Friday, January 29, 2010

Everyone should love a good recession

“I don’t understand business and I don’t even want to because my math is atrocious. I am into features. End of discussion,” said a female friend of mine, who is a writer at a leading fashion magazine. I found this, the way you perceive, statement or confession, scandalous. Here’s why.

I am sure there must be many more like my friend, who are blithely unaware of the recession that befell on everyone in the recent past. However, let me limit my rant to my friend as she is in the field of journalism and, more importantly, she’s a features writer.

In journalistic parlance features are the articles that are not essentially newsy, are discursive and more contemplative than the spot news. In the last 20 months the best features have been on the meltdown. Vanity Fair, arguably one of the best fashion magazines, had incisive reportage on AIG, Alan Stanford and Bernie Madoff’s fall to disgrace. Onion, the parody newspaper, known for its headlines replete with banana peel humour and cerebral content, had a story on how the pins industry is thriving in the wake of recession.

According to the story, due to the pink slips and various kind of foreclosure notices that have to be stuck up for viewing, pins were used left, right and centre. Isn’t this a feature story? At least the people who visited the newspaper’s site thought so and it was the top story for weeks. Consider this Financial Times story- every major financial institution that went belly up in the US had a Starbucks outlet, the US equivalent of India’s Cafe Coffee Day, around the corner. How is something as innocuous as a cafe be in cahoots with the men, whose glutton-like appetite for money was unprecedented? All the paper work for those insidious junk bonds called credit debt obligations was done sitting in the cafe’s plush settings. A simplistic story yes but a thought-provoking one too.

How can my friend be immune to the fact that this downturn made words like ‘toxic wife’, ’stimulus’, ‘deficit’ part of the urban patois? How can she repudiate the reality when the fashion designers had recession wear as the flavour of the season? Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are financial newspapers but they have the best fashion coverage among all the global newspapers.

Business journalism invariably involves a lot of math, which for the uninitiated might look discombobulated. That doesn’t preclude you from knowing the bare minimum. How else would you appreciate Matt Taibbi’s damning article on Goldman Sachs in a recent Rolling Stone issue, which is, well, a music magazine. Taibbi’s no-holds-barred article deconstructs the entire facade of the Wall Street giant in his inimitable fashion. He used swear words in the article in such a way that Martin Scorsese’s expletive-laced dialogues sound like sermon on the mount.

I am not asking my friend to wade through the alphabetical pool of CDO, TARP, AIG, NINJA and what not and come up trumps on the other side by understanding the nature of the beast that shaved at least $3 trillion money from banks and myriad financial organisations. All I am telling her is that when you are wedged between the Wall Street and Main Street, just make sure you don’t slip through the cracks.


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