Blogging Needs to be Rebranded

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I returned this week from giving a speech in Washington State to a very nice group of economists (the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference, if you must know). I sat in on some of the other presentations. One, on the challenges of measuring inflation, had speakers from the BLS and the BEA. The BLS presentation in particular set itself up as addressing the criticisms of bloggers.

And which bloggers were featured? It led off with two quotes from that famous blogger…..William Gross of PIMCO. It was quite apparent that the head of the world’s biggest fixed income fund manager was tagged as a mere blogger to discredit his remarks.

When I first heard of blogs, back sometime in the 1990s, I recoiled. The name is so horrid as to create a negative response. Blog. Let’s see. What words begin with the “bl” sound? Black, bleck, blight, blither, bluster…you get the picture. Rhymes aren’t much better. Bog, fog, slog, dog, cog, wog, flog. You’d have to try really really hard to come up with a word that elicited worse associations.

The popular image is not much better. While blogs clearly have loyal fans, to the populace at large that doesn’t partake, they are disreputable. Blogs are just another way to waste time on the Internet, fitting in there somewhere with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but no corporate sponsorship to legitimate it. Bloggers are a faceless rabble, pamphleteers trying to whip up interest in their pet causes. Sure, Patrick Henry was a pamphleteer too, but he was a rabble rouser in his heyday.

There is also a lack of differentiation in types of blogs as far as nomenclature and media presentation is concerned, which adds to the confusion. Some engage in original reporting, many in commentary and analysis of news, a few in original analysis or reporting of research (ie, newsworthy to specialist audiences but generally outside mainstream news channels), many in entertainment. It would be nice if there were more precise terminology, but that’s unlikely to happen save via description of the blogger himself (“Manfred, an expert in Old English poetry…”).

And the media, despite promoting in house blogs, is still ambivalent at best, seeing blogs as more competition than a complement. They aren’t entirely wrong, since more time reading blogs means less time for other reading, including traditional media. But is it still puzzling to see academics who monitor the media also ignore bloggers.

For instance, Barry Ritholtz passed along a post from BeatBlogging that describes the efforts of Columbia Journalism Reviews’ blog, the Audit, which focuses on inaccurate reporting in the MSM. Ritholtz has complained that they ignore the ways blogs have tackled important areas that the major business outlets overlooked, such as the credit crisis (well, until the economy started falling off the cliff). The response was that blogs were too peripheral, given the resource constraints, to be worth covering.

Now it is fair to say that blogging for the most part is not the same as journalism, although that misses the point. Bloggers generally lack the resource to do much in the way of original reporting, but they have often have the expertise to dig much deeper into stories than the media ever could And they also can provide reactions and analysis much faster than many official commentators can.

To the extent the MSM deigns to take note of bloggers, the references to individual blogs and bloggers are comparatively few. More often, articles refer to “bloggers” as if they were a Mongol horde mounting an assault on whatever established institution is on their radar today, or pieces that, while technically newsworthy, nevertheless serve to underscore doubts about bloggers standing. Witness the Wall Street Journal’s “Bloggers, Beware: What You Write Can Get You Sued“:

In March 2008, Shellee Hale of Bellevue, Wash., posted in several online forums about a hacker attack on a company that makes software used to track sales for adult-entertainment Web sites. She claimed that the personal information of the sites’ customers was compromised.

About three months later, the software company — which contends that no consumer data were compromised — sued Ms. Hale in state court in New Jersey, accusing her of embarking “on a campaign to defame and malign the plaintiffs” in chat-room posts.

In her legal response, Ms. Hale, 46 years old, claims she is covered by so-called shield laws that protect reporters from suits, because she was acting as a journalist and was investigating the hacker attack while researching a story on adult-oriented spam.

Um, since when is participating in chat rooms blogging? The story has section headings of a similar ilk:”Slapped With Lawsuits”, “Copyright Infringement”. Sounds scary.

Of course, there is no ready way for a highly decentralized activity to in fact marshal the resources and consistent effort to reimage itself (I somehow don’t see a “Blogger Anti-Defamation League”, as amusing as that could be). However, open source software, which operated under a cloud of suspicion for most save the hard core techies who understood how robust the code that came out of that process could be, eventually legitimated itself through the superior performance of its product. So we’ll all just have to keep at it and hope the more and more people are smart enough to figure out what where we fit in and we have to offer, despite the rag tag appearance.

Don’t get me wrong. The activity has already moved up market a fair degree. Well trafficked blogs create visibility for their authors that it is hard to imagine them otherwise achieving outside outside a large institution. It’s one of the few ways an unaffiliated individual can build a (hopefully positive) reputation. But in our modern world, the lack of a big name organizational backing still cuts both ways.

