Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CNBC: The Tower of Babble

My two main daily sources of business news are CNBC and the Wall Street Journal. I've subscribed to the latter since I left graduate school. CNBC is typically on in the background throughout the day while I am working.

In general, I find the WSJ to be the best daily business reporting available. With the exception of the entertainment-oriented Money & Investing Section, it's a great paper.

However, I have found CNBC to be almost purely entertainment. In fact, recently I went thru the bios for their on-air personalities. What I found caused me some surprise, but even more dismay. From 6am to when Larry Kudlow comes on, at 5pm, there is only one person on CNBC who is listed as having an economics or business degree. Everyone else has english, journalism, or other unrelated degrees.

The reason this matters, in my opinion, is because the shows also cover breaking market news during the day. There is nobody on the network's staff, with the possible exception of Joe Kernan, who appears to be able to provide intelligent, insightful and concise interpretation of news topics. Rather, vague questions and fuzzy comments abound.

For instance, one of the staff was reporting on a recent energy conference onsite from Texas. She provided a "breaking story" concerning the Saudi oil minister announcing that country's plans to double refining capaciy. Sue Herrera, the New York anchor during that show, breathily summed up the reporter's comments with words to the effect, and this is a parphrase, 'well, there you have it, perhaps some important developments coming out of that conference on energy......' So instead of a seasoned pundit, you get airhead remarks like that.

Don't get me wrong- they do occasionally have some good guests. Not blowhards like Jack Welch or his faithful disciple, Larry Bossidy. I am referring to guests like Mike Holland, Mario Gabelli, Larry Kudlow, or former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. And it is primarily to hear these people that I tune in the CNBC network.

However, seeing all these under-educated writers as talking heads, I have come to conclude that CNBC is trying to give the "man in the street" approach fresh legs. Instead of providing in-depth expertise on the program staff, they stand in for the clueless individual by appearing to be clueless themselves.

It would be funny, if I didn't feel that they magnify fluff while missing in depth analysis of the more important business stories. While I do not ascribe such power to CNBC that I believe their lightweight on-air staff causes market volatility, I do believe their reporting misses the opportunity to provide more thoughtful interpretation of business and market developments.

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