Debate Is A Waste Of Time, We Just Want Biases Confirmed In Media We Consume

Tim Worstall at Pando points to the findings of the 2014 Clark Medalist Matthew Gentzkow.

A first set of Gentzkow’s papers studies political bias in the news media.  In “What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from U.S. Daily Newspapers” (Econometrica, 2010), Gentzkow and co-author Jesse Shapiro use textual analysis of a large set of newspaper articles to classify content as more Republican or more Democrat (“media slant”).  This is done using statistical analysis of phrases that differentially show up in Republican versus Democrat Senators’ speeches in the Senate. These constructed measures of media slant match well with conventional wisdom and with other, more ad-hoc and subjective newspaper political classification. Gentzkow and Shapiro then use these measures to estimate demand for newspapers, and to model the newspaper owner’s choice of media slant. They find that most of a newspaper’s media slant can be explained by the preferences of its readers rather than by the tastes of its owner.  The second part of the paper tries to sort out whether the bias of individual papers is driven by “demand” – i.e. the political biases of their target audience – or “supply”, i.e. the idiosyncratic preferences of the owners. They find that it is mostly demand.

This paper is one of a few cited by the AEA in their report but well worth reading. It shines an interesting light on people who break into fits over billionaire media owners / death of public journalism etc.

This is a cool chart: mondo_times_conservativeness_rating

Click! 10 Sensational Quotes From Jamie Whyte You’ll Have To Read Yourself To Believe!

Come on do you really think I’d do a Buzzfeed style list post? Here is a PDF that collects Jamie Whyte’s columns over at the Adam Smith Institute.

Nothing out of the ordinary that would someone who has engaged with non-progressive thought, but Completely Shocking And Unbelievable to most of the New Zealand electorate.

Nevertheless, someone will take the time to examine these columns and assemble a hit job on the new ACT leader.

Here is a random quote that will infuriate so many people:

Start with children. How much is it worth spending to save one? The precise amount is not as important as taking the question seriously. Children are not priceless. In a world of limited resources, nothing is. Any money spent on saving a child is money not spent on something else, including saving other children. Above a certain price, saving a child does more harm than good; the money would be better spent on something else.
From a column that appeared in The Times on 5 November 2008. Reproduced out of context and without discussion of what he was talking about in the column. Just like a trained and skilled journalist would quote him! I have my popcorn ready.

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-Playing Ads Or Videos Must Die

Auto-playing ads or videos are horrible.

There is no excuse for them in 2014.

And while I’m at it – why are so many people still using Flash?


The internet is not television.

Assaulting potential customers with content that can get around AdBlocker is not the way to go about gaining additional business.

But advertisers don’t understand the internet – just like whinging retailers don’t understand the internet.

This means that almost every sector of the economy – particularly the boring ones – still has major growth opportunities if you “do the internet right”.

Felix Salmon on #FutureMedia

This evening I attended a really cool talk by Reuters blogger Felix Salmon at Victoria University’s Design School. He spoke about things like sponsored content, why big legacy media firms struggle with doing the internet right and about how free and shareable content is more valuable than content hidden behind a paywall.

For a flavour of the discussion that went on, check out the twitter q&a –

Anyway, it was cool to have a blogger whose work I’ve followed for ages give a talk in Wellington. It was interesting that because he lives in New York, some of his references were NY centric, but because of the nature of the internet, a ton of global media comes out of New York anyway – let alone the financial media essentially revolving around New York / London.

Although the focus was more towards how publishers would work with advertisers in getting native advertising / sponsored content working, there’s nothing stopping firms doing it themselves. “Content Marketing” isn’t just a fad, being authentic is essential otherwise you’ll have to resort to spamming people with “junk mail” type online advertising.

It certainly gave me a lot to think about over the summer break!

Why Business Insider Australia Should Be A Separate Brand

Business Insider is a light hearted, not to be taken seriously business news and content aggregator. It’s inhabited by an awful lot of clickbait headlines and slideshows like Hot Hedge Fund Wives, but amongst the social sharing trap content, there’s also a small amount of really valuable content.

I wrote a while back about how localisation of international websites is stupid – we visit the FT for UK news, the WSJ for US news, Business Insider for a US perspective on business news. Please, stop making me have to register for accounts or use a VPN in order to get the content I actually want.

Business Insider Australia sucks. I’m not even going to link to it. Business Insider (The Real One) just redesigned their site and it looks a lot better. Crikey is behind a paywall, the SMH and The Age are going behind a paywall for more than 10 articles a month that is not worth it and the partner sites in Australia are the sort of stuff that people want to read – rubbish.

