It was a sobering reminder of the small footprint of the consumer personal finance titles. I was reminded of the research this week with the sad news that Money Observer and Moneywise magazine, both worthwhile and respected personal finance titles, will close this summer after a combined 69 years in print.
Despite their small footprint, personal finance publications have always played a vital part in educating consumers. This role is even more important when too many consumers are bewildered by the drivel that often appears in internet searches for financial information and guidance. No wonder so many get scammed.
Often research online by investors begins with a Google search however an internet search is no replacement for well written, well researched journalism.
To test this I entered the search term ‘safe investments’ into Google. There were 19 items returned on the first page and 7 were paid ads, some of which I wouldn’t touch with an extended barge pole. The first 4 entries, in fact, were paid ads and there was a lot of stuff from the US of no relevance to the UK, some trade news articles of little use to consumers, 2 articles from Moneywise and a questionable US website which appeared to be plugging products but was masquerading as an editorial site.
People who think that Google, Yahoo, Bing or other search engines are the answer to the personal finance consumers’ dreams need to think again.
Consumers with little or no experience have a very small chance of avoiding scam and poor value investment sites because the internet is littered with them. I’m told that financial advertising, particularly paid search, is actually one of the highest earners for search engines and it’s no wonder with the huge sums that can be involved.
Moneywise and Money Observer, along with a legion of other titles, have always played a small but valuable role in educating and informing consumers. That role is steadily disappearing as titles decline.
To be fair, there are still some decent financial publications and some are doing ok and the nationals often have some good personal finance sections albeit their circulations are declining. Martin Lewis does good work with his ITV show - which suggest the appetite for financial journalism is bigger than we think - and I know many planners are active in local radio and local media. It all helps.
Fundamentally though the importance of good financial journalism needs to be understood, supported and nurtured. Independent, critical, balanced and well researched financial journalism is vital if consumers are to be educated, informed and championed. It’s no wonder the editorial ‘consumer champion’ sections are so popular and busy.
Without better support for good financial journalism there is a danger it could eventually fade away to be replaced by a hotpotch of paid ads, dubious sites and sponsored marketing articles. Government and regulators need to be far more aware of the dangers of losing impartial journalism.
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Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks.