Every Monday morning on the website ‘Headline Money’ a journalist does a review of the weekend’s money pages. Headline Money is a special website which only personal finance journalists get to use. It includes lots of useful resources and a system of distributing press releases.
This week’s review included the following note about the Guardian (kindly reproduced with Headline Money’s permission):
“Ticket to ride roughshod over passengers
Miles Brignall gets his teeth into train companies that are bullying passengers into paying expensive penalty fares for being on the wrong train, even though in many cases the mistake is down to their own staff. Hmmm…I’m not too sure this sits very comfortably on the personal finance pages now that markets have recovered sufficiently to actually give us something to write about again. To my mind the same criticism could also be levelled at other pieces in this week’s Guardian Money on the costs of barbecue equipment and on opportunities to sell your old mobile phone.”
I was quite angry when I read this. The review is by a journalist, who I must admit I’ve never heard of, called Edmund Tirbett, described as a part-time freelance journalist and a director of copywriting company Crossfield Communications Ltd.
The specific bit that vented my spleen was, “not sure this sits very comfortably on the personal finance pages now that markets have recovered sufficiently to actually give us something to write about again”.
You see, I thought we were finally laying to rest the view that ‘the markets’ is what personal finance is about. More people buy DVD players than shares, more people have contact lenses than investment funds. Our job as journalists should be to educate, inform, instruct, entertain and protect consumers’ pockets and help provide info to enable them to look after their personal finances. For many in society debt, not markets, is the biggest money issue.
This site, which doesn’t touch the markets in any real way, is the biggest money site in the UK. Why? Sadly not because my own shiny photo stands out on every page! It’s because it’s about the finances that impact the majority of people – mortgages, shopping, credit cards, digital TV and childcare vouchers.
When I look at the pieces criticised I find it ridiculous. Miles’ article on train companies was interesting and campaigning, the barbecue piece a nice lighter shade for the paper. My own column on ‘How To Sell Your Old Mobile Phone‘ was based on serious detailed research on a new marketplace. By doing it properly many will add roughly £100 per person to their pockets – or to put it the way Mr. Tirbett would probably prefer, ‘similar returns to £1,000 invested for two years on a mid performing stock market investment after tax’.
If personal finance newspaper journalists continue to think this way, perhaps the breed will die out. I commend the Guardian and its money editor for its changed stance, which it admits moved partly to reflect the popularity of this site; it’s one of the reasons I’m proud to have my column there. Perhaps rather than harping on, others should embrace what real people really want!