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  1. Marlowe


    I no longer read or give any credence to WaPo, NYT, WSJ, or Bloomberg, except reports filtered by your blog or the half dozen others (all of them listed on your blogroll, natch). Amazing, isn’t, how Zero Hedge catapulted from zero to millions of page views in just five months? That’s the power of blogging.

    Pimpco quoted as a blogger, funny.

    Looking forward to buying your book. I don’t care whether it’s published by Wiley or Lulu.

  2. ScottB

    Yves, I agree the reference to Gross was misconstrued, but that’s a bit of a red herring. There is a lot of criticism of BLS in the blogosphere that is simply inaccurate. Some of the criticism originates in blogs, some comes from other sources but is spread through blogs with little or no examination, for example, the charges of Kevin Phillips are largely given a free ride. Chris Martensen’s crash course, Barry Ritholtz and many others railing at the birth-death adjustment, and of course, Shadowstats.

    A year ago I challenged Barry Ritholtz on his charges that the unemployment rate (U3) had been manipulated over the years. I’m still waiting for his response (which he promised last fall).

    I’m not saying BLS and their measures are perfect or beyond criticism. They tend to be very top down when they deal with the states, much to the detriment of the data system. It’s just that I find a lot of the critics fail to do the most basic homework, like reading methodologies that are publicly available on the BLS website.

  3. Jojo

    Speaking of blaming or discrediting bloggers, this was an interesting article:

    The sage MinervaWednesday, May 20, 2009
    Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll

    Have you heard about Minerva? No, not the goddess – let us postulate you are up to speed on your mythology. Nope, Minerva, the South Korean blogger.

    Very fine story by Choe Sang-hun in the New York Times about him. Minerva appeared on the scene early last year, writing commentaries about the world economy in general and the Korean economy in particular. He was not optimistic. He predicted the collapse of Lehman Bros. and the sudden, precipitous fall of the won, the currency of South Korea.

    He wrote like a well-educated economist. He was right about the economic situation, but he didn’t have the credentials. As Choe writes: “In a society still negotiating the gulf between its traditionally hierarchical culture and the free-floating online world, he has been sharply criticized for, in effect, not being the authority figure most people had imagined him to be.”

    This is sort of standard in the online world. As soon as a blogger becomes popular, people start yelling, “What are your credentials?” Never mind that you’re right and smart and you write pretty well, too – may we see your degrees, please? May we know what your training is? Do you know anyone important?

    Everyone loves experts.

    Minerva, it turned out, was Park Dae-sung, an unemployed 31-year-old writer who had attended a two-year vocational college and had never invested in the stock market. This was the man who, until the veil was removed from his identity, was called “the economy president of South Korea,” which was irritating to President Lee Myung-bak, who won office promising to be “the economy president.”

    Then everything tanked, the won dove, Minerva seemed like a prophet almost every day, and oh, my, was the government irritated. When his identity was revealed, in January, he was arrested on charges of spreading false information on the Internet with malicious intent. He was accused of damaging his nation’s economy with his “extremely pessimistic forecasts.”


  4. X

    Minerva’s situation breaks it down to brass tacks. Corporate media represents ruling class interests and bloggers usually don’t. In the US they can’t arrest bloggers so they publish stories like the WSJ piece, have their lawyers send threatening letters and deride the status of “mere bloggers”.

    Corporate media has so effectively represented the ruling class that they have taken us through the looking glass. It is truly amazing how the media can miss the point and bury the lead in almost every important story of our times. This has resulted in a surreality that is killing the corporate media as it is rejected by its host (the public). As I’ve said before, many people may not be aware of exactly what is wrong (how could they after all these years of corporate media?), but they can sure see or feel that something is wrong, and the media spew on offer simply can’t explain it to them.

    Blogs are the best way to fight back at the moment. They can’t replace traditional media though if they can’t gather news and do traditional reporting. Hopefully a robust independent media eventually rises from the ashes of the corporate media. If so it will no doubt be influenced by blogs and bloggers, one of the few sources of news media that “works” currently, and the reason it works is because it is independent.

    I encourage everyone to consume and support independent news sources, they are one of the cures for what ails our country.

  5. Eleanor

    Saying that blogs aren’t reporting completely misses the current problem of information: pollution and capture. First, there is so much stuff out there, so much information pouring from every chink in the universe, that having someone intelligent monitor and aggregate information — someone whose attitude you find that you share — is valuable. Is it reporting? NO. Is it useful, if you don’t have the time to pour over 25 sources carefully and decide what among the manure pile was golden? OH, yes.a

    I call this information pollution, because there is such a huge amount of information now, of questionable worth, that getting down to the information that has merit takes a lot of time and energy. Blogs that aggregate and point are useful for that.

