Goldman Sachs named a new CEO. Here’s what the media did with it.

The Knife’s Raw Data articles provide objective news summaries. Some of them, if stripped of contextual information that’s useful but perhaps not essential, can be sized down to a single sentence. Today’s example: On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs announced that David Solomon would replace Lloyd Blankfein as its next CEO. But that’s quite a departure from the way some news outlets reported on the story.

First things first

One could argue naming Solomon as Goldman Sachs’ new CEO could have a significant impact on Wall Street, and that can be conveyed with data. The articles that were part of this analysis did provide some information in that regard, such as comparing some of Solomon’s career achievements with his predecessor’s. However, some outlets seemed to emphasize a different piece of information. Consider CNBC’s headline:

Goldman Sachs is handing the keys to a very different leader with David Solomon

Piqued your interest? That may be due to the vague, dramatic language noted above — spin can have that effect. But notice it catches your attention without actually saying much. What’s so different about this leader? That question is answered in the lead sentence:

Goldman Sachs finally made it official: David Solomon, an investment banker who rose through the ranks while finding time to pursue a hobby as an electronic dance music disc jockey, will be the next leader of the 149-year-old investment bank.

CNBC and CNN both emphasized the fact that Solomon is a DJ as a hobby, implying it’s what makes him “different.” Here’s CNN’s headline and subhead, for comparison.

Goldman Sachs’ next CEO is a part-time electronic dance DJ
Goldman Sachs’ next leader isn't your typical investment banker.

It’s likely statistically true that financial executives don’t tend to be DJs. That said, the emphasis on Solomon’s hobby may be more sensational bait for readers. His achievements and outlooks on the company would better inform.

The vague

Financial stories are at times spun with vague terms. They can convey positive or negative shifts in a business or market, for example, without providing much data. This line from Bloomberg is a good example.

But that changed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, as the firm quickly became the poster child for Wall Street’s misdeeds in the eyes of the public.

The language is entertaining, but it doesn’t communicate what Goldman Sachs did that it became Wall Street’s “misdeed poster child.” CNBC also used vague language to describe the company’s “struggles.”

It stumbled in the public eye after being labeled a “vampire squid” by Rolling Stone magazine, but the true test for management came later, as the firm's vaunted trading businesses struggled under placid markets and heightened post-crisis regulation.

The outlets’ descriptions convey a problem, but the language makes it amorphous. It may take a little more time and effort, but these types of descriptions can be accurately reported with data (numbers, to be precise).

The dramatic

Solomon’s career choices, which ultimately led to Tuesday’s promotion, speak for themselves. Yet outlets found ways to add a little drama to the news. Consider Bloomberg’s lead sentence, which is oddly similar to CNBC’s (under “first things first”):

It’s official at long last: David Solomon will inherit the crown from Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Saying the announcement was made “at long last” is subjective and vague, unless it’s alluding to the time it took to make it (which neither outlet clarified). And the regal spin wasn’t exclusive to Bloomberg. A Financial Times’ photo caption says Solomon “is expected to be anointed” as Lloyd Blankfein's successor. And CNN included this bit, which may be misleading.

Solomon came to Goldman right after a moment of palace intrigue. Hank Paulson, then Goldman's co-chairman, had helped stage a coup against fellow co-chair Jon Corzine in 1999, pushing him out of the company.

While the notion of “palace intrigue” captures attention, readers may not notice CNN left out some information that could counter this claim: Paulson told the New York Times in a 1999 interview that the suggestion “that his accession amounted to a palace coup was ‘inaccurate in every respect.’” In the end, it’s hard to determine which account is true, given the vagueness of a term like “palace intrigue,” but including Paulson’s comment would make the story more balanced.

The verdict

This analysis also included an article from the Financial Times, which was published the day before Goldman Sachs made the announcement. That article was more objective compared to the other three, earning a Knife integrity rating of 70 percent (the other three ranged between 52 and 65 percent). It provided less distorted biographical information on the company, Solomon and the outgoing CEO.

For the average human, sharing the news of a promotion may be something to celebrate or honor. That may not be the same for media outlets — their job is just to report what happens. They could simply report the facts and do exactly that. The vague, the dramatic and the emphasis on sensational bits may not be necessary.


Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media