the panel discussion, broadening the scope of ideas and views expressed.

“There is an importance of financial information for readers in all walks of life,” Steiger said to the full auditorium.

“And there is an enormous world for journalists to lay out this type of information in plain language…business reporters are like saviors for the people they write for,” Steiger commented.

The guest lecturer encouraged journalism students to take advantage of the Bloomberg and other business journalism courses available to students in the School of Communications.

“If you get a chance to take that course, I would encourage you to take it,” Steiger said. “Why?” he continued, “Because it gives you an edge. Even if you don’t want to spend a full career doing business journalism, it’s a way to get in the door if you have that skill set.”

Steiger, who preferred to involve the audience rather than simply lecture, urged those present to provide the panel with questions for discussion.

Students in the audience were invited to pass their questions forward to Chairman Dixon who assumed the role of moderator for the panel.

The business and journalism students that filled the room broached many topics with their questions, the first of which probed the panel on their thoughts of growing technology and its impact on economic and financial journalism.

Steiger, who has worked in the journalism field for over 40 years said, “The technology change has been enormous in my career. When I started in the 60s, we used hot lead to create type, and of course now…it’s all done electronically.”

Steiger explained that this progressive use of technology decreases the number of people who deal with a story and increases the speed with which journalism can be effectively carried out.

“The vast amounts of resources available have also changed,” said Professor Lamb, who deals specifically with new media in many of her classes. “Everybody has to run faster and smarter and jump higher,” Lamb explained, in order to fulfill the constant need consumers now have for news.”

In terms of business, McAllister said that because of technology, “If I want to do anything on a global scale, I can do it from my PDA…it’s only going to get faster and faster…it’s a revolution.”

The inevitable issue of sub-prime mortgages and their subsequent economic effect was also raised by one of the students present, as he asked how journalists could provide reliable information that news consumers, including financial analysts, could depend on.

As chief executive of Pro Publica , a non-profit, non-partisan group of journalists that carries out investigative journalism in the public interest, Steiger opted to answer the question first.

“There has to be much more digging than there’s been so far,” Steiger said. “Before we can get that kind of confidence [in information], I think we need to learn a lot more…it requires a lot of hard work by reporters.”

According to Lamb, much more “explanatory journalism” is needed. “I think a lot of consumers really just don’t understand how things work,” she explained, making a specific reference to sub- prime mortgage holders.

Lamb stressed the need for pro-active instead of reactive journalism. “For journalists, what we’re supposed to do is see things before they bubble to the surface then trying to write about it,” she said.

Wednesday’s panel discussion, entitled “The Importance of Financial and Economic Reporting,” ran from 2:30 p.m. until just after 4 p.m. This panel discussion was the last for the semester, but the series will resume in the fall.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary National Advisory’s Commission on Civil Disorders , the J-Faculty will hold a one-day seminar titled “Unfinished Business: Reflecting on 40 Years After the Kerner Commission,” in October of this year.

As the J-Faculty and its Distinguished Lecturer Series continues to grow, Chairman Dixon said, “[The series] keeps us in the realm of ideas, keeps us contemporaneous.”