Friday, April 15, 2011

Observer soft-pedals drastic drop in Bank of America profits

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 1:55 PM

About a year ago, in the middle of an article about a local bank, I wrote that The Charlotte Observer routinely sucks up to big local banks. This wasn’t a revelatory statement, and it wasn’t meant to be — just a confirmation, or restatement, of what is commonly accepted knowledge among people who don’t work on Tryon Street. Nonetheless, one of the Observer’s writers got pretty huffy about it, demanded retractions, and blahblahblah. As many problems are wont to do, my existential gloom over being dissed by someone at the daily paper eventually went away after I ignored it long enough.

All this is leading up to a simple exercise for you, our loyal, well-informed readership. Today, Bank of America, aka the nation’s largest bank, aka Uptown’s Gods of Finance, released some first-quarter information. Following are reports on those announcements, as presented by three different mainstream news sources. You be the judge.

First, the Wall Street Journal. Headline: “BofA's Profit Falls 36% as Struggles Go On.” Lead sentence: “Bank of America Corp. closed the first quarter with revenue down sharply across the majority of its businesses, sending profit falling 36%.”

Next, Reuters news agency. Headline: “BofA profit drops; foreclosure delays hurt bank.” Lead sentence: “Bank of America Corp posted an unexpectedly sharp drop in first-quarter profit as higher expenses from delayed home foreclosures weighed on its mortgage business.”

And, finally,The Charlotte Observer. Headline: “Bank of America profits in Q1; naming new CFO.” Lead sentence: “Bank of America Corp. this morning reported a first-quarter profit, a shake-up in its executive ranks and an agreement to settle mortgage loan buyback requests from an insurer.”

Quickest way to spot a suck-up: Major news outlets stress that BofA profits are down 36 percent, and that the bank’s struggles continue to plague it. The bank’s hometown daily paper somehow thinks it's more accurate to stress the wonderful news that BofA made any profit at all, and it's ostensibly taking meaningful action by shuffling its corporate lineup.

To be fair, news reporters rarely write their own headlines, and copy editors often change a story’s lead, so this disparity isn't necessarily the doing of the writers. In any case, the approach of each news outlet toward financially powerful story subjects tells you all you need to know about newsroom fears and attitudes.

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