On Blogs and Bloggers

1 Apr

The WSJ and New York Times have forced my hand.  The MSM still has such a painfully miserable grasp of blogs, bloggers, the blogosphere I’m suffering second-hand embarrassment just reading their drivel.

This is some high-level stuff, ignoring for a moment the blog-specific failures and other particular shortcomings from the WSJ and the NYT pieces, so bear with me.

What’s the difference between what someone like Felix Salmon does for Reuters and what someone like Gretchen Morgenson does for the New York Times? (And no, the answer is not “the former knows what he is talking about, while the latter spews-forth nonsense and ignorance,” although that’s an observation with which I’d generally agree.)   More generally, I’m curious, what makes a blog a blog (and a blogger a blogger)?  Is it the back-end, i.e. a website the content of which is published with WordPress or Typepad?  Is it the content itself, the site layout, the writers, or the editorial standards?  Is it association with MSM or a pre-existing other media?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is a solid “no;” as far as I can tell, the only thing that differentiates a “blog” (already a vague term in the common vernacular) from an “online magazine” or general “website” is that either the proprietors and/or the general public simply call one a blog and one something else.  That it.  For example, why is Naked Capitalism a “blog” instead of “the website of Yves Smith?”  Is The Atlantic’s Business section of the website a blog?  Why (or why not)?  Both host several daily posts (or articles, whatever) from a number of (mostly regular) contributors, allow readers to leave comments, etc.  Naked Capitalism is powered by Blogger; The Atlantic uses Movable Type.

What I hope you’re starting to realize by now is that the term “blog” (and its derivatives) has became wayyyy too pervasive, to the point that I believe its entirely misused, if not abused with startling regularity.  Why, though?  We’ve established that neither the site layout nor the back-end publishing system determines whether a particular site is a blog or not, so then it must have something to do with the content and/or the author(s), right?   Ok, then tell me how is it that Gretchen is a “columnist” and an “editor” but Felix is referred-to as a far less prestigious sounding “blogger?”  Contrary to the claims of some other observers, I think this difference is far more than simply cosmetic; except for the few of us “in the know,” I’m fairly certain the average person thinks Gretchen much more credible than Felix, at least based purely on title alone.  This, sense does not make.  Judging purely from the content these two create, Felix deserves far more respect than Gretchen, as his posts are not only more frequent, but significantly more technical and nuanced than the predictable, dumbed-down, anti-capitalist rhetoric we get from her.

Of course, not all “blogs” are created equal, but that’s the point; some websites are – or host – what I’ll refer to as “true blogs,” while others are effectively the same as MSM(-esque) websites.  The latter often have several full-time contributors, support, and editorial staff.  Think Gawker.  The former are usually some sort of grossly un-professional hodge-podge of sporadically-created content covering seemingly random topics; think something like myrandomdisorganizedmessofawebsite.blogspot.com.

The point is that many websites that are commonly referred-to as “blogs” really aren’t.  Likewise, the authors of said “blogs” should not be considered bloggers, but writers (or analysts, or whatever) and the content they create should be given the respect (and usually, the credibility) given to the works of other professional writers (or analysts, or whatever) of the same/similar caliber.

Its funny, while MSM completely fails to grasp this whole blog thing, their own websites continually devolve into them, for the better.


25 Responses to “On Blogs and Bloggers”

  1. AIG Quant April 1, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    “I hope you’re starting to realize by now is that the term “blog” (and its derivatives) has became wayyyy too pervasive”

    Wait, blogs have derivatives now?!!! Will they destroy the entire financial journalism world?

  2. Tim Coldwell April 1, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Naked Capitalism actually uses WordPress but with a template that makes it look like Blogger for reasons best known to Yves.

    • Anal_yst April 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

      Whoa I did not know that, or know that was even possible, thanks! Not sure why you’d get involved with blogger instead of just using Typepad, but, like you said…

  3. Harry van Beuningen April 2, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    “dumbed-down, anti-capitalist rhetoric we get from her.” Thats is where you lost it for me.

  4. Kid Dynamite April 2, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    ok… well, first off, i think the term “blog” originally referred to slightly longer than twitter yet shorter than NY Times feature piece amalgamations of thought. During the financial crisis, and with the wealth of information available, many bloggers quickly surpassed the MSM in terms of depth of writing – mostly because many of these bloggers actually KNOW the field they are talking about, and can write too. Perhaps it’s because many were former experts in the field, displaced by the crisis.

    said differently, when John Jansen writes about interest rates, he’s a BOND TRADER writing about the subject. When I write about program trading, i can assure you there is probably no journalist in the world who knows more about the subject than I do.

    However, “blogs” have a dark side too, and that’s that many times they are less “Accountable” than the mainstream press. Yeah – i totally agree with your opinions on Felix vs Gretchen – but there are lots of blogs who simple parrot information, even sensationalizing it, and DETRACT from the knowledge and education by spreading hype and MISINFORMATION (think: Taiibi-esque freight trains of populism. Taibbi is actually a big quandry, because he could write really good pieces for the masses if he wasn’t so focused on the populist anti-wall-street rhetoric).

    Of course, as you’ve pointed out recently, the NYT (and Gretchen) does this too – only hopefully not as much, and usually not as blatantly. This is also part of the reason they are less valuable – they have less knowledge, and write less passionately – which leads to them being MORE correct, but adding LESS value.. if that makes any sense. It’s like the NYT will tell you that 2+2=4. it’s correct, but it doesn’t really add anything to the conversation.

    • Anal_yst April 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

      Agreed, there are some blogs out there that suck; they don’t adhere to anything even remotely approaching best practices such as honesty, integrity, and accountability.

      Of course, the same could be said of many MSM outlets, no?

