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Banging on Oil, When Google's More Profitable

Heard some chitchat on "Squawk Box" this morning about companies -- mostly oil companies -- getting branded as evil for making huge profits while other -- more profitable -- companies seem to get a pass.

It's a valid point. Matt Nesto brought it up in a post not too long ago. Google has more than twice the profit margin of Exxon. Yet Exxon and other oil majors face "windfall profit tax" grousing every time they put up their numbers.

A lot of the reason is emotion, obviously. Folks shelling out big bucks at the gas pump tend to get a little miffed when told about billions of dollars of profits for the gas supplier. Clicking around the search ads on the Net is a lot less objectionable.

It also points up a schism between business journalism and mainstream journalism. It tends to be the business journos that point to profit margins and say "what's the big deal?" But the generalists tend to concentrate on an oil company's Big Honkin' Number and, well, go for the gut of their readers. (For a great example of such debates, check this column by Joe Nocera over at the New York Times).

As a biz journo myself, it's easy to point at general news reports and admonish them for not relating the percentages behind the Big Honkin' Number. On the other hand, I wonder if we in business journalism do a good job of providing that perspective from the get-go of an earnings report.

We tend to focus on the beat-miss aspect, whether profits are going up or down, and what the latest numbers are doing to the stock. That's natural given our investor audience. But then we shouldn't be surprised when the consumer side of the news audience gets riled at the size of the numbers.

Interesting Oil Stuff On the Site Today ...