Media Moves

Frankie Flack: Why I hate sites such as Seeking Alpha

January 13, 2014

Posted by Frankie Flack

A lot of business reporters are assholes. I’m not sure there are more assholes per capita in business journalism, but, by virtue of the job, they can be pretty high profile. It’s clear that a lot of those folks get their jollies from seeing share prices swing up or down (mostly down).

But I respect those folks. I may disagree with some of their judgment calls (there is clearly a bias toward covering bad news), but nearly everyone in my Rolodex — even the assholes — is making a genuine effort to get things right.

They check names. They want facts to be correct. They want quotes to be accurate. They work to insulate themselves from accusations of bias. They put their name at the top of the story and stand behind the contents. You want to call those guys up and bitch? They’re happy to mix it up.

So I don’t have a big problem with the assholes.

The bigger threat to quality communication about business is sites such as Seeking Alpha, which follow the hip new media model of letting anyone write with no serious effort to make sure they’re writing accurately and without bias. The site is clogged with anonymous posters, many of whom are writing in clear support of their disclosed positions. And that’s the system working well. The disclosure process itself is done on the honor system, which ain’t ideal when dollars are on the line.

That’s not to say that there’s no quality content on the site. It’s just far harder to tell honest analysis from shilling than it is pretty much anywhere else.

It would be easy to lump the Seeking Alphas of the world in with community posts at BuzzFeed or Huffington Post, where cat-related user-generate content sits harmless or unread or harmlessly unread. But Seeking Alpha is getting eyeballs: 8 million pairs a month. And in a world of shrinking staffs on the business page, Seeking Alpha is filling a void, especially with regard to small cap stocks.

Check out the Google Finance page for your favorite thinly traded ticker. Bet you see a Seeking Alpha story.

This makes my life difficult. I don’t have the time to go and chase 7,000 “contributors,” many of them amateurs, playing dress-up and pretending to be analysts/journalists. And my Rolodex don’t have enough business reporters — even the assholes — to drown out the low-quality content with real, thoughtful reporting.

Up in the ivory towers of journalism, there is some concern that the ratio of flacks to journalists is getting way out of whack (it’s more than three to one now, if you’re interested). Companies are hiring lots more people like me, even as the pool of people like you shrinks. But we’re not building some army of pitchmen designed to blanket reporters with phone calls and emails. We’re trying to fill a void. Figure out ways of getting into the content game with tweets, blogs, “sponsored content,” newsletters and stuff like that.

We believe — in our heart of hearts — that investors and readers will be better off hearing from us than parsing the reality presented by some pseudonym-filled, loosely supervised peanut gallery on the web.

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