Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Mike Elk

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times

January 17th, 2012 2:26 PM

Wonk Bloggers and the Vanishing Voices of Workers

This article originally appeared at In These Times Magazine, where Mike Elk is a staff writer

 

Earlier this week, I got into a little Twitter battle with Matthew Yglesias after the prominent blogger tweeted out “"EXCLUSIVE: The activities of individual business executives have no relationship to the level of economy-wide employment.” 

That statement flies in the face of my own reporting showing that the decisions of individual CEOs to lay off workers and lower wages have a very real effect on economy-wide employment. If one CEO sees that he or she can crush a union and get away with lower wages, or force workers to be more productive by laying off other workers, other CEOs in the same industry will see it as a symbol that they can get away with that behavior themselves.

I typically don't bother getting into fights with bloggers. But the hiring of wonky bloggers  like YglesiasSlate hired him as its "business and economics correspondent" last November—is a labor issue that not only affects the industry in which I work, but also the quality of journalism that is crucial to the lives of workers. Yglesias is a trend-setting blogger who The New York Times labeled as one of the “New Brat Pack,” whose ability to produce massive amounts of content could lead to the downsizing of news organizations through the elimination of traditional reporters who produce less content.

At a time when many seasoned reporters are being laid off by publications—like four veteran writers and editors who were laid off in August a few months before Yglesias was hired at Slate—mainstream news publications are turning to wonky bloggers like Ygelsias and fellow Brat Packer Ezra Klein (of The Washington Post) to turn out massive amounts of content and generate traffic. These bloggers can turn out 6-12 posts a day while traditional reporters, who take the time to go out in the field and interview people affected by the subject of their stories, can typically only turn out 3-4 stories a week. The result is that workers' voices are often excluded in the rush to produce quick blog content.

For instance, take a piece Yglesias wrote this week about attacks on Mitt Romney and private equity firms. These firms often get rich by using companies like credit cards, pumping them up with debt before (sometimes) liquidating companies in bankruptcies and laying off workers, as I covered in the case of Armstrong World Industry lockout. (For more on how private equity firms saddle companies with debt and often lead to massive layoffs and wage cuts, see this excellent New York Times feature by Julie Creswell,  “Profits for Buyout Firms as Company Debt Soared" and the accompaning video titled “Flipped: How Private Equity Dealmakers Can Win While Their Companies Lose.

Yglesias wrote on Twitter about the piece, “Romney and Bain didn't do anything wrong, but we still might not want an asshole in the White House.” He expands:

The art of the leveraged buyout and the private equity restructuring is, needless to say, different in many ways from the art of innovation. But they don’t differ in their destructive potential. And while layoffs and closures are devastating to families and households, restructuring troubled firms are often the best way to preserve jobs and shareholder value in the long run.

Yglesias does not provide any examples of how the so-called “destructive potential” of private equity firms leads to a company being successful over the long run. Unlike  Creswell, Ygelsias does not interview economic experts or workers with varying or opposing views of the effects of private equity firm-ordered layoffs.

While they work at mainstream media outlets, wonk bloggers like Yglesias and Klein aren't held to the same standards as the reporters working for the same outlets. Yet many young Americans view them as trusted sources of where to get news.

Like Klein, Yglesias has written on a wide range of healthcare, economic and foreign issues, despite not having done in-depth field reporting on these topics. Their stories are often centered on the debates of the day between other journalists and policy elites, and they don't talk to workers or the general public.

Take, for instance, one of Yglesias' recent posts “Blame Ikea and H&M for Inequality,” where—again, without interviewing anyone, he writes about the success of Ikea and H&M, saying:

Under the circumstances, it's obvious that the income gap between the CEO of H&M and the average Swedish worker is going to grow. But that doesn't mean that the CEO's income growth has come at the expense of middle class Swedes. On the contrary, it's come at the expense of the owners and managers of rival retailers around the world....What's true of H&M, of course, is also true of Ikea.

Apparently the growth of a company like H&M or Ikea could not have come through exploiting workers, a notion my In These Times colleague Josh Eidelson explored in a piece whose headline says it all: "Union Victory at Virginia IKEA Plant: Resistance Grows Against Race-to-Bottom Wages."

Or take another post by Yglesias titled “Bus Drivers Should Be Paid What It Costs to Hire Competent Bus Drivers.” He writes, “It’s extremely difficult to have excellent public services if the debate is polarized between people who want to reduce spending in order to cut taxes, and people who want to view the bus system as a jobs program for bus drivers. When a city is having trouble attracting qualified applicants for bus driver jobs, that’s a sign that the wage is too damn low.”

Yglesias did not interview bus drivers about how much they make, like Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business did for a story about the upcoming contract negotiations for New York City transit workers. Instead he suggests that perhaps bus drivers’ wages should be lowered if qualified applicants can be paid to work at a lower wage.  

Yglesias declined to comment on whether or not he would apply the same wage logic to his own salary. He also refused a more in-depth interview for this piece.

But his salary is relevant here, since traditional news publications are turning to bloggers like him to produce content. Bloggers with personalized brands and large Twitter followings (Yglesias has nearly 35,000 followers) are attractive to publications because they bring in a guaranteed audience. In addition, they are also cheaper to employ than traditional reporters, per the ratio of content they produce. Bloggers like Yglesias can turn out 6-12 blogs a day in some cases.

By constantly turning out content, these bloggers generate a lot of traffic. But it's worth asking if the quality of their analysis is the same as professional journalism. This is not to say bloggers cannot provide valuable analysis. Yves Smith, who worked for nearly two decades in the finance industry has an excellent blog at Naked Capitalism, Marcy Wheeler, who worked for years in the auto industry, has an excellent blog at Emptywheel, and labor history professor Erik Loomis writes Lawyers, Guns and Money, a must-read blog on labor history and its applications for unions today. But these people, unlike Yglesias, have years of experience and are writing for their own sites, not mainstream news organizations.

I should note that I started off as a labor blogger who often wrote stories without interviewing workers or presenting contrasting opinions fairly. But under the mentorship of old-school reporters like The Nation’s William Greider, I realized this type of writing did a  deep disservice to workers. I began to realize that the more you learn as a journalist, the more you realize how much you do not know. Quite often, the best journalism presents all sides to complex questions and problems without trying to definitely answer those questions—such journalism lets people speak for themselves, and in doing so lets readers answer questions for themselves.

As mainstream news organizations keep hiring bloggers instead of reporters, and readers of my generation (I'm 25) increasingly turn to people like Yglesias to get news, it’s  important to ask if these news organizations are endangering journalism's mission to serve the public interest by presenting a full range of voices affected by a story—in particular, the voices of workers. If we really want to understand the problems of today's economy, shouldn’t we let workers speak for themselves?

Creative Commons License This content is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles