Neighborhood News

The dog days of summer arrived ahead of schedule — or so it seemed. Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke’s presumed farewell appearance before Congress last week left markets and market followers wondering whom will President Obama choose to replace him – and how the Senate Republicans will react when the nomination is made.

I had nothing to add until it happens, so last week I decided to do some maintenance on the Economicprincipals j-roll. This is the list of links to the work of other economics journalists whom I follow that appears in the left sidebar of the EP page.

Thus I added Matthew O’Brien, of The Atlantic, after reading  Why Christina Romer Should Be the Next Fed Chair,  and Floyd Norris, of The New York Times, after reading The Time Bernanke Got It Wrong.

I resisted for years installing Norris among economic journalists, not because I don’t read him – of course I do – but because his abiding interest in finance and accounting seemed a convenient way to distinguish the boundary between economic and financial journalism.  But recently that boundary has been shifting, and Norris seems to me to have pretty clearly become one of us.

I added John Steele Gordon to the list, too, after a friend sent me The Last Trace of a Great Newspaper. I regret that I can’t regularly read Barron’s, which, nearly a century after it opened for business, remains a very lively weekly.  I am already overwhelmed by weekend reading – The Financial Times Life and Arts section, The Wall Street Journal Review section, the Sunday New York Times, The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek.

I updated a number of links, and lingered over an item by Jonathan Cohn, of The New Republic, on the difficulty of covering the reception of Obamacare, then went on to read an account of the state of play he recommended by Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff, of The Washington Post. I looked for a way to permanently incorporate this hilarious lapse in Deal Book editorial standards at The New York Times, which illustrates so well the perils of outsourcing. I didn’t find one, so I included it only in passing.

The torpor ended abruptly Sunday morning, when I picked up to the NYTimes.  After reading  “A Shuffle of Aluminum, But to Banks, Pure Gold/Firms Profit and Consumers Pay Billions as Metal is Moved Among Warehouses”, I added David Kocieniewski’s page to the roll.  His story is a blockbuster, quite literally, I expect.

There has been a good deal of uneasiness all along about the emergency mash-up of big banking institution that t.he Bush administration and the Federal Reserve Board achieved during the 2008 crisis. It grew when the banks were permitted to acquire non-financial businesses afterwards. That will likely grow into break-’em-up rage once implications of the Times‘ story — in this instance, about Goldman Sachs manipulations in the aluminum warehousing industry — are thoroughly and widely understood.

As it happens, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has hearings scheduled for Tuesday on banks’ post-crisis acquisition of  warehouses, pipelines and port facilities.  Get ready for a rock-’em-sock-’em summer after all, with major implications for the nomination of the next chairman of the Fed.

I added the j-roll to the site three years ago, to emphasize the fundamental distinction between journalists, who work mostly for their readers, and bloggers, who may have lively and sophisticated interest in their subject, but who most often have day jobs working in other careers, and who therefore may be tempted to advances those interests, or at least not to offend those upon which their advancement depends. The j-roll is, I suppose, intended to be an advertising gimmick (though some of the people who pay the bills around here don’t know it exists: EP underwriters, who pay $50 a year to receive via email an early, or bulldog edition, often don’t look at the later version on the Web.) As it says in the FAQs, “This is not a blog.”  Instead, EP has been my livelihood for the nearly dozen years since I left The Boston Globe.

That’s not to say that the blogosphere, which erupted a decade ago, is not a fabulous addition to traditional media, a digital cornucopia from which a torrent of information of every sort pours constantly, whether you want it or not. For the most part, though, the canons of disinterested journalism are not observed there. There are opinion pages, letter-to-the-editor pages, know-me-through-what-is-pasted-on-my-office-door pages, here’s-what-I’ve-been-thinking-about-recently pages. And the blogrolls that were invented to increase traffic now permit widely-followed pages to rise to the top and attract substantial advertising.  But that is still not quite the same as persuading readers to reach into their pockets to pay for what they are reading. And that, in my book, is what makes journalism.

There were some 60 names on my J-roll in the beginning; today the list includes more than 110, including a large number of up-and-comers.  Economics journalism seems alive and well, and quite possibly better than ever, especially since print newspapers, magazines, and broadcast franchises have begun to exploit Web-based extensions; a new generation of web-based start-ups like, say, Quartz, have begun to appear; and sponsored content, some of it very good, is booming.

The hierarchy is intact.  Traditional newspapers remain at the top; data-base news services (Bloomberg, Reuters) are coming on strong, thanks to their powerful revenues; magazines still count, especially those that permit specialists to conduct a proper reconnaissance.

But books remain the gold standard for long-form journalism. Phenoms like statistical journalist Nate Silver may rocket to stardom on the strength of a blog like but they still move up to mainstream media (last week Silver announced he would leave the NYTimes for ESPN), and they still write books to give their arguments a proper setting (The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t, in his case).

Even EP writes books. Journalists content to simply serve their periodical readers, like John Berry, of International Economy, and, so far, Klein, of the WPost, remain as rare as completely honest men.

3 responses to “Neighborhood News”

  1. You write, “who pay $50 a year to receive via email an early, or bulldog edition,”

    So that’s what “bulldog” means! I thought it was some sort of on-line-reading app. You’ll note that meaning of “bulldog” isn’t in Wikitionary. You might want to explain in more common words what the subscription gets a reader; more readers might take you up on it.

  2. Yes, it’s true that the subscription page states clearly that “In newspaper parlance, a bulldog is an early edition.” But I’ve never gone to the subscription page because the link to it says “Receive the Bulldog Edition” and I don’t *have* Bulldog. And there may be a lot of other people who have never gone to the subscription page for the same reason.

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