Micheal Williams: Readers editor

Why we don't cash in on a financial crisis

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Q: When does bad news become good news?

A: When it sells newspapers.

Death, disaster, tragedy and crisis have been the staple fare of newsrooms since the dawning of time. And you can generally rely on a big event under one of these headings to put on sales. "Good story!" a news editor will often declare about something that most of the rest of us would regard as horrific. The events of 9/11, the Asian tsunami, the London bombings all boosted newspaper circulations.

So what about the huge world story of the moment? Hardly a week goes by without news of plunging stock markets, banks in turmoil, and panic on the high street. House prices are apparently in freefall and thousands of City bankers and traders are getting their marching orders. Are we journalists savouring it all, like hyenas at a kill? Some readers think so. Robert Jeffares emails from Chichester: "I'm sick of opening the paper and reading that we're heading for financial doom. The tone of some of your coverage suggests that you revel in sticking in the boot."

Richard Pinkus from Chipping Camden is even crosser: "History shows that recessions can be talked up and talked down. It's all about establishing confidence. When you run inflated headlines on the front page, don't you realise the damage it can cause? The negative tone of some of your coverage is frankly unpatriotic."

So are we guilty of making a bad situation worse? I asked two of our most seasoned financial journalists, with more than 50 years of City reporting between them, including the dotcom bubble, the traumas of Black Wednesday and the negative equity crisis of the Nineties.

Jeremy Warner, business editor at 'The Independent', says: "Sometimes the press is guilty of exaggerating or sensationalising. But we don't invent the stuff. There is a very serious banking crisis going on which will eventually have a quite severe effect. The press has at least served to shake the Bank of England out of its complacency and [this has] resulted in the sort of action we are now seeing to address the crisis."

Another senior colleague reckons it's "tosh" to say we're revelling in it. "The press didn't cause Northern Rock to go bust or Bear Stearns to hit the rocks or persuade banks to invest billions in extremely dubious and risky assets which turned out to be based on loans to Mexican illegals living in trailer parks in California," he says. "The economy is slowing of its own accord – a normal cycle – and there is nothing we can do to influence it. Would that there were!"

But the main reason why this idea is nonsense is the position of our own industry on the front line. Surely it would be crazy for editors to talk up a recession when we in the newspaper business are likely to be among the first and the hardest to be hit?

Message Board: Who's to blame if flowers have lost their scent?

Our story that pollution is stifling the fragrance of plants and discouraging bees from pollinating them had readers buzzing:

Eric Kovalak

Unfortunately, a side effect of plants that grow ultra-red roses which are wilt- and fungus-resistant is that they also do not produce as much scent as traditional roses. Genetics is the real cause, not pollution.


It's the same as with our food. It has been so altered that there is no longer flavour/taste. The problem is from altering genes, not the air quality. Frankly, I am fed up with Gore's global-warming nonsense.


The premise of the article is ridiculous. Pollution in the US and UK has declined dramatically over the past two or three decades. So, why would the scent have declined at the same time?


Um, wouldn't scent-destroying pollutants rapidly cause natural selection for plants which more aggressively emit smells?


Something smells... fishy. Just another left-wing nut looking for a big grant. There should be changes to the ways in which these researchers "earn" a living.


Pollution is something new in the world? Then you'll have to ignore all the pictures you've seen of Victorian-era chimneys and factory smokestacks.


Sorry, but this is significant research. It's a question of how we're altering the environment, and not for the better. The barking US brigade are too dopey to understand what their country is doing to the world.


The automobile, oil processing, mining, garbage, waste... these are behind problems in nature. Instead of protecting polluting technologies, try walking for a change. We are exploiting this world too much.

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