Since the start of March, City trading floors have been fighting to unwind mounting risk positions through quagmire conditions. As the coronavirus crisis intensified last week, announcements of unprecedented asset purchase programmes by central banks left markets struggling to reconcile the “wall of worry” with an uncharted economic environment.
Commitments by governments to “do whatever it takes” and central bankers’ promises to keep printing money have added to the fervour for traders in the trenches.
The trauma of one session – during which sterling declined 5% versus the dollar, plumbing lows not seen since the 1980s – was recounted to me by a sales trader, who asked pointedly if I’d seen reports of plans to shut markets.
Revolving around the echo chamber of social media, reports like this only add to the drama, the dread, but most of all the fear, of market failure. During the Global Financial Crisis, Twitter was still just storming into adolescence and editors leaned towards prioritising pages in print. Through this crisis, ubiquitous coronavirus commentary seems as viral as the virus itself, a strange mutation of the digitalised newsreel.
Even with stories breaking in seconds, the news cycle can’t keep up with how it feels to trade ‘risk on’ through the heat of the market falls. It merely serves as a constant reminder, reinforcing emotions and adrenalin being felt all day – and now long into the night.
For the past three weeks or so, the sea of red on Bloomberg screens has been hard enough for market participants to bear, without a self-reinforcing cycle of impending doom screaming from every headline, quote or comment.
Business and markets journalists have been acutely aware of their impact as March has unravelled.
Tasked with reporting major market ruptures in a straight and honest manner – without pouring fuel on the fire – journalists have been actively asking our team for clients’ longer-term views, for context and for calm, as part of a broader editorial bid to avoid perpetuating market fears – and public panic.
This is the role of public service journalism, a concept described in academia as “consisting of civil expression of information, accommodating a multiplicity of voices, the news conceived of as discursive rather than merely informational, and the public conceived of as critical interpreting citizens rather than informed readers”.
Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer – Trust and the Coronavirus – evidences the current needs of critically interpreting citizens across the globe: 74% are worried about fake news and false information being spread about the virus; 45% are finding it difficult to find reliable and trustworthy information; 85% want to hear more from scientists and less from politicians.
Beyond the business pages, we are observing similar shifts in broader reporting and broadcast formats. The age of the expert has truly arrived – sorry Michael – with the BBC studios now a revolving door of medical experts, employment lawyers, consumer champions and policymakers answering questions and offering advice, all while sitting appropriately far apart. They are not relaying “key messages” – but imparting their insight for public good.
Live Q&As are providing a direct forum for advice, answers and support, a form of media driven from the bottom up – by normal people anxious about the future – rather than top down by editors locked away in Broadcasting House, or the News Building. Traditional ‘news’ formats have become more interactive, offering practical advice on how to minimise the risk of catching and spreading the virus, myth buster sessions breaking down fake news on symptoms, and critically, broadcast slots dedicated to responding to the tidal wave of questions from readers, listeners and viewers: this is public service.
Just as people across the world are adapting to remote, digital life, either working from home or captive in the quarantine club, the media is also rallying, taking up their baton and responding in creative and important ways.
Businesses must respond too. The ideals of public service and civic duty, lofty and long held among journalists, have perhaps never been more important. Through the current crisis, action must be for the collective good, delivering practical advice in a format that serves those who need it most. And, crucially, provide a crutch of reassurance, support and truth, as we wait for what happens tomorrow.