With warnings yesterday that London and the South East are going to be the UK regions worst hit by the recession ringing in our ears it seemed like a good time to get some straight talking from the man dubbed ‘the face of the credit crunch’, the Beeb’s Robert Peston, at one of London School of Economics' excellent lectures.
Crouch End schooled Peston boasts an impressive 25 year journalistic career and knows the ways of the City boys well after stints as City Editor at most national broadsheets, before becoming the BBC Business Editor in 2005. Given current conditions this talk had been an early sell out, and it was fascinating to hear Peston tell the story of the crunch past, present and future in his now familiar style. He revisited the collapse of Northern Rock and the Lehman Brothers' workers leaving their city offices and touched on things less visible to the general public, such as the dodgy sounding ‘shadow banking system’. The audience was a mixture of international undergrads and older attendees, making for some feisty questions with reach of perspective beyond those born in the 70s and 80s.
It was a hard-to-beat account of the global financial crisis, but the bit that really got us interested were discussions about Peston's postion as a financial journalist at such a time. He has been accused in recent months of increasingly being part of the story, not just telling it, and achieving cult or soothsayer like status. Some of the audience questions focused on the power of his word to affect markets – one of the odd position financial journalists find themselves in, in a world that’s all about confidence. Peston’s status comes from his hugely well-read blog, not just his BBC position, which some have speculated makes him too influential.
Of this power he said his reasons for responsible reporting – in context, multiply sourced and in the public interest – came down to his "personal brand". While Peston admits he loves scoops, a foolish comment or post would bring down his career with any bank he damaged, and he can't think of anything he'd rather do than what he does now. That he may move markets is not part of a journalist's calculation – “If I thought about that I couldn’t do my job”.
Altogether it was an interesting evening, looking back on months which have changed the City and the world forever. LSE events are well worth keeping an eye on as they attract excellent speakers, and kindly pop them up as podcasts afterwards if you do miss them.
By Jaz Cummins
Robert Peston’s new book ‘Who Runs Britain?’ is out now, and do look out for our own Recessionist for our own take on the crunch.