Blogonomics: Judging Bloggers

I’m enjoying this conversation with Dean Rotbart far too much to stop now, even though I suspect it’s of interest only to a handful of my readers. But I’m a blogger! So on I go; you’re more than welcome to stop reading now if you have no more interest in this journalists vs bloggers story.

But anyway, a couple of datapoints for you. Firstly, the Washington Post has decided to syndicate stories from TechCrunch. Those stories might well include blog entries by Erick Schonfeld, who was guilty of propagating unconfirmed rumors yesterday. And Erick Schonfeld, it turns out, was on Dean Rotbart’s list of star journalists under the age of 30 in both 1996 and 1997. Rotbart might like to maintain the distinction between bloggers and journalists, but it’s clearly disappearing in front of his very eyes.

Yet he is fighting his corner valiantly, even unto using words like "vomit" to describe what it is that a blogger does. Although I do have to wonder: since Dean is writing on his blog, does that make him, too, a vomiter of views?

I also fear that Rotbart simply hasn’t been reading the blogs he so happily slanders as "gossip, rumor and snark". Yes, some blogs traffic in such things – but many don’t. How much gossip, rumor and snark is one likely to find at Econbrowser or Alpha Sources? Rotbart is right that the world of finance writing "has needed a livelier delivery for a long time" – doesn’t he think that’s exactly what’s being provided by Steve Waldman, Andrew Clavell, TED, Baruch, and many others? Where in the financial press is the yield curve watched with greater avidity than at Across the Curve? Where is the housing crunch covered in greater or more intelligent detail than at Calculated Risk? Where can world-class economists like Brad DeLong and Dani Rodrik engage in public uncensored debate about current events without having to fight their way through thickets of commissioning editors worried about whether everything they write will be comprehensible to all the readers of the publication in question?

Yet that’s not how Rotbart is thinking:

Some of what I read, in fact much of what I read, is all snark and no substance.

If the blogosphere is a medium, a conversation and a babble, over time it has to be a number of additional things: pertinent, informative, factual (sorry, Felix) and accountable (double sorry, Felix).

You can go to a dinner party and be amused by the slightly inebriated guest who speaks of his financial and sexual conquests. He is certainly more lively than the staid insurance salesman. But after a steady diet month in and month out of hearing about the lush’s financial and sexual adventures, I think most people will grow wary. Especially when the boaster shows up night after night in shabby, worn clothes and no date.

There are far more examples in the old dead-tree world of journalism of financially successful credible news organizations than their are of gossip rags such as the National Enquirer. There is a reason for this. The marketplace votes with its wallet and its feet. Over time, serious, well-researched, accountable writing (dare I say ‘journalism’) has won out repeatedly over gossip, rumor and snark.

What makes Rotbart think that there’s more "substance" in journalism than there is in the econoblogosphere? After all, as I explained on his panel, financial journalists are generally pretty unqualified to understand what they’re writing about, while financial bloggers often do it for a living.

But the problem is that none of the blogs I just mentioned are "accountable" enough for Rotbart. I’m not entirely sure what he means by this, but judging by what he said on the panel, he means that if he doesn’t like what I write, he can complain to my editor, rather than being forced to complain to me directly.

What Rotbart wants, it seems, is to bring the whole editorial org chart crashing down onto the blogosphere – something which neither should nor could ever happen. Does he really think that econoblogs aren’t pertinent, informative, or factual? Which ones is he reading? And why does he think that he’s in any way qualified to "help nurture those quality blogs and bloggers"?

Journalists love receiving one of Rotbart’s "30 under 30" awards because it makes them much more employable, and it looks great on their resumes. But bloggers have their own source of recognition: inbound links. I’m sure I’d be flattered to get an award from a grand-sounding organization run by Rotbart. But I’m much more flattered, every day, when people I hugely respect and admire link to things I’ve written and accept me as a member of their community. What Dean Robart plus $2,500 could do one day a year, Mark Thoma does every day of the year when he links to the best writing around the blogosphere. We have our judges, and they are us.

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