  5. alephblog April 2, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    Well said. I don’t have to write; I want to write, and explain things to those who are lost on economic matters. I have more expertise than the journalists, but less objectivity, sort of. (I think it is more objectivity, but many would “subjectively” disagree.)

    Sigh. On the bright side, many journalists read us and use our ideas, sometimes citing, and more often not citing us.

    In the long run, blogging is a meritocracy. The best writers on topics of interest to many get the largest crowds. In the short-run, sensationalistic bloggers get a lot of readers, but they burn out, with readers leaving them over time. Substance eventually triumphs over sizzle.

    As for me, I just try to crank out what burns the most for me any evening. Sometimes it works. 🙂

    • Anal_yst April 2, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

      I really like this line:

      “I have more expertise than the journalists, but less objectivity, sort of. (I think it is more objectivity, but many would “subjectively” disagree.)”

      I think you’ve captured a big part of our dilemma; somehow, many MSM (-esque) and old media types are still up on their high horses, still grasping the antiquated idea that without the NYT or WSJ (or whatever)’s lofty editorial standards of integrity etc, no one else could possibly be as objective, if not more, than they. Surely, some blogs/bloggers give the rest of us a bad name, but that’s more a problem with people taking mental short-cuts and projecting the shortcomings of the few onto the many.

      I’m not so sure that blogging (or writing, or analyzing or whatever) is as much of a meritocracy as I’d like it to be; it seems many of the sensationalist outlets have been hanging around with startling popularity for longer than I’d expected, sigh…

  6. Tim Coldwell April 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Do any of you financial bloggers know who your audience is? Do you know for sure, for example, that any of those who are elected (or appointed) to come up with financial reform legislation actually read your blogs? If yes, do you have on going constructive conversations directly with any of them?

    • David Merkel April 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

      I get some feedback from legislators, but not that much. I have one close contact. I know that I get read by the offices of some Senators and Representatives.

      I get read more by policymakers especially at the Treasury, some academics, and journalists/media/bloggers. This article contains a (somewhat faulty) list of who reads me:


      I don’t think my influence extends that far, though. Best to keep a humble attitude.

  7. Anal_yst April 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    You’ll have to ask them for the details, but Kid Dynamite and David Merkel have readers in the Government and/or speak with such types.

    I’ve yet to sign this website up for a better stats service so I don’t know for certain, but I’ve also yet to be contacted by anyone in Government (that I know of), much to my chagrin, as I’d gladly volunteer my time/energy to help.

    • Kid Dynamite April 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

      if anyone in the government reads my blog it’s probably just to see if i’m talking shit about Tim Geithner… to be honest… although i’d like to think that the White House is sitting around reading my blog, i think it’s highly unlikely. although i guarantee you that if they want to legislate thinks like trading or high frequency trading, they should talk to me. I even offered them my expertise on the vagaries of defining “proprietary trading”

      • Anal_yst April 2, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

        I feel you pain. I wrote an article on Zerohedge volunteering my services to the SEC.

        Radio silence.

        Maroons in Government won’t even take help when its offered for free, sigh…

  8. Mike April 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    What is your opinion of zero hedge? Valuable analysis or sensationalist nonsense?

    • Anal_yst April 2, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

      Depends on the post in question and/or the author, content, etc, but generally posts on Zerohedge certainly run the gamut from invaluable analysis to sensationalist, approaching tin-foil-hat crap.

      Overall, Zerohedge is a must-read for me, every day. You just have to be able to separate the high-quality stuff (most of it) from the noise, just like on many other popular finance/business websites.

      • Mike April 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

        Which authors though? Tyler does most of the posts, Marla is djing half the time, Cornelius hasn’t posted in a while and Travis writes about worthless shit. Generally agree with you – I’ve been reading ZH since Feb 2009.

        • Kid Dynamite April 3, 2010 at 8:19 am #

          i used to love ZH, back when they were putting out 3 good pieces a day. The problem now, by the very definition of valuable analysis, is that NO ONE can put out 40 good pieces a day. It’s impossible. I think they’ve VASTLY sacrificed their quality at the expense of page views or whatever they are going for.

  9. Jay@marketfolly April 3, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Great points all around in the article. I was coming down here to comment and find KidDynamite already said everything I had planned on saying. There are essentially two main differences:

    Bloggers are primarily in some other profession (i.e. trader, hedge fund analyst, whatever). This instantly gives them credibility on the subject matter they focus on. While journalists/media-bloggers can certainly take the time to learn/study what analysts do, in the end, they’re still not analysts.

    This leads me to my next point: most bloggers (in the true sense of the word) aren’t writing for a living. Sure, blogs can make some measly cash from advertisements, but it is not their primary source of income… their day job is. For Gretchen, Felix, etc, content is their job. This means they occasionally end up writing about random topics or less inspired pieces or cover topics outside their circle of competency because their job is to generate content. “Regular” bloggers, on the other hand (non-media bloggers), will often speak out on topics they feel need to be addressed or they feel they can deliver value-add to. For the most part, they’re not posting just to post and they aren’t required to post because it’s not their job.

    Hopefully that makes sense… it sounded a bit better in my head hah.


  10. Tim Coldwell April 4, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    One of the best pieces on why there is no financial reform (nor likely to be?) that I’ve read recently comes from a novelist and film maker, Gonzalo Lira who lives in Chile:

    What Do We Have to Show After a Year of “Extend and Pretend”?


  11. Geoff D. April 29, 2010 at 12:33 pm #


    Although, I may have an idea on what the REAL difference is between journalists and bloggers. Typically, bloggers actually work in, and have real experience with, the topic they are writing about. As opposed to journalists who have a more “academic” relationship with the subject matter.


    It’s confusing. At times like this, I look to other experts in the field. This is what I found:


    Point the way Jon and Stephen!


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