Blogonomics: Econoblog Awards

Dean Rotbart is full of bright ideas. Here’s the latest, in a comment on this blog:

Let’s establish a non-profit, volunteer board of people to recommend standards for financial bloggers, dealing with issues such as conflicts-of-interest, disclosure, and accountability.

Second, let’s establish a annual awards recognition for econobloggers who bring honor to their craft… I will pledge the first $2,500 toward this awards program and agree to help raise another $30K (from non-PR, non-corporate folks) to make the program viable. Any takers?

Not me.

I’m going to bash this horse just a little bit further, because I have a feeling that if Dean doesn’t get it – and Dean’s a bright guy – then a lot of other people don’t get it either. Blogging is not a craft which is honored by the good bloggers and sullied by the bad. It’s a medium, a conversation, a babble. Its very variety is its strength.

I emailed Dean yesterday:

Your main argument seems to be that journalists are better at being journalists than bloggers are. And you’re right about that. But that’s not what blogs are for, and it’s not what we claim to do. It’s a bit like complaining about your hairdresser who gave you a little scalp massage after washing your hair, on the grounds that you can get a much better scalp massage from a qualified masseur.

Any board of Dean’s is likely to honor the most journalist-like bloggers: the ones with disclosure and accountability, the ones without gossip and rumor and snark. There might well be some bloggers out there who aspire to "bring honor to their craft", but I’m sure they’re in a minority. And there might be some readers out there who are scared of the wild wild blogosphere, and who would love Dean Rotbart to hold their hand and tell them which blogs are kosher (not to mention the blogs which don’t mix their metaphors). But the broad mass of blog readers would have no interest in this kind of thing, and the broad mass of blog writers would be interested mainly in the money.

What I love most about the blogosphere is, frankly, the anonymous bloggers – people who are in the industry, generally, and therefore can’t reveal their identities, but who know what they’re talking about and are often very funny to boot. The world would be a poorer place without The Epicurean Dealmaker or Tanta or Abnormal Returns or any number of other anonymous econoblogs, but pretty much by definition they don’t have the "accountability" which Dean seems to consider so vitally important.

What blogs would he give awards to? I know that Dean admires Mark Thoma’s excellent Economist’s View blog, but even that might fall short of Dean’s standards, since Mark has a habit of quoting at slightly greater length than some people might consider fair use. If Dean wants full disclosure etc etc he’ll find himself gravitating towards blogs on big media sites like the FT or the WSJ or even Portfolio, which would be really boring and largely defeat the purpose, since the very vibrancy of blogging comes from the fact that it’s mostly not done by journalists.

The fact is, as I said on the econobloggers panel with Dean, that blogs tend to get the readers they deserve. Dean is worried, essentially, that naive readers will stumble across a blog and treat it uncritically, as they would a newspaper. But in practice that doesn’t happen: the people who enjoy clicking around the blogosphere tend to be people who read not only blogs but also newspapers very critically. And in many cases, of course, it’s the commenters who really make a blog great.

Four years ago, I posted a long and boring blog entry on the ethics of blogging. It was generally, and rightly, ignored. Bloggers can and should behave as they will. If you don’t like a particular blogger’s attitude or behavior, don’t read that blog. If you’re a blogger, and you’re sloppy and unreliable, you’ll probably not get much in the way of readers or links from other blogs. In that sense, blogs are self-policing. And they certainly don’t need Dean Rotbart or anybody else to tell them which of them are "bringing honor to their craft".

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