It’s time for business journalism to break with its conservative past

Halfway through 2020, the world is in many kinds of trouble. We face another global economic crisis; the worst pandemic in a century; a veering back toward nationalism and authoritarianism; widening wealth and income gaps in many countries; an ongoing failure to rectify gender inequity and racial injustice; and, of course, climate change, an existential challenge that threatens us all. It’s increasingly evident that each of these systemic problems is connected by both cause and effect to the others. Journalists have an urgent role to play: We can expose those connections, explain risks, and make sense of complex events. But the media—and business journalism in particular—has not risen to this occasion. 

Business publications have the access, the context, and the duty to tease out the financial forces underpinning all of these problems. But we are part of the system we report on, along with the companies we cover; our sources who work in, invest in, and study those companies; the companies that advertise with us; and the business leaders and investors who read and pay for business news. 

Our perspectives have been constrained by the expectations and incentives that limit every other part of the system, as well as our perceptions of those limitations, which are not always correct. This is how so many business journalists and finance professionals failed to see the last financial crisis coming. And it’s why some business leaders, investors, academics, and journalists made cautious business cases for things like increasing employee diversity or reducing carbon emissions long after they understood that the reasons for embracing those goals went way beyond share prices or bottom lines. 

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