Keeping track of the crisis

Wall Street woes create a busy news day for cable nets

NEW YORK -- The failure of the $700 billion bailout package created a challenge not just for the economy but also for news and finance channels covering the markets Monday.

The Washington and Wall Street meltdown mostly pushed the presidential race -- and Thursday night's vice presidential debate in St. Louis -- off the airwaves on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. With partisan sniping on both sides, it was left to the networks to try to put the story into perspective.

But it has been difficult for journalists to keep up with a story that is so complex and moves so quickly. Knowledge of mortgage-backed securities, the mechanics of financial markets and other complex topics that once were reserved for specialty journalists now is expected to be absorbed by everyone on the air.

And fast.

It is, said Tyler Mathisen, managing editor of CNBC Business News, the biggest financial story of any in a generation.

"I have never seen anything like this," said Alexis Glick, vp business news and an anchor at the Fox Business Network. "I have talked to experts, economists, executives and members of Congress, who all say that they have not lived through anything like this."

Glick and CNN's Ali Velshi said that a common misconception is that the bailout plan is about Wall Street when that's not the whole story.

"Wall Street is not a separate entity from Main Street," Velshi said. "Punishing Wall Street does punish your retirement. ... It hurts your ability to get a loan."

For Velshi, covering the story is a matter of making sure that viewers get perspective and not panic. He said that he tries to use analogies to communicate.

"For the people who haven't felt the pain, there is a feeling that what we are talking about is so concentrated that it's 'not in my backyard,' " FBN's Glick said. "The feeling was, it might not affect me. The problem is that they're not seeing the effects now. ... While you may not 100% feel it today, you may feel its effects one month, three months, six months from now."

Fox Business Network and CNBC have devoted plenty of time and resources, extending their coverage beyond the normal business day. CNBC's Mathisen said it's a time for measured coverage that provides context.

"We're aware that we're talking to a broad audience and we have a high responsibility to get it right, to put it into context and have a measured, balanced tone in everything we do," Mathisen said. "We'd rather be right than fast, although we obviously want to be both."

"Every journalist is working just about as hard as they can work, scouring through these documents. Nobody wants to get on television unprepared," Glick said. "I can assure you of that. We are in the kind of environment where the news changes every five minutes, every minute."

Added Glick, who spent eight years on Wall Street as a trader and manager: "It's changing in a way that most of us have never experienced before."

And the story wasn't likely to calm down anytime soon, especially not Tuesday.

"I wouldn't have thought that today would have been the way it was, so who knows what tomorrow will hold," CNBC's Mathisen said. He said that it's likely that there will be a lot of negotiations on Capitol Hill and, because of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, perhaps a calmer Wall Street. But he noted that the Asian and European markets haven't yet had a chance to react, so that might make it even busier.

FBN's Glick said that it might take a long time for the legislation to pass, and that it could be a ride for the time being. But she also said that the country has been through tough times before "and we have recovered in good stead. This is the United States of America, and we'll figure this out."