Opinion  

The information drain

Simon Read

Simon Read

Does anyone in the Financial Conduct Authority actually read the newspapers?

Not my question. It was actually put to FCA chief Andrew Bailey last week by MP Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury select committee.

He was being quizzed over the Neil Woodford Equity Income Fund fiasco after the regulator was accused of falling asleep and ignoring warning signs before investors were locked out last month.

There has been an awful lot written about Mr Woodford recently, and there is no doubt the rows will rumble on for some time.

Not least after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney entered the controversy with a call for changes in the rules so investors would not be offered instant access to their money in the future in such funds.

As an aside, I am all in favour of that. Short-termism is generally a disaster for investors.

If they knew they were sticking their hard-earned into a fund they could not touch within a certain notice period, that would surely focus their minds on a planned rather than panicked exit, wouldn’t it?

A planned exit could be six months away, or five years ahead, but either way it would avoid the herd-like-panic behaviour that forced Mr Woodford to freeze withdrawals.

But back to the question at the top of the column. Do you actually read the newspapers? Does anyone any more?

I have some self-interest in this: I work for a number of print publications, not least the one you are holding now, Financial Adviser.

The youngsters I ask the question to generally answer no, which I think is a huge worry, not least because if print publications are not adding readers, eventually the market will shrink and die.

My bigger fear is that without newspapers, people are becoming much less informed. Let’s face it, most people, especially young adults, get their news from online sources these days. And let’s be honest, some of the sources are not terribly legitimate.

Whatever you think of the mainstream media, before a story appears in print it is usually researched properly, sources checked and, depending on what kind of story it is, a lawyer has scanned the copy to ensure everything is correct and fair.

That doesn’t always happen online; the race to be first to publish a story is often more important than the need to be right. And that means hundreds of stories are published quickly every day that perhaps should not have been.

The worst are the more lurid stories that, sadly, tend to be the most shared, whether through the ‘sidebar of shame’ that some sites have, or simply pushed out with a sensationalist headline.