TV News Struggles to Explain Crisis Even as Ratings Surge

Networks see viewer interest in formerly esoteric financial instruments
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2008 4:55 PM CDT
One analyst said viewers were moved to watch crisis coverage on outlets like Fox Business by "the same basic instinct that attracts onlookers to a car crash."   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – TV news programs are grappling with explaining the financial crisis to an audience suddenly much more interested in business news, the New York Times reports. With CNBC seeing its highest ratings ever and CNN, Fox and MSNBC seeing bumps in recent weeks, news shows have put teams of business pundits onscreen to explain nebulous concepts like credit-default swaps to the average viewer.

“When there’s an aggressive move to one extreme or the other CNBC engagement surges,” said CNBC’s president. While complex financial products aren’t usually discussed on TV, the gradual pace of the crisis has allowed networks to explain investment vocabulary as it unfolds. “It’s as if Americans are studying for a test, and our coverage is a big part of their notes and research,” said a Fox Business anchor.