Thursday, February 17

Information-Gathering is a Full-Time Job

ThinkEquity Starts Web Log to Gather Ideas (New York Times):
BLOGGING transformed political commentary, rattled the media business and inundated the Internet. Does it have a place on Wall Street? ThinkEquity Partners, a boutique investment bank in San Francisco, will find out as it introduces a Web log today.

Nice lead graf to that story. We've been covering this, too, and hey, we are going to do a Web log, too. Maria Trombly, via IM yesterday, says she's worried they'll just start giving away their expertise and cites blogging gurus saying that the monetary value of self-aggregating open source information is falling to zero. Nonsense. Information has always been a service, not a commodity. You pay someone like Maria--who is managing director of the Freelance Business and Technology Writers Association--because she has superior reporting techniques, a wide network of contacts, and because she's on the scene in Shanghai and you're not. Most importantly, she's not someone with a dog in the fight, so you can trust her. Can you trust Wall Street analysts? Most of the time, but there have been some vivid exceptions lately. Quis custodem custodiet?

The fallacy here is the idea that what both blogs and professional news organization produce is "content," a basic commodity like water or flush toilets.

Actually, what a little team like ours produces is more like crack cocaine: It's been harvested, processed for shipment, packaged, shipped, reprocessed for distribution, concentrated, and chemically optimized to pass straight through customs at the blood-brain barrier. A gazillion hours of background research, pursuing leads, building sources, and reality-testing the claims of various parties has been condensed into a pure hit of relevant information that you can consume very quickly and act on immediately. Reading blogs is like chewing coca leaves with a little piece of limestone, the way South American peasants do. You can do it yourself, but it tends to give you muscular jaws and wear the enamel off your teeth.

The value-add here is trust. That's why the noise machine is working so hard to erode trust in journalistic institutions, unwittingly abetted by MBA content managers with little or no grounding in the journalistic profession, who are quite willing to swap quality for circ, which translates into higher advertising rates, in the short term.

Information is like electricity, it's true, but the contemporary media scene is more and more like Baghdad. That's what all these market data reforms are about in our industry: market intelligence has to be transparent in order to be actionable, but the hidden regulatory land mines just keep blowing up in the faces of industry participants.

The media scene is getting more and more like Baghdad: Insurgents keep trying to blow it up, the CPA's contractors are skimming the reconstruction budget and have no accountability, and the little money that's getting through is all going to fighting just to stay alive. People who really need the service we provide are going to use us as their back-up generator so they can keep their Web server going in the middle of all the chaos.

Hell, there's a company in town here charging $1000+ per year JUST TO AGGREGATE PRESS RELEASES in a narrow field ON A QUARTERLY BASIS. If information, as distinguished from mis- and disinformation, has no monetary value, it's because it's MORE valuable than money. Or, to put it another way, information IS money. See Cryptonomicon.

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