Less dirt, more data — why Australia’s econo-bloggers matter

"Australia has very few anarcho-capitalist bloggers like Paul Staines of Guido Falkes [sic] fame, reformed raver libertarians with an eye for scandal (and another on the latest market moves)" writes Christian Kerr. Instead of breaking stories, he says Australia’s political bloggers serve up analysis and talk … "Endless talk."

For those who don’t know already, Guido Fawkes not only blogs on the news — he makes it. It was Fawkes who revealed that Labour blogger Derek Draper was getting anti-Tory dirt direct from No 10. The revelations resulted in the resignation of a Downing Street staffer, Damian McBride.

Talk and analysis may not be as exciting as getting a senior political adviser sacked, but putting facts in context can be important. Some of Australia’s best economic bloggers look to columnists like Paul Krugman for inspiration. Like Krugman they try to make sense of events rather than just report them. As the Washington Monthly’s Nicholas Confessore writes:

The tax cut, Bush’s Social Security plan, Enron, the energy crisis, and Harken–all Krugman hobbyhorses–were widely covered in the media. But he has been the only prominent columnist to attempt to weave all of them into a single, continuing narrative about the Bush administration’s policies, wealth inequality, corporate profiteering, and the ascendancy of crony capitalism.

With economic stories, the data doesn’t always speak for itself. Sometimes there’s an opportunity for a conceptual scoop — a striking new way of making sense of what’s going on. A graph, a metaphor or a bit of historical context can transform lifeless data in a compelling story. In the rush to report the news, this is something newspapers often fail to do. For example, at the Columbia Journalism Review Liza Featherstone explains how the Wall Street Journal is trying too hard to cover the news and in the process:

… the paper has failed to explicate the big questions—what happened and why—ceding the role of authoritative explainer and investigator to, ironically, The New York Times, which has a business staff one-seventh the size of the Journal’s. With all the focus on the factual scoop at the new Journal, says one reporter of his managers, “I don’t think they realize the value of the conceptual scoop, which is so important in business news. When you present a new idea and back it up with numbers and the reader says, ‘Holy crap, I didn’t know that before.’”

Some of the most interesting blogging in Australia today is coming from writers like Andrew Leigh. An academic economist, Leigh loves data. His best posts not only give you the numbers, but make you as excited about them as he is.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, economics is at the centre of politics. So even though econo-bloggers like John Quiggin, Peter Martin, Nicholas Gruen, Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh aren’t getting anyone sacked, they’re well worth reading.

Update: At Core Economics, Joshua Gans responds by drawing up a list of his most influential posts.

The “rainforest alliance-certified, decaff and soy brigade” at Larvatus Prodeo have a few things to say about Kerr’s column. In the comments thread Mark writes:

Ive never heard of the blogger cited – but as Mick said, he seems to trade in Westminster gossip. Why is that necessarily of higher quality than analysis of climate change policy here, Quiggins stuff on the economy, the excellent posts on feminism at many, many places, the great litbloggers, etc, etc?

Great litbloggers? Christian Kerr is the Richard Reid of Australian political reporting. Why would he be interested in great litbloggers?

12 thoughts on “Less dirt, more data — why Australia’s econo-bloggers matter

  1. I agree, Don. Though all the names you cite are people who are people who did not originally make their names as bloggers and whose views would be heard whether they were bloggers or not.

  2. Quiggin’s stuff on the economy

    That should read “stuff and nonsense” surely?

    The Hayek/Friedman/Thatcher/Pinochet/Reagan/Howard junta has collapsed as the neoliberal religion is crushed by the ALP daisy distributers of social democracy and their public service ‘human services’ comrades”.

    Meanwhile, back to Anna Bligh’s budget and the recent EU election results, if you please. For which, perhaps, we might divert to Australian economics blogging’s even more stuff and much more nonsense.

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/06/15/whats-with-anna-bligh/

  3. Poor Mark misses the point, of course.

    Ive never heard of the blogger cited – but as Mick said, he seems to trade in Westminster gossip.

    I think it is a bit more than that. They called it investigative journalism, before the word dropped out of common usage.

    Why is that necessarily of higher quality than analysis of climate change policy here,

    It is d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t. Not hard to grasp. As it is there are people wanking on about climate change policy in every single paper in the country. There aren’t many conducting investigative journalism.

    Quiggins stuff on the economy,

    Ditto, except worse because this time the guy in question is actually one of the people doing the wanking on.

    the excellent posts on feminism at many, many places, the great litbloggers, etc, etc?

    Huh? Does anyone care?

    The point is not that Guido Fawkes is better than every/anyone else, but that he adds something distinctive which the regular mass of journos, let alone the larva rodeo, doesn’t.

    Kinda like what we see with the coverage of Iran at the moment, in fact.

  4. Patrick – I don’t think Mark is missing the point. Guido’s blog is all about gossip and he made a name for himself by posting the kind of stories journalists traded amongst themselves but didn’t publish. He’s successful in the same way that Matt Drudge was successful.

    Of course the McBride affair goes one step beyond that. And I think that Kerr wants someone in the Australian blogoshere to do the same kind of thing with the Melbourne blogger he’s unable or unwilling to name.

    Christian Kerr is interested in this kind of thing and Mark isn’t.

    Andrew – You’re right. The economists (and I forgot the mention Fred) don’t owe their public profile to blogging.

    Which Australian bloggers do you think have relied on the web to make a name a for themselves?

  5. “I think that Kerr wants someone in the Australian blogoshere to do the same kind of thing with the Melbourne blogger hes unable or unwilling to name.”

    Rank hypocrisy. Can’t he spell Landeryou?

  6. “I think that Kerr wants someone in the Australian blogoshere to do the same kind of thing with the Melbourne blogger hes unable or unwilling to name.”

    Rank hypocrisy. Or can’t he spell Landeryou?

  7. Don -

    Tim Dunlop used blogging to get into MSM blogging, but left pretty quickly.

    Mark Bahnisch built a profile out of LP, and LP is big as Australian blogs go.

    You’ve built a very good reputation as a blogger, but so far you have only a modest publication record outside blogging.

  8. Pointless observation: we seem to have gotten more traffic from LP’s reference to this followup to Kerr’s Oz op-ed than we did from the op-ed itself.

  9. Pingback: Looking to Krugman at catallaxyfiles

  10. Jacques – In my experience, MSM mentions rarely result in discernible traffic increases. Google and other blogs are the only major external sources of additional visits.

  11. Jacques

    That is because LP acts as both a free outsourced distribution channel for The Oz’ op-ed page, free PR for its writers, and thirdly as a large captive market segment of an otherwise hard to aggreggate pscyhographic. Win-Win for The Oz; silly putzes The Luvvies.

  12. Pingback: Club Troppo » Laurie Oakes is missing the point

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