Journalists and the Stock Market

	Perhaps you wonder how come we here in the news media always make
	such a big deal about the Stock Market.  The answer is simple:  We
	don't understand it.  We have an old saying in journalism:  "If you
	don't understand something, it must be important."

	This is also why we media people get so excited about science.  In
	our scientific educations, we got as far as the part in biology class
	where they gave us a razor and a dead frog, and told us to find the
	pancreas.  Right then we started thinking two words, and those words
	were:  "English major."

	So we quit studying science, which is why we do not begin to
	understand -- to pick one of many examples -- how electricity works.
	We believe that electricity exists, because the electric company
	keeps sending us bills for it, but we cannot figure out how it
	travels inside wires.  We have looked long and hard at wires (some of
	us have tried blowing into them) and we cannot begin to figure out
	how the electrons, or amperes, or whatever, manage to squeeze through
	there into the TV set, nor how, once inside, they manage to form
	themselves into complex discernible images such as the Pillsbury
	We in the media write our stories on computers, but since computers
	contain both electricity and "modems," we have no idea how they work.
	If you observe us professional journalists covering a news event,
	you'll see that we divide our time as follows:
	-- 1 percent:  Getting information.
	-- 6 percent:  Writing stories.
	-- 93 percent:  Trying to get the computer to send the story back to
	the newspaper by pressing keys pretty much at random with growing
	panic until we have sent our stories to some destination -- possibly
	the Kremlin; possibly the radio room of the Titanic -- but not to our
	newspapers.  Then we call our newspapers and beg for help from the
	Computer People, who are technically competent people, the kind of
	people who always found the frog pancreas; they understand "modems,"
	and whatever they tell us to do to our computers, including wave a
	Magic Bone over the keyboard, we do it.
	We in the media are especially impressed with space.  We cannot
	comprehend how anybody could get a rocket to land on another planet;
	many of us cannot consistently parallel park.  This is why we got so
	excited about the recent Pathfinder mission, which day after day
	resulted in excited front-page headlines like:



	We in the media believe that the Mars rocks are important because
	scientists tell us so.  We will cheerfully print, without question,
	pretty much anything that scientists tell us about space ("STANFORD
	-- Scientists here announced today that, using a powerful new type of
	telescope that uses amperes connected to a 'modem,' they have located
	six previously unknown galaxies shaped like all the major characters
	on Gilligan's Island except Ginger").
	My point is that this same principle applies to media coverage of the
	Stock Market.  We in the media, as a rule, are not good with
	financial matters.  Some veteran journalists have not yet turned in
	their expense accounts for the Civil War.  So as a group, we don't
	really have a solid handle on (1) What the Stock Market is; (2) Why
	it goes up and down; (3) Which is good, "Bull" or "Bear"; (4) Whether
	"points" means the same thing as "dollars," and if so, why the heck
	don't they just call them "dollars"; (5) Who "Alan Greenspan" is; and
	(6) Whether he is the same as "Dow Jones."
	Because we don't understand these things, we have naturally concluded
	that the Stock Market is extremely important, and whenever it does
	anything, we write front-page stories filled with quotes from
	financial experts.  But I suspect that these experts sometimes like
	to yank the media's chain.  Consider the following quotation, which
	actually appeared in a Washington Post story back in August
	explaining why the Stock Market went down:
	"'For Coke, an icon of the market, to show feet of clay is
	upsetting,' said Barton Biggs, global equity strategist at Morgan
	Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co."
	I have read this sentence at least 35 times, and every time I have
	more questions, including:
	-- What kind of job is "global equity strategist"?
	-- What kind of name is "Barton Biggs"?
	-- Since when does Coke have feet?
	These are just some of the issues that lead me to believe that if we
	were to call "Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co.," we would
	find ourselves talking to the very same scientists who are always
	"discovering" new galaxies and showing us pictures of "Mars rocks."
	That's right:  I think that science AND the Stock Market could be
	part of some giant hoax, and I intend to transmit this information to
	the newspaper, just as soon as I can locate the Magic Bone.

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