"The men in the bow ties," one colleague calls them, referring to the network business reporters.
"They're all so predictable," another complains. "When the market goes up, they show pictures of the trading floor littered with paper. When unemployment goes up, they show a picture from the unemployment office."
It is easy to scoff at the level, volume, and sophistication of business news on the networks -- the economic statistics presented without context, the reliance on the Dow Jones averages to explain what is happening with the stock market, and so on. Certainly they have the talent to do better: ABC's Dan Cordtz comes from Fortune and The Wall Street Journal, CBS's Ray Brady from Dun's Review and Forbes, and NBC's Mike Jensen from The New York Times.
Part of the problem is time. With only about 22 minutes to fill each night, the broadcast is often little more than a headline service. Another problem may be the medium itself. The best TV stories are simple and visual, but business is rarely either. Does any picture come to mind to illustrate, in clear and simple terms, the balance-of-trade problem?
Then, too, there is the question of audience. People who are interested in serious economic and business reporting, mainly business executives, are seldom glued to network TV each night. Will the viewer entranced by "The Dukes of Hazzard" sit still for a report on fluctuating commodity prices?
With the economy in the headlines, all three networks say that they are increasing their economic and business coverage. Economic developments are the hot stories of 1983. But ABC's Cordtz, for one, is afraid it may not last. During the 1974 recession, he remembers, his reports were broadcast almost every night, "but when the economy picked up I just couldn't get anything on the air."