Business Journalism and the Movies

In financial journalism, you often have to explain complicated concepts simply. It can be hard. That's why I like movies.

When someone asks me to explain what a "bank run" is, I often refer to "It's a Wonderful Life" and the bank panic that killed George's honeymoon plans. That's come in handy for all the recent Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. coverage. People quickly go "Oh , yeah." Then, with images of panicked people and George's heart-felt talk about the money being in homes, not bank vaults, you can go ahead and dive deeper.

In fact, clips from the scene are often used by TV news to get into bank run stories, since it quickly conveys the emotional sense of what's going on. (And if bankers were more like Jimmy Stewart, maybe there wouldn't be so much Wall Street roadkill, but that's another post).

A colleague recently pointed out that "Mary Poppins" also has a good bank run scene. I also like Mary Poppins for its overall explanation of how banking works (See the video).

Other movies hit on other business topics. Commodities trading? Gotta go with "Trading Places," right? Frozen concentrated orange juice. Corporate takeovers? "Wall Street," of course. Monty Python also had a good one, although it's better for fantasy than actually explaining things.

Unfortunately, in the same way a movie scene can quickly illuminate a subject for readers, it can also distort and over simplify. Jimmy Stewart, for example, wasn't having to trade with other banks worrying if he could meet his commitments. And bank reserve problems can't be solved by flying a kite.

Still, if you can get people to understand basic problems, even on an over-simplified level, it's better than not getting them to understand at all. Now if we can get a good movie about LIBOR rates.

Am I missing any good bank run movies?