Anonymous Blogging: Take it or Leave it

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When the generally useless CNBC anchor Dennis Kneale starts pointing fingers at anonymous/pseudonymous business and finance bloggers, referring to us as "digital dickweeds," its time I take a few minutes to address this issue.

Being a sometimes contributor to the controversial finance blog, Zerohedge, and a moderately well-known pseudonymous blogger, I think I have a unique perspective on this issue.


As a matter of principle, I absolutely support the idea that the message is more important than the vessel by or through-which that it is delivered.  The Economist seems to agree, and last I checked, they've managed to do pretty well even though they lack any "celebrity" contributors like most MSM.  Such has been my experience, that the most vocal critics of anonymous publishing are often those whose "success" depends more on their "celebrity" than the quality of their words and ideas. 

Lost on many critics is the important distinction that all anonymous bloggers are not created equal; some are hacks spouting all manner of crazy and stupid, while some are accomplished professionals and/or academics.  Some subscribe to generally high standards of integrity, diligence, and discourse; others, not so much.  Some do their own in-depth research and analysis, while others are primarily aggregation services, offering up short commentary on articles from other content providers. 

Most, however, fall somewhere in-betwixt these extremes, and tend to vary between them depending over time and topic.  Any remotely intelligent person should be able to decided if a particular blog/blogger is worth following after a few posts or depending on frequency of posting, a few months; To lump all of us together is, like most blanket statements, ridiculous.

Media pundits and critics of anonymous/pseudonymous bloggers argue that without knowing a writer's identity, one can't tell whether to take them seriously, or whether they have any standing or experience upon which to base their claims.  I'm curious, though, how the same criticism can't be levied upon all talking heads in print, on TV, on the radio, or online; Why the heck should we take Gretchen Morgenson's word for anything?  Why should we listen to any of the anchors on CNBC or a writer for the Forbes?  Sure, an impressive resume may indicate, as a proxy, that one knows what he or she is talking about, however, ultimately, the content is the only thing that matters.  Heck, a not insignificant portion of my writing has been in the form of critiques of weak reporting and analysis that flowed from Pulitzer-prize-winning fingers!     

Myself, and several of my fellow pseudonymous business/finance bloggers enjoy lending our knowledge and expertise to educate the public, however, we are, to varying degrees of necessity unable to write under our "real" identities.  Most of our firms have strict policies about conflicts of interest, holding outside employment, data confidentiality and the like which would find most of us jobless were we to post even the most docile information under our given names.  Two such bloggers, "Large" from TakeAReport and my colleague "1-2" from 1-2 Knockout, were terminated from their Wall Street jobs at least partially from their blogging activities although you'll have to ask each of them respectively for the details.

Judging by the comments and hits my various blogging efforts have received, it seems astoundingly clear that "the public" would rather deal with limited knowledge about my true identity, in exchange for being able to read my thoughts and analysis.  Other pseudonymous bloggers with whom I've worked and/or spoken echo these thoughts.  This, to me, indicates that many blog readers (but certainly not all!) are intelligent-enough to be able to tell when someone is full of it, and when they actually know their stuff.  Add to the fact that blogging best-practices support in-line citation/linking of background data, etc, and that many of us make a habit of responding to reader comments, and its not hard to realize that at least some (but certainly not all!) anonymous business bloggers are adding significant value.  Certainly some anonymously-published blogs add far more value than do many of the flapping heads or "professional" business reporters, but that's almost the point. For example, ask yourself: would you rather have never learned about High Frequency Trading, an issue largely brought to public attention and the main-stream by blogs such as Zerohedge, just because the author is anonymous?  Sure, even the best of breed are guilty of bias or imperfect reporting/analysis, but what media outlet isn't? 

I think when it comes down to it, much of the criticism heaped-upon anonymous business/finance (and really blogs in general) by MSM is borne out of fear.  These former pillars of trust and authority are scared for their careers, scared of becoming (more) irrelevant.  Scared that they can't resort to ad hominem attacks to defend themselves.  Scared that they don't have the knowledge, experience, or what-have-you to fight back against mostly unknown "enemies."
 
In my opinion, some of these critics, like Dennis Kneale, are right to be afraid. 

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Presented by

Jordan Terry

Jordan S. Terry is Founder & Managing Director of Stone Street Advisors LLC, which provides independent financial research & analysis services to institutional investors.

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