    Second, as noted, is the problem of capture. The very fact that there are no corporate sponsors is actually a plus to me. Granted, at least with the ads on the NYT I can readily see who bought the paper, whereas with blogs, I have much less information about the biases and markers of the writer. But I like to imagine I’m smart enough to make the call on whether to believe the people I’ve decided to read.

  6. The Epicurean Dealmaker

    Yves — I love the idea of a Blogger Anti-Defamation League! I hereby nominate you to be President for Life and Grand Poobah. (I humbly submit myself for consideration as Treasurer for Life and Vice Poobah. I love to handle money.) While we wait for the authorities to approve our license, I will send in my $0.23 charter membership dues. Can I use PayPal?

  7. kackermann

    Blogging is what you make of it.

    For me, this is one of my information sites. It has a high level of credibility, very informed comments, and generally well behaved.

    I’m hooked on Mish, but no longer comment too much there. Mish posts an eclectic, but pertinent variety of posts, and I like his workingman’s sarcasm. I learned a lot there.

    As for the cult blogs, I find I enjoy ones whose theme does not nessessarily jive with my beliefs. I’ve been blogging over at Cafe Hayek recently because I find so many aspects of their hard-right Libertarian completely counter-intuitive and begging for contrary commentary.

    It’s a good change from some of the political groupthink sites I frequent. I like the challenge.

  8. LeeAnne

    the grass is always greener…

    with the corruption of MSM everyone writing on the Internet may better off with NO generic brand. “Blogging” and “Blog” for now, until the medium matures, is IMHO sufficient.

    As always, branding is up to the individual. Its not easy. Huffington Post is an example of that.

    Referring to anyone as merely a ‘blogger’ is no information at all. Those who use the Internet know that, those who don’t –well

  9. cansarnoso

    “Blogger Anti-Defamation League”
    in short, the BAD league
    that acronym will get plenty of derogatroy coverage by the msm on the defensive (“we always told you so”)

    mangy cat

  10. Dan Duncan

    The comments to this post completely miss where Blogging is headed:

    Eleanor’s comments are insightful, but miss the bigger picture. Couple them with Marlowe’s Personal Filter and JoJo’s belief that something as simple as “credentials” is somehow passe…and there’s a HUGE problem brewing.

    As Eleanor states: There are limits to how much information we can process. The fact that anyone and everyone has a blog only feeds into this problem. So what’s the obvious response? To filter, of course.

    No problem, thus far.

    But these filters evolve. They get more intuitive, sensitive and effective. VERY quickly, then, this process breeds extreme polarization with extreme homogeneity on each pole.

    And for the most part, there’s little exchange of ideas. Instead we just get ideological reinforcement.

    [My goodness: Consider what happens when one of Yves’ Guest Bloggers has the temerity to write something that interferes with the leftist ideological symphony.

    Betrayal! Loyal, faithful readers come out and attack these guest writers…who provide their services for free…with venom! And these are Leftist friends of the blog.]

    Many many studies have been performed on this phenomenon. Even the slightest bias or inclination, coupled with a good filter leads to extreme balkanization…and very quickly.

    Marlowe stated it himself: He’s completely relinquished his info sources to a few carefully selected Info Hubs who do the aggregating and splicing for him.

    And don’t even get me started on this notion of Blogger Independence and Corporate-Free Environments….You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Blogs are a part of the Great Media Unbundling. We get our “information” in its component parts, tailored to our tastes…

    How do you think the Providers are going to create quality content in a realm where advertisers pay by click, while readers refuse to pay at all?

    It’s not going to happen.

    And you get bloggers like Yves, who either leverages her blog into a book deal or burn out. {Just look at the corporate advertisers on this site. Do they fit? For the most part they don’t…but the ones that would The Teaching Company…are not high paying advertisers.}

    Or you get self-promoters like Ritholtz who uses his blog as a platform for peddling his book, advisory service or $800 Roundtable Dinner Discussions. He hasn’t had a meaningful, original post in months.

    Now you have Tyler Durden rampaging on the scene. Give him a couple years, writing at that pace…asking for donations into his tip jar!

    Sooner or later, the potentially good writers are going to say “The hell with that…”

    In a media world of component parts…in-depth, important newsworthy economics blogs Do NOT pay.

    Essential newspaper articles on local political corruption DO NOT pay.

