When Fox News went on the air over 10 years ago, it sold itself with the brilliant slogan “Fair and Balanced.” As a piece of marketing, it was ruthless and efficient, in four short syllables saying that there was a problem with the rest of TV news and that Fox was the solution. Now, as Fox gears up to launch a business chnnel later this year, Fox is taking the same tack, with News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch promising that his network will be more “friendly” to business than the competition–i.e., CNBC. â€œMany times Iâ€™ve seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be,â€ Murdoch told the New York Times.
Leaving aside the question of whether CNBC, which so kindly loaned out Maria Bartiromo to Citigroup, is really business-unfriendly, I’m not sure this approach is going to sell for Murdoch this time. It’s true, other CEOs, like Murdoch, may be irked by antagonistic business coverage and may long for a more adulatory news channel. But that’s not enough viewers to keep a network afloat. A business channel also serves regular news consumers and, above all, investors. And what investors want most is information they can make money off of, whether it’s business-friendly or business-hostile or business-neutral.
In this sense, covering business is not like covering politics. There are millions of news viewers you can please by flattering their worldview. For an investor, though, a stock is either going to go up or go down, and a lot of money hangs on anticipating which way it’s going to go. A stock price or exchange rate is an objective number, not subject to debate and contention like, say, gay marriage. And business news that’s programmed on the basis of what will keep CEOs happiest won’t keep viewers happy for long if it overlooks information–say, the “scandals” that Murdoch chides CNBC for emphasizing–in a way that causes viewers to lose money.
Murdoch is a smart businessman and programmer, and I’m surprised he wouldn’t see this. (Maybe his judgment’s been clouded by one too many mean articles in the media.) It’s one thing to sell political news by appealing to viewers’ sense of “balance.” But the market really is a no-spin zone.