The greatest strength of financial blogs is also a potential weakness. There is so much information that readers frequently rely upon the interpretation of the writer. Most people do not click through to the supporting links. They go to their favorite sources for information, and generally rely upon the interpretation of the writer.
We know this is true from our own stats, even when we strongly encourage readers to check out an entire article. Readers rely upon us to make accurate representations of source material. We are expected to provide a fair summary and accurate illustrative quotations.
Fair enough. No one has time to check out all of the sources, no matter how carefully we try to document.
This is in sharp contrast with mainstream print sources, where editorial procedures review material before it is published. Not so in the blogosphere.
The issue can be simply stated:
Blogs with a wide following have a special responsibility to check and re-check accuracy before posting. If the authors do not do so, there is an easy means of manipulation.
Step one: Get a dubious story out there somewhere -- anywhere.
Step two: Get a noted blogger or pundit to mention the story.
Step three: Mainstream media sources race each other to be first with this news.
Trust in link sources is vital.
We feature several blogs where the authors provide plenty of links and summaries. Some of the sources are anonymous bloggers. We believe this conveys a special responsibility, since the reader does not know the background or skill of the writer. It takes more evidence to be convinced of these sources, but the proof is evident in the work. If one checks out the links, the accuracy proves out.
Here are examples of sources where the links are fairly interpreted with very high reliability:
- Abnormal Returns. The summary tells you what you will see. You can choose whether to read it.
- Charles Kirk. Always interesting, always accurate. Many interesting links.
- Alea. Anonymous, but with special insight on credit markets.
- Calculated Risk. Respected by everyone -- earned through accuracy.
- Paul Kedrosky. Especially useful in finding interesting academic papers.
- The Big Picture. Barry has a viewpoint, but his sources are always carefully documented and accurate.
- Muckdog. We like the "everyman" viewpoint, which often captures the spirit of the market. The links support his statements.
- Dr. Brett. Unchallenged authenticity, with widely varying interests.
- David Merkel. What you see is what you get in links at The Aleph Blog.
- Adam Warner. The quotes are always representative.
We are leaving out many, of course, but this is designed to illustrate. The WSJ blogs, for example, are carefully sourced.
The Jury is Out for Some
Like many others we follow the work of the anonymous blogger "Tyler Durden." Seeking Alpha assures us that this person is an authority. He has rocketed to a high level in the new Seeking Alpha rankings -- a position of influence and responsibility. Many of the articles display interesting and informative insight concerning the inner workings of big firms and hedge funds.
Since there does seem to be a viewpoint in the Durden work, we have great interest in the sourcing and evidence. Let us look at an example of links from the prolific Durden.
Since we have opined on CNBC politics, this was of great interest. Our viewpoint is that opinion shows like Kudlow's in the evening are interesting and informative. Viewers know what they are getting, and it is a lively debate. We do not like the intermingling of politics and journalism during the business day, when CNBC anchors get to interview authoritative guests. We are not very interested in the opinions of the journalists, and viewers should not be either.
If one reads the link, one can readily see that the quoted section does not accurately represent the article.
Immelt acknowledged a meeting took place but said no one at CNBC was told what to say or not say about politics.
During the woman's follow-up question, her microphone was cut off.
The key point is that Immelt denied the charge in the Durden quote. Perhaps he suggested that journalists should be journalists in non-opinion shows. We do not know, of course, but that would be a good thing. Helping investors to separate political decisions from their finances is good advice, as we have frequently suggested.
Even more telling is this section from the rest of the article:
"The crowd was very upset with MSNBC because of its leftward tilt," one attendee said. "Some former employees said they were embarrassed by it."
One specific complaint about MSNBC concerned Keith Olbermann's interview of actress Janeane Garofalo, who likened conservatives to racists and spoke of "the limbic brain inside a right-winger."
We spend very little time on MSNBC, but from what we have seen, we can understand the criticism. Once again, the key is whether the program purports to be journalism or opinion. This part of the article is exactly the opposite of the theme of the Durden quote.
Briefly put, we do not think that the Durden summary of the link is a fair and accurate representation of the article.
Another recent example is the unsourced claim that SPY is hard to borrow. This was challenged by Doug Kass (full disclosure -- Kass is a valued colleague at TheStreet.com). Kass checked this out and found no problem with a borrow. Here is the Durden response:
I have received emails from several trading sources, stating that the market is rising because the SPDRs (SPY) are hard to borrow now and arbs are being squeezed.
This story is hogwash, as I just tried to borrow 500,000 SPDRs and had no problem doing so!
Maybe Doug can disclose at what term and rate he got the borrow. Doug - I am dead serious - can I borrow 5 million SPY right now at 0% from you? Hell, will give you 1%
Position: Long SPY; short SPY puts and short SPY calls
We expect to hear more about this dispute. Meanwhile, anyone wanting to short the market can do so through a futures account. There is no problem in "borrowing" e-mini's to go short, the method favored by those of us in Chicago. There is an arbitrage opportunity with SPY. The claim of a problem in shorting does not have face validity, so we look forward to some evidence.
It is easy for investment readers to be swept up by apparent authenticity, especially from a source that everyone seems to follow.
We hope that "Tyler Durden" will balance frequency of posting with accuracy in representing links.
We have a continuing concern about the "leaked stress test" story, where he is a supporter of a dubious source. That is a question for another day.