Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

Show-Biz: The Televisual Re-mediation of the Modern Global Economy

Posted on | June 8, 2021 | No Comments

My use of “Show-Biz” refers to the meaning-making techniques of financial journalism and their relationship to the narratives that drive the economy. Media industries “show” business and finance through various camera, editing, and special effects techniques, drawing in data from many sources and presenting them on different windows of high-resolution screens. These techniques create ways of seeing and showing the economy. Consequently, they influence public opinion as well as investment and trading strategies that shape global, local, and national economic activities and investment patterns.

This post concerns the televisual surveying systems that monitor and display global business and financial activities. It starts with a theory of media, called remediation, and then examines different elements or media that are combined into the broadcast or streaming of financial news. This is not to say that such representations are valid constructions or reflections of reality or are necessarily distortions of truth. That is one of the central themes of this post – that strategies of visual mediating are intertwined with authentic experiences and facts and that strategies of interpretation and incredulity/skepticism are required.

Television news expanded significantly in the 1970s with the expansion of cable systems and satellite networks. Cable and traditional TV combined when CNBC (Consumer News and Business Channel) was established in April, 1989 as a joint venture between Cablevision and NBC. Bloomberg Television was launched in the United States on January 1, 1994, and drew on a Bloomberg boxdecade of financial analytics provided through the famous “Bloomberg Box.” (See image of my daughter pretending to use a Bloomberg Box) Another successful financial news network is Fox Business News, launched on October 15, 2007. Yahoo is emerging as a major financial news provider as well and was recently sold by Verizon. How is financial news mediated in these networks? What are the implications of their mediating styles and techniques for how we understand the health of the global economy and the potential of innovative new industries and companies?

Financial television news is consistently broadcast in many trading operations and other business environments. It is also popular in homes, whether by day traders or interested citizens. Many people might be invested in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, concerned about housing prices, or following their 401K and other types of investments. Televised news and economic indicators play a vital role in various audiences’ perceptions of the economy. Anchored by personalities that are informed and presentable, the television screen combines live human commentary with indexical information, graphs, and other numerical representations of different parts and states of the economy.

Remediation is literally the re-mediating of content through the inclusion of old media into new media. Or sometimes, including new media in an old medium, such as the use of computer and web techniques in modern television. One of the earliest media theorists, Marshall McLuhan, made these observations in the 1960s. Print remediates writing, which remediates speech. The TV anchor, an actual person of authority who “anchors” the meaning of the broadcast, is remediated on the television news screen.

However, Bolter and Grusin made a more systematic analysis in their Remediation, published by MIT Press (2000).[1] They echoed McLuhan’s observations that the content of new media is old media. They also ventured that the motivation was a desire for remediation is a “healed” media, one that provided better access to a more “authentic” version of reality. Bolter and Grusin pointed to a “double logic” of remediation – two different modes of representation that strive to better access the real. Television has coped with this dual system of remediated representation since its origins with a variety of incorporations and innovations.

One mode of remediation is transparent immediacy, the desire for a type of immersion into the medium that erases the technology and provides an unblemished experience. The cinematic movie experience strives for this authenticity with its large screen, darkened room, and conservative camera editing practices. The viewer wants to forget the presence and techniques of the movie apparatus and believe they are in the presence of the objects of representation – the actors and sets. TV less so.

McLuhan and others argued that TV was primarily an acoustic medium, mainly because sound anchors the meaning of the visual elements. Television is a storyteller, primarily an oral one. So it is no surprise that human “anchors” on broadcast news play an important role. Anchors read the news and also conduct live interviews with guest experts for additional credibility and information. They present the major topics of the day in real-time, fixing the meaning of the broadcast, organizing the narratives of the day. Financial television borrows this sonic dominance, although it streams many other sources of data and textual news.

Many celebrity financial analysts have become celebrities, such as Mohamed El-Erian, Jared Bernstein, Bill Gross, etc. Neel Kashkari and other Fed District presidents are also very popular. These “Talking Heads” bring expertise remotely from different cities and countries, representing key companies or government positions.

Television news is interrupted occasionally by “Breaking News” that reinforces immediacy. This welcome interruption usually includes live reporting by a journalist at a relevant location. Drone or helicopter “birds-eye” viewing enhances the dominant perspective of television news. Reports by the Fed Chair after their FOMC meeting on interest rates are very popular. These events keep viewers “glued” to the screen.

Bloomberg Intraday

Hypermediation is the other strategy and uses techniques of representation that “foreground the medium.” Television has taken on the multi-mediated look of the computer with different windows gathering in activities, data, and events. While the anchor is prominent (although most trading environments turn off the sound) other windows display hyper-mediated representations of economic and financial data streaming in from around the world. This information is primarily in the form of charts and graphs, and indices presenting a quantitative view of the world. The reliability of this global gaze often draws on the truth claims of numeracy and remediates the spreadsheet. In particular, the visual techniques of the table are utilized to quickly communicate an augmented view of the economy.

Financial hypermediation has moved away from transparency. Instead, it integrates an augmented reality with indexical denotations of stock markets, prices of commodities like gold and silver, and currency exchange fluctuations. Indicators range from the macro-indicators such as GDP, invented to mobilize industrial responses to the Great Depression and World War II. If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring was a major critique of GDP because it didn’t count domestic work. The age of big data is also returning information that is giving us a better picture of the larger economy. Unemployment statistics are a major indicator, as are the prices of commodities like gold, silver, and copper.

Financial news probably owes a debt to sports broadcasting and news. Notably, American sports like baseball, basketball, and football (gridiron) have embraced hypermediated techniques in the service of sports entertainment. While transparent immediacy is a crucial part of sport enjoyment, a new word, “datatainment” has emerged as the moniker of the joy many people get from statistics related to their favorite teams and players. In baseball, for example, scores remain the major source of numerical pleasure as they indicate winners and losers. But batting averages, earned run averages (ERA), and runs batted in (RBIs) are statistical sources of additional satisfaction.

Conclusion

Financial news on television combines several earlier and newer types of media to represent views of the global economy. It uses anchors and interviews with guests. It used many economic indicators throughout the screen and scrolling tickertapes. It tries to survey the world and paint a picture of an authentic world that it thinks its viewers would be interested in. What are the limitations of such media strategies? What are the limitations of these strategies of representation?

Notes

[1] Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

[2] Cook, Patrick J. Rev. of Remediation by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies (December 1999). 14 January 2001.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is Professor of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He keeps his American home in Austin, Texas and has taught there in the Digital Media MBA program at St. Edwards University He joyfully spent 9 years at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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