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My Book Reviews

Category: Wall Street (general)
Published: 2000
Read: 2002
Reviewed: Apr 2011

This book details the growth of financial journalism in the late 1990s and describes the influence that the financial media had on the markets. It tells the story of the birth of brick-and-mortar financial media companies like CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg, as well as online financial media companies like It profiles different media personalities like Jim Cramer, Maria Bartiromo, Mark Haines, Ron Insana, David Faber, Lou Dobbs, Gene Marcial, and Dan Dorfman. It talks about their functions and responsibilities, mainly reporting news as well as investigating rumors about mergers and earnings. It also talks about their relationships with company executives, and with each other.

Although some people were annoyed at the book's focus on Jim Cramer, it has become clear since the hype has died down that Cramer was the biggest financial media celebrity and the only one that had any kind of staying power. Nobody talks about Bill Griffith or Mark Haines anymore (or even Maria). They were mere character actors in the story of the rise of the financial media and never really earned the attention that they received.

This book was extremely weak in both content and style. Content-wise, the biggest weakness of the book is that it over-estimates the importance of CNBC and the rest of the financial media. Even though many people watch CNBC, few people actually use it to make investment decisions. Sure, there are occasions where CNBC can move markets, but any media source does that occasionally, including: Barron's (which regularly causes Monday morning moves) and Gene Marcial's BusinessWeek column. The author tries to give the story weight by using the market's run-up and subsequent decline as a backdrop to the rise of the financial media. But this fact simply makes his case weaker as it is apparent in hindsight (if not at the time) that market movements influenced the popularity of CNBC, and not the other way around.

Another weakness of the book is it's complete ignorance about the moral ambiguity of some of the events it reported on. There were so many times in the book where a there was a casual reference to the explicit relay of insider information, such as when a reporter "got word" of a merger. While operating in a world where trading off such information is illegal, the author doesn't seem to contemplate the consequences of these actions. Although there was no mention of any illegal trading off this information, it would be naive to think there wasn't any. It would be like seeing a keg being rolled into a frat house party - but assuming that no one would actually be drinking. The author was also not critical of any person in any way. Furthermore, the book lauds the reporters for spending so much time reading and learning about what they were reporting about, as if knowing the subject matter that you specialize in is a notable accomplishment.

Style-wise, the book was very disorganized. It jumps around from person to person and makes it difficult to focus anything in particular. Jim Cramer's story stops and starts so many times that, when you are done reading, you aren't left with any comprehensive understanding of the man. The book would have been better if it were laid out chronologically instead of being segmented by person. It read like a collection of biographies, rather than the telling of a fluid story. The shallowness of the biographies and other content only made the book worse. I agree with an Amazon reviewer who called the book a "309-page People Magazine article". The author repeatedly relays little snippets of stories that seem to have an "insider angle", rather than stories that were meaningful or allowed readers get to know the characters in the book. The author seems almost proud of teasing us and not letting us know how the backend of the financial media really operated. But the truth is that these clumsy attempts to bait the reader with tantalizing information were due to the fact that he never had anything better to write about. Consequently, most of the stories are nothing more than overblown tales of insider bickering and petty feuds, boring stories about meeting deadlines and meaningless events, and people acting neurotic as they climb the corporate ladder. But since the financial media itself is based on sensationalism, I guess that's the only way you should expect the book to be written.

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