I started paying attention to financial news in March, when we were ordered to self-quarantine at the start of the pandemic. I watched not because I had the foresight to realize the detrimental effects COVID-19 would have on the economy, but because I was suddenly forced to work from home alongside my partner, who was logging on regularly at Bloomberg TV for work.
Daily performance of the S&P 500, Dow Jones, Nasdaq and others ticked at the bottom of the screen. A sidebar filled with headlines like “Citigroup says dollar may drop 20% next year on vaccines.” I googled a lot.
Gradually, the links between national pandemic news and the health of the economy became clearer. Financial news has given me a new perspective on American life. Phrases like taxing the rich, or raising wages, or moving to stakeholder capitalism, and issues like debt and the role of central banks, began to make sense as real issues that affected real people. And I wasn’t the only one to realize that financial news should, in the midst of the most complex financial crisis in decades, be news for everyone.
In November, the FinancialTimes launched an initiative called the Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign, which aims to provide a basic understanding of finance so that new audiences can become more adept at managing their own money. “We felt there was a big gap of people who were never going to take the FT, who might never have heard of it” – but who, ironically, are most in need of information, says Patrick Jenkins, deputy editor of the FT.
The FT has decided to focus its campaign on basic finances, to help people navigate mobile phone plans, or credit cards, or the myriad of complex financial decisions we all have to make. He works with organizations that help bring financial literacy to young people, women and disadvantaged groups, such as those new to the UK. The ‘distribution’ part of the program was imperative to ensure that this information reached a wider audience – a good thing to do, morally.
It could also be a good deal. Morning Brew, a newsletter company founded in 2015 by two university business majors, was designed to provide fellow students with concise industry updates in plain language. He now produces five different email newsletters, four of which focus on business and one on lifestyle, as well as a podcast. Its largest newsletter reaches 2.5 million subscribers every day. A recent room, titled “Markets 101: How to Read Stock Indices and Securities,” notes that readers “don’t need an MBA, PhD, or polar vest to figure out what they are, how they work and why they are important”. In October, Insider Inc., the parent company of Business Insider, bought a majority stake in Morning Brew, giving it a valuation of around $75 million. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reporter Matt Levine amassed an audience of over 150,000 subscribers for its free “Money Stuff” newsletter. A New York Times Levine’s profile praised the newsletter for providing a “more understandable take” on events on Wall Street, with nifty definitions and explanations for often complex and comedic financial jargon.
“More and more people around the world are realizing that there are big gaps between the haves and the have-nots in society,” says Jenkins. The FT, he says, “recognizes that capitalism, as it has been defined for decades, is changing and must change”.
As I watched this summer — in the brutal final days of the Trump administration and after the death of George Floyd — financial news coverage on television began to change. Amid a sustained wave of protests against police brutality and racial injustice, and a new awareness of inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, exclusivity and jargon have given way to something more inclusive. . Financial journalists, says Jenkins, are able to reach a “much wider and arguably fundamentally larger” audience by expanding the topics they report on.
On Bloomberg, experts and leaders faced questions about race and inequality. There were new segments targeting low-income Americans – to avoid unnecessary bank charges or to save for retirement. They highlighted the work of the activist and rapper mike the killer, a longtime advocate of black-owned banks. For me, finally, the tickers finally made sense.
Of course there is work to be done. Not all outlets focus on how to connect this news to the people it applies to most. If Wall Street’s dismal diversity statistics are any indication of financial news audiences, then the typical viewer or reader has likely ruled out these new segments. As we embark on rebuilding an economy devastated by disease and political unrest, it is important that more people begin to see the connections between the confusing world of financial news and their own lives.
Feven Merid is CJR’s Editor and Senior Delacorte Fellow.