Despite fizzling out within months, Occupy Wall Street succeeded in changing the terms of political discussion in America. Inequality, the concentration of wealth, the one percent, the new Gilded Age—all became fixtures of national debate thanks in part to the protesters who camped out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Even the Republican presidential candidates have felt compelled to address the matter. News organizations, meanwhile, have produced regular reports on the fortunes of the wealthy, the struggles of the middle class, and the travails of those left behind.
Even amid the outpouring of coverage of rising income inequality, however, the richest Americans have remained largely hidden from view. On all sides, billionaires are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny. Journalists have largely let them get away with it. News organizations need to find new ways to lift the veil off the superrich and lay bare their power and influence. Digital technology, with its flexibility, speed, boundless capacity, and ease of interactivity, seems ideally suited to this task, but only if it’s used more creatively than it has been to date.
Consider, for instance, DealBook, the online daily financial report of The New York Times. It has a staff of twelve reporters plus a half-dozen columnists covering investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, and regulatory matters. Every day, DealBook posts a dozen or so pieces on the Times website, some of which also appear in the print edition, making it seem a good vehicle for showing how Wall Street really works.
Unfortunately, it only intermittently delivers. Most DealBook postings are narrowly framed, with a heavy emphasis on CEO comings and goings, earnings and expectations, buyouts and IPOs. Some sample headlines: “BB&T Is New Deal-Making Powerhouse in Banking.” “Investors Hope to Ride Swell of SoulCycle Fever in Coming IPO.” “Dell Is the Straw That Stirs Tech M&A.” “Strong Profit for Bank of America, and Investors See Signs of Progress.” Some pieces veer into outright boosterism. A long feature on “How Jonathan Steinberg Made Good on a Second Chance,” for instance, described in admiring detail how this mogul, through a combination of pluck and savvy, built his asset management firm into “one of the fastest-growing fund companies around.”
DealBook’s founder and editor, Andrew Ross Sorkin, is known for his…
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