It’s been an amazing time with True/Slant. The past 16 months have been intense, terrifying and wonderful. But first things first: Thank you to the T/S crew, a gracious, supportive, and inspiring team who created a wonderful community of writers.
Thanks to Lewis D’Vorkin for the vision; to Andrea Spiegel and Coates Bateman for bringing me in and for unfailing encouragement and patience; to Michael Roston, the headline doctor and blogosphere tutor; and to Steve McNally and David Cautin for the behind-the-scenes work that kept the site going. And a big thank-you to my colleagues, readers and commenters who took the time to keep the conversation going. Where shall we meet again?
A few thoughts before moving on.
True/Slant was born at a pretty crazy time — the economy was crumbling and news organizations were shutting down, cutting staff, looking ways to save money. In early 2009, The Atlantic published an essay that posited The New York Times could fail in only a few months — a shocking thought because it suddenly seemed possible.
That’s just about the moment I decided it was time to re-enter journalism after spending the better part of a decade caring for our two boys.
My husband thought I was nuts. He’s not wrong. If wages are generally unchanged in the past decade for most Americans, they have fallen dramatically for freelance journalists. But I believe this is a temporary stage. (I have to.) The economic model is far from finished; CraigsList, the Internet — they have done their damage. And what they left undone, the Great Recession took care of. But I don’t believe that’s the end of the story by any stretch. Newspapers were a byproduct of the industrial revolution; it was a great ride. The Digital Era has temporarily killed the economic model for journalists, but as we speak I am hopeful that in the next few years, that will change because I suspect we are only mid-revolution. Efforts like T/S are part of that. Big thinkers are throwing out new ideas all the time. If as a society we do value journalism, then I feel confident that we will solve the problem of paying for what we need.
T/S began with the notion of entrepreneurial journalism. It sounded different but as it turns out some things never change. My husband has always said that good reporters are like mini-businesspeople scoping out their beats, carving territory, trying to make a name for themselves. They aren’t particularly good at working for other people or filing things in triplicate. So true.
To me the more fundamental shift in the new journalism revolves around the relationship between reader and writer; between the news subject and the news collector; between source and reporter. We are so much more connected to one another; the competition is more intense to attract and discover one another. The Internet ups the ante on everything; now a byline is a brand. Stories or content are products. Everyone is a reporter.
I confess, sometimes the terms chafe.
But then there’s the excitement of being part of something new and changing; being part of something you can influence. Revolution, if you can survive it, is a heady time.
When I launched this blog I thought that all the upheaval of the financial crisis would bring us to a new Wall Street. I’m less inclined to believe that. It’s fitting that this phase of the blog close with the recent signing of the financial regulatory overhaul bill. It’s a lot of nothing punctuated with a something or two. All in 2300 pages.
One of my early posts focused on AIG and a confidential PowerPoint presentation begging for another round of taxpayer money. This was a few months after the terrifying final quarter of 2008– the quarter when Lehman went under and the Dow plunged more than 700 points in a single day. At the time, the regulators reasoned that the system couldn’t stand another Lehman-like shock. The handouts were unavoidable. But were they?
We’ll never know. In that AIG piece, I took a close look at the language in the PowerPoint, which was clearly designed to scare more money out of taxpayers. The language was vague, ominous, terrifying — it was the monster under the bed.
Opaque language powerfully masked horrible changes in the way we were making decisions about how we lived, invested, and spent money. Many homebuyers didn’t understand what they were signing when they borrowed from unscrupulous lenders; careless investors didn’t truly understand what they were buying when they put money into complex mortgage-backed assets; credit rating agencies didn’t understand what they were rating; and everyone screamed, fright-movie-style, if you don’t save us, we will all die. Because the details were so opaque, no one was really sure if that was true or not. The muddiness hid just how clueless we were. The words were muddy because so were our thoughts.
Going forward I hope to write more about the language of Wall Street and its regulators. The language they use effectively slams the door on anyone who isn’t a member of the club. A little more plain English may prove more potent than 2300 pages of legalese in helping everyone say, hey, this isn’t what we should be doing.
T/S is coming to a close as it was first conceived but many of the basic ideas that drove the site will be re-invigorating Forbes, a venerable brand from another time. On July 31, I will be transferring this blog to NanceFinance; for most of August I will be on vacation, though expect to contribute to financial publications periodically. Please follow me on Twitter to keep tabs on my plans for the fall.
I look forward to continuing the conversation. Your digital space or mine?