Felix Salmon smackdown watch

By Felix Salmon
July 1, 2009
Choire is quite right when he notes:

Taibbi at least is explaining (or trying to explain!) complicated financial operations to the real world—while the finance writers and bloggers are often willfully obscure, tradey, impenetrable and even at times useless to any audience who actually isn't working at (or recently laid off from) a bank. Why are they so willing to abandon us when they should be explaining things to use more than ever?


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I’ve been saying for a while that much mainstream financial journalism is very weak, and that one would in many cases be better off reading blogs instead. But Choire is quite right when he notes:

Taibbi at least is explaining (or trying to explain!) complicated financial operations to the real world—while the finance writers and bloggers are often willfully obscure, tradey, impenetrable and even at times useless to any audience who actually isn’t working at (or recently laid off from) a bank. Why are they so willing to abandon us when they should be explaining things to use more than ever?

One reason is that we bloggers are lazy, and don’t want to explain things like bond spreads and CDSs and CDOs and SIVs every time we write about them: we prefer to remain snappy.

Another reason is that we have big egos (and are lazy) and therefore too often make the assumption that our readers have been following much if not all of what we’ve written on a subject. If I write my sixth blog entry in three days on the Community Reinvestment Act, I might well assume that my readers know what I’m talking about when I refer to it.

But there is a real sense in which financial bloggers do tend to gravitate to writing for other financial bloggers and finance-market professionals, rather than the broad mass of the public. We’re niche media, aren’t we meant to do that?

Actually, we’re not particularly meant to do that, and Choire rightfully points to the Baseline Scenario as a blog which makes a real effort to keep things comprehensible to as many people as possible. (Although the posts there can be very dry.)

And really Choire is right: we would be performing a much greater public service if we generally wrote our blog entries in English rather than in financial shorthand. It’s not like we’re incapable of doing so: I appear on NPR’s Marketplace quite regularly and talk in perfectly comprehensible English about just about anything I cover on my blog.

One good solution is to follow Paul Krugman’s lead: he writes for a general audience, yet allows himself to get wonky once in a while. When he does that he gives good warning, by putting a (wonky) warning in the headline. And there’s certainly nothing unsophisticated about Krugman’s blog — accessibility doesn’t mean you have to be banal or patronizing.

Is there a risk that being broadly accessible reduces the quality of one’s comment threads? Maybe, I doubt it. Mainly it just makes blogging a little bit more difficult — we have to think a bit harder about what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. And that’s really no bad thing at all.

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