Friday, May 25, 2007

Mozilo: Sacrificed to the gods of consumer media

Here's a quiz: Who's slogan is "We Report; You Decide." If you answered Fox News, you'd be right, which is not to say you'd be right about using this slogan to describe their service, necessarily. But you can be sure this slogan is never uttered on the newsroom floor at Yahoo! News.

Now, I've worked in a bull pen like that before, around trade journalists that are, to this day, the best in the financial services industry. There may be some unspoken law that I've forgotten about not calling other news organizations onto the carpet, but if you've read the recent coverage of the MBA's Secondary Market show in New York on Yahoo! News, you know that I'm justified.

Just look at this story.

Now, I know for a fact that Angelo Mozilo, oft-quoted leader of Countrywide Financial Corp., has about a dozen snazzy head shots floating around the industry at any given time. In every single one of them, he looks every bit the information age tycoon that American capitalism is famous for. So how long do you think the editors at Yahoo! had to look before they came up with this doozy, which was obviously taken from Mr. Mozilo's Sling Blade audition. And I have never, ever heard of him "perching" before.

Read a couple of graphs into the story and you'll see why they chose the photo, and it doesn't have anything to do with all the useless headroom in the shot. The reporters (and editors) want you to know who is responsible for the trouble we're seeing in the subprime mortgage market. They have decided for you that it is the mortgage industry, a highly regulated and documented business that is already held accountable to just about every agency that exists at every level of government. Be that as it may, the good folks at Yahoo! News have found the enemy and it is us, or you (I'm just a lowly reporter myself). There is no need for the gentle reader to waste valuable brain power thinking about this issue. They can remain in the same frame of mind they were in when they signed the closing docs for that ARM loan.

Now, I don't know Mr. Mozilo. To my recollection, I've never even interviewed him, though I've written a lot about his company and spoken with some very smart folks who work for him. I seem to recall that he was on the front page of the trades when he announced that Countrywide would never outsource offshore because it was un-American, and that he was there again when he announced that Countrywide was outsourcing certain functions to India because it was good for the shareholders. I was in New York earlier this week when he spoke to the audience at the MBA conference, though I didn't sit in to hear him speak. I figured I'd see it on the front page soon enough. But I was expecting to get a straight story.

I spoke to a lot of folks at the show who did hear Mr. Mozilo speak. They each told me about different parts of his presentation, the ones that pertained to their area of the business. That's not bad reporting, that's just giving it to me from their perspective. Hard not to do that. But that's exactly what reporters are called on to do. (As a blogger, I don't hold myself to that high standard in this space, but when I freelance for industry publications I do).

I don't know the folks who worked on that story for Yahoo! News, but I don't think they're real reporters. But maybe it's me who has the warped view of things. I'm opening this post up wide for comments. I'd love to hear what you have to say about this story and Mr. Mozilo's presentation, if you caught it in New York.

3 comments:

Rick said...

Keith Gregory chimes in with a well-worded post on his own blog.

Read it here.

For those of you who don't know him, Keith was formerly in charge of online sales for Source Media. He is now working online in the legal field, but maintains a number of mortgage industry blogs. His comments are worth reading.

Rick.

P. Jackson said...

Rick - great site, GREAT post here. Thanks for visiting HW from time to time.

I can tell you, from a friend who works there -- Yahoo!'s news floor ALWAYS has an agenda. Even in sports reporting.

I usually watch what I read from their core staff.

Rick said...

Thanks, Paul.

And I actually read your work more than frequently.

For those of you serious about long term success in this industry, I suggest you check out Paul's work at www.housingwire.com.