Plus ca change
During my life so far, media coverage of business has grown faster than everything else in the world. When I was named business editor of Maclean’s in 1978, stories about stock markets, real estate and the economy ran only in the financial press. Some CEOs were so naive they were startled to be quoted in my first book, The Moneyspinners, published in 1983, even though I had told them exactly what I was doing, came to their office, turned on my tape recorder, and asked questions.
Today, money is the new porn. Entire television networks are devoted to market news with streaming ticker quotes formerly available only to traders. Some of the most popular TV shows, Dragons’ Den on CBC and Shark Tank on ABC, focus on would-be entrepreneurs. Individual business journalists and investment advisors, like Maria “Money Honey” Bartiromo and Jim “Mad Money” Cramer, have public followings that rival Oprah Winfrey.
Even David Chilton has been drawn back to the fame flame. After he published The Wealthy Barber in 1989 and sold two million copies, he pretty much disappeared. When I interviewed him in the late 1990s he spent most of the interview telling me how he was all through doing interviews. I guess he got lonely. A sequel, The Wealthy Barber Returns, came out last year and this fall he has joined the other wiseacres on Dragons’ Den.
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to ride the wave of growing interest in business. But what good has all this higher profile achieved? Precious little as far as I can see. One of the things I used to do as a business writer was attend the so-called “investment seminars” that people like Brian Costello and Garth Turner gave during RSP season. These evening events held in hotel meeting rooms across Canada attracted hundreds of people at a time. Some of the speakers were better than others, and all of them were just shills for salivating financial advisors who lined the walls looking for clients, but that’s not why I went. I went to listen to the questions from the audience in order to remind myself that most Canadians haven’t got a clue what to do with their money.
A recent story I read tells me that for all the profile that business news and information has achieved, far too many Canadians remain woefully uneducated about finance. The story was about a woman I met once years ago, now in her seventies, who was fleeced by a smooth talker. He promised her fantastic returns so she mortgaged her house, sold her stock portfolio, and handed over more than $600,000. He didn’t even go through the motions of investing; he just spent her money until it was all gone.
So bring on your brassy business gurus, nerdy research analysts, and hot-shot hedge fund managers. They might be making good money, but despite all the info flow, we in the business of explaining business haven’t done our jobs. The world remains pretty much the same. Agog and ready for the taking.