What is the purpose of financial journalism? What can Asiamoney offer to our readers that they don’t get elsewhere? What has changed about this magazine since it was first published three decades ago?
These questions can often take a back seat in the mad scramble to get a magazine to press, relegated to late-night discussions at the local pub or tense meetings with publishers. But as we celebrate our 30th anniversary, it is worth dwelling on them.
The reputation of banking has been at a near all-time low. The reputation of journalism is almost as bad. What then is the purpose of journalism about banking?
The usual answer to cub reporters is that journalism is the first draft of history. This reminds young hacks of the need for accuracy and objectivity. It also stresses the importance of the little details. But it can lead to complacency: history is constantly being revised and updated; a first draft is inherently a work in progress.
It also ignores the fact that, in many cases, we are writing the last draft of history, too. In this issue, Asiamoney covers a range of topics including financial inclusion in the Philippines, a Vietnamese jazz café that doubles as a bank and the need for bank mergers in Thailand.
These stories are all important, but most will not be adapted into books or Hollywood movies. They will remain snapshots of a moment in time, taken with an eye for detail, developed carefully.
This points to the greatest purpose of our journalism: making an impact on what happens next. Asiamoney readers include the heads of banks across the region, as well as their staff, their clients, their lawyers, their investors; their harshest critics and their biggest supporters.
These readers look to us for insight into what is happening in the region’s banking system. We tell them hard-to-unearth details about their rivals, or about similar banks in different countries. We also tell them what other people at their own bank are thinking – sometimes before these rumblings become official announcements.
Good stories require honesty, understanding and tremendous access. Asiamoney has, throughout its long history, managed to achieve all three
Good financial journalism means going into detail about the strategies banks are adopting and have adopted in the past. It means understanding the internal logic of a reshuffle, spelling out the division of labour between different department heads and pointing out when they’re not working well together, revealing the moment natural internal competition has morphed into factionalism, or when chief executives are losing the support of their staff.
It means criticizing institutional failings and applauding successes.
None of this is easy. Good stories require honesty, understanding and tremendous access. Asiamoney has, throughout its long history, managed to achieve all three.
Asiamoney journalists spoke to dozens of bank chief executives across the region to prepare for this issue. This kind of access is crucial for any specialist publication, let alone one covering such a complicated and varied market as Asia’s financial system. It allows us to write about the region not as an outsider, but with a local perspective. This brings us to back to the central question: what is our purpose?
In our very first issue 30 years ago, Patrick Sergeant, the founder of Euromoney, set out his own idea of Asiamoney’s purpose in clear language: “Speaking with a local voice, we shall educate, inform and entertain readers around the world. We shall report on the rapid changes in financial markets and rich opportunities in an area that is growing, and should grow, so much faster than the rest of the world.”
The world has changed dramatically since he wrote those words, but they remain as true as ever. Asia still offers growth higher than almost anywhere else in the world. It is still changing rapidly. And it is still Asiamoney’s mission to “educate, inform and entertain”.
We have been privileged to do that for the last 30 years. We look forward to doing it for the next 30.