How Do We Cover a Financial Crisis?

As we try to make sense of a worsen­ing situation, it’s fair to ask if we, and our colleagues in the media, did enough soon enough.

By SHARE

How'd we get into this mess, and how do we get out? That's something I hear a lot lately. And it's not about the election. While a raucous, entertaining, and important presidential race has been hurtling to the finish line, we've also had to deal with a financial crisis that has crept and now galloped to the top of the public's list of concerns. When Warren Buffett calls the events of the past few weeks an "economic Pearl Harbor," we'd all better pay serious attention.

Which is not to say that we haven't been writing about the unraveling housing and financial markets for quite a while. U.S. News has always been more about Main Street than Wall Street, so it came naturally to view the highfliers with a skeptical eye going back years. We took a hard look at the shaky structure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in June 2003—and concluded that meaningful reform was unlikely. In his column, Mort Zuckerman started sending up caution flares about the dangers of falling home prices and an overleveraged financial sector starting in May 2006. Since the summer of 2007, we've been all over the story, culminating in our cover this past March "Why the Housing Crisis Is Bigger Than You Think." Yet it's fair to ask if we, and our colleagues in the media, did enough soon enough. Lots of stories get written every week, but were we making it clear that something truly unusual was building? And what about reinforcing the common-sense notion that markets do not rise forever? Of course, if you give us the benefit of the doubt and think we hit the right notes, did any of the warnings even matter?

Next. Perhaps the more important question is, What can we do about it now? Odds favor some tough economic times to come. Our job is to help you make sense of a blur of arcane and conflicting information and, when we can, offer possible solutions or strategies. We're not your accountant or your priest. We don't have all the answers, but we're pretty good at weighing the wisdom of experts and distilling the results. In the magazine and online every day, we can at least bring a focus on family and personal decisions, from healthcare to retirement planning, that will take on added urgency in the months ahead.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on both issues. Did the media do a good enough job seeing this crisis coming? Did U.S. News? And what comes next? How can we cover this story to give you the facts you need? Drop me an E-mail at editor@usnews.com, or join the real-time comments fray below.

—Brian Kelly