    Easy articles about Oprah and Michelle O. that attract lots of readers…that might just click onto an “Easy Mortgage” Advertisement…now that pays!

    You might say, well never underestimate the stupidity of the American public—that’s the way it’s always been.

    This is true, but these inane, easy articles at least subsidized the necessary articles.

    No more.

  11. Marlowe

    @Dan Duncan

    Relinquished what exactly? I trust Yves to read the New York Times, which I loathe and always have.

    You mentioned Tyler at Zero Hedge as a burnout candidate. Probably will, but in the meantime he’s publishing information I can’t get anywhere else.

    My daily reads are not exactly self-reinforcing. I’m looking for competence, like John Jansen on bonds, Brad Setser on international flow of funds, FT Alphaville for pre-market and euro perspective.

    I disagree with Yves on regulatory policy. That’s not why I read this blog every day, and not why I’d buy her book without hesitation.

    Emphatic: I trust her to tell the truth with insight and editorial scope.

  12. X

    Dan, the problem (well, one problem relevant to your point) with the corporate takeover of the news is that they decided that they are not interested in subsidizing the important pieces. They decided to go with all fluff all the time and pocket the money rather than use it to subsidize real news. That is why they are dying. They wouldn’t be dying if they could find the time to do the real news too. Short term profit overrode thoughts about long-term health of the business. Combine that with the disincentive to report anything that could be against the real or percieved interests of the corporation that owns the given news outlet or its principals and their friends, and here we are.

    The media used to work better when there were many independent outlets. It is the collapse of mainstream media fueling the rise of blogs, not the reverse. And confirmation bias in news consumption is not new. When every large city had multiple independent newspapers everyone knew which leaned towards business and which leaned towards labor, and people read with that in mind. Corporate media takeover and consolidation and its attendant problems have simply sent people looking again for reliable, independent news like they used to get from the main-stream sources. Unfortunately blogs really can’t provide what is needed from the ground up, they can merely help you to reverse engineer the real news from the media spew.

  13. thestranger

    Mish is one of the sites I use to read between the lines of a news story. I don’t so much get my information for this site as understand the back story. Anyone who is knowledgeable about a subject could do this. I use other sources, but I do trust Mish and enjoy “the take”.

  14. freude bud

    A blog is, according to the dictionary, a web log, or a journal published to the internet. “Journalist” seems just fine to me … the idea incorporates the notion of a public diary, or a regular or irregular account of past events, combined with conjecture and/or predictions.

    Most journalists have no real expertise in the subject that cover when their carriers as newspaper men begin–I have a friend who was thrown into his first job in the business with the mortgage backed securities market beat. He had no economic education (or particular mathematical aptitude) whatsoever with an academic text, a list of potential sources, and a sink or swim speech. He swam, but I doubt he thought he even had a moderate understanding what he was covering for, oh, more than a year into his job. I suspect neither did his editors.

    Good bloggers are like good journalists, meaning folks covering issues that they have some understanding of and experience in. MSM journalists have added institutional resources to do things that most good bloggers don’t, but that doesn’t make the bulk of what they do–interpret press releases or the summaries of them–too dissimilar.

    So I’d just go with “journalist.” After all, how many unemployed MSM “journalists” are now “bloggers”?

  15. john bougearel


    I used to get most of my news via bloomberg until Sept 2008. Now, thanks to NC, I get about half my news from Yves’ blog and other blogs that she has brought to my attention.

    I took up blogging in July 07, but have been hot and cold posting to it. Sometimes I have the time to devote 20 or 30 minutes to do a post, other times I don’t.

  16. love Dad

    I used to work for Bloomberg News, I have little to no respect for financial news journalists. Too many lack the industry experience and analytical chops to figure out what’s really going on.

    Yves, and certain other bloggers, provide expert analysis and commentary. The MSM go to the pressers, if you’re lucky they repeat the leaked info, but rarely with anything approaching critical thinking.

    If you want to see ‘blogging’ monetized successfully, look at Stratfor.

    I believe that the best blogs are really labors of love. That people start them because they have something to say, that isn’t being addressed in the MSM. Publicly speaking the truth as a form of personal integrity. That’s why you’re my hero Yves.

  17. Harlem Dad

    Some sort of rebranding is in order, but it won’t prevent the use of ad hominem to discredit one’s ideas.

    FWIW, I’m more than willing to pay an annual fee to read NC. I pay 50 cents a pop to buy a Daily News or a NY Post and all I really get for my trouble is ink stains on my fingers.

    Yves, anytime you want to send me a bill …

    Tim in Sugar Hill

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