Reuters tackles faith-based investing, omitting voices while inserting unsourced opinions

When not reporting the news in a straight-up manner, the Reuters news agency often pops up as offering a caricature of what a news service does.

Most notable, perhaps, was the post-9/11 memo by the agency's then-editor of global news, Stephen Jukes, in which he declared: “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist.” There was blowback a-plenty, and Jukes should be very glad Twitter didn't exist back then.

Today's bit of palaver from Reuters comes on a subject they should know well: money and investing. Reuters did, after all, begin life as a service shuttling stock market prices around Europe, at first by carrier pigeon and then by telegraph. (It is perhaps the only journalistic enterprise in history to have been immortalized by actor Edward G. Robinson on the silver screen.)

That was then, and this is now. Reuters has come upon an interesting trend, that of stock investments based on religious principles. They then proceed to do a rather shallow reporting job that omits voices and inserts unsourced opinion as a factual statement.

This isn't straight-up journalism. It's reporting with a dose of opinion, which would seem antithetical to Reuters' origins.

In this story, titled "Gotta have faith: The rise of religious ETFs," we read:

Making money in the markets is tricky enough on its own. Try doing it while staying faithful to your religious beliefs.
That challenge hasn’t discouraged some investors from trying. Indeed, there is a growing number of faith-based exchange-traded funds that attempt to marry moneymaking with principles that are deeper and more meaningful than those of your typical trader.
In the spring, Silicon Valley-based Inspire Investing launched its Global Hope Large Cap and its Small/Mid Cap Impact ETFs, pledging to apply Christian values as a screen. Those products join Global X’s Catholic Values ETF as part of a vanguard trying to figure out the right mix of religion and the markets.

There's a fine line between being "cute" in journalism and being offensive. I wonder how many readers of the first two paragraphs would say the Reuters article was closer to the latter.

Suggesting that "staying faithful to your religious beliefs" while trying to make money as an investor would seem to denigrate people of faith, even if there's faint praise for "principles that are deeper and more meaningful" in the next paragraph.

From the headline that appears to have been inspired by an old Wham! song, to seeking "the right mix of religion and the markets," this story veers from straight-up news reporting and is needlessly cute. There are journalistic details here, to be sure, but they've been slathered in so much that appears to be opinion writing that it's a struggle to jump between the two.

Also off-putting, to me at least, is the arm's length approach to the heart of the subject: that faith can play a role in someone's investment decisions. For example:

But what does this investing approach mean, practically speaking? Which companies are said to align with religious values, and which are not?
Effectively, that rules out some firms in the healthcare space and some in industrials, according to Jay Jacobs, research director for Global X. The no-nos would include “stem cell research, adult entertainment, abortion, and weapons makers,” Jacobs says.

Global X's Jacobs, by the way, expounds in detail about how their faith-based ETF works in the video clip atop this blog post. That video hit YouTube about six weeks before the Reuters story, which suggests the wire service reporter could've added a bit of Jacobs' context to the piece.

Instead, we get this bit of opinion-asserted-as-reporting:

This challenging business of selecting morally acceptable companies becomes even trickier when you consider that people of faith can, and do, differ in their own judgments.
There are plenty of Christians who are pro-choice or who believe in the benefits of stem cell research, for whom such investment products might not accurately reflect their own beliefs.

So, #DUH, those pro-choice or stem cell research-supporting people can, and probably do, invest in ETFs that back firms in those areas. It seems these rather obvious statements were placed in the piece to trash-talk people who are serious about bringing their beliefs into the marketplace.

But what's most disappointing here is that, once again, there are no faith voices from people who are not attached to the investment firms profiled here. Are there no priests, ministers, theologians, or other scholars available to discuss this? It took seconds for Google to lead me to a page at the Wheaton College website on which is featured "Marta Klock (formerly Marta Norton, Wheaton '03, Economics), Portfolio Manager, Head of U.S. Outcome-Based Strategies at Morningstar Investment Management LLC in Chicago."

Klock, it turns out, discussed her faith and her business life on a Wheaton podcast. Given that the school is often referred to as "the evangelical Harvard," finding a Wheaton grad who could speak on faith and investing would add more to the story than the unsourced assertions presented as facts in this piece.

Real journalism and street-level reporting, where an effort is made to find and incorporate authoritative voices who can speak about the subject at hand, were shortchanged here. Perhaps that's something Reuters could take stock of the next time they report on a faith-based financial topic.

Please respect our Commenting Policy