In terms of economics, why do firms choose to provide localised content? I can think of the following reasons:

  • price discrimination amongst advertisers – US ads cost more, Asia ads cost less
  • clear delineation of target market related content – do US readers care about David Jones’ latest collection or Nathan Tinkler’s woes?
  • increasing the value of Business Insider by being able to tell investors “We now have a stand alone presence in Australia – a major Western media market”
  • analytics told them that the amount of traffic from Australia was high enough to justify the investment in localised content

Anyway, despite their reasoning, I think they’d have been better off creating a new brand for their Australian subsidiary. The first few months of a content aggregator are important – you set the tone – and I’m not impressed so far.

I’d consider myself a super-consumer of business news. I’m very impressed with what Reuters are doing with their redesign that focuses on streams of content as opposed to their current site.

I know that their product is controversial, but there’s definitely demand for that sort of content and like it or not, that seems to be where business news is headed. Quartz, a project of The Atlantic, sprinkles in sponsored content every couple of posts from a handful of sponsors.

The launch of Buzzfeed Business has probably provided some sense of urgency at Business Insider. They have their own content management system so probably have a hard time upgrading the site’s look, but they’ve done a reasonable job. It’s nothing compared to the “new” USA Today, but it’s a step in the right direction.

After exams are over I’m going to work through the Marginal Revolution course on media economics. I need to learn more about the economics of media, because when some sites are doing really well with their strategy, I consistently see things that I don’t understand the reasoning behind.

Please Kill The Phrase NZ Inc (Why A Country Is Not A Corporate)

The phrase NZ Inc is so nauseating. Please stop using it. New Zealand is a collection of individuals, firms, government agencies, councils, charities, families, iwi and a whole lot of other fluid groups that change their composition and goals frequently.

A country is not a corporate. New Zealand is not some sort of business enterprise that can be called “NZ Inc”. It’s a really lame phrase anyway – the phrase seems to tilt towards protecting the interests of exporters as opposed to the interests of everyone else who benefits from cheaper imports.

Any attempt to centralise NZ business expansion into particular markets will end up being a waste of time and money. The internet is the great enabler of decentralised business development – a lot of firms simply aren’t producing anything valuable and trying to resuscitate a rubbish business with a “China Growth Strategy” is sadistic and highlights the deficient investment in R&D over the past few decades.

Profitable firms don’t need NZ Inc and handholding from MFAT officials in order to grow their business overseas. They’ve got people on the ground, hooked into local business networks and figuring it out as they go. In some countries, due to NZ jumping on the “make it hard to do business in the 3rd world” bandwagon, you probably don’t want squeaky clean green NZ Inc’s brand associated with the realities of doing business in interior regions of China.

The rise of MBIE, the fall of MFAT, the sidelining of Treasury and the fact that even some of our biggest trading partners only know about New Zealand from Hollywood is proof that all of the NZ Inc branding and spending on cocktail parties and seminars is hardly going to achieve any impact.

The same goes for altering our policy choices in order to make NZ Inc a better place to do business. Anyone who complains about doing business in New Zealand really is having a moan. They’ve clearly never known anyone doing business on a large scale offshore and the enormous hurdles that have to be jumped before even getting plans drawn up for a factory.

At least here in little old New Zealand, we can point out really stupid obstacles to growth and recovery, like not letting people put flats on their property in Christchurch and trying to centrally plan our cities for the next 20 years when every single forecast and growth plan before the likes of the Unitary Plan was supposed to be “THE BIG ONE” that would negate the need for any other “SMART GROWTH NZ INC” strategies.

All of the NZ Inc policy optimisation and strategies are for nothing if entrepreneurs don’t bother turning up. Many are sick and tired of how New Zealand culture equates failure with criminality and how NIMBY attitudes make it impossible to do really simple things – like build flats in Christchurch on big sections to alleviate the housing shortage.

Busting this mini-rant back to some Hayekian truthiness – we know that prices are the best form of coordination. They contain a hell of a lot of information that is specialised and will only be revealed in market transactions when needed. Take Auckland house prices – the price signal is SCREAMING out that more houses need to be built, but the entire council and government approach is to shift incentives and make it hard for people wanting to respond to that price signal to actually do that in a timely manner.

There is no demand for what NZ Inc spruikers are trying to offer the world. The trend for margins in food products is down, middle class Chinese won’t pay a premium for NZ dairy products once they’ve sorted out their internal production quality issues. Clean and green is a myth – just look at rogue dairy farmers and people who think a 2 hour commute is a good use of their time.

At the apex of the “NZ Inc” spin is a really interesting insight into the delusions of grandeur that many New Zealand politicians, officials and businesspeople have. They think we matter, they think we are relevant and they think we can change the way the world does business. It’s so hopelessly naive I’m actually not surprised that John Key aired a while back the idea of New Zealand going for a UN Security Council seat.

We are collectively deluded if we think we can brand ourselves in such a way that it papers over the enormous deficiencies in our labour force, capital stock, housing stock, project approval processes and attitude to business. There are a lot of policy problems that need fixing here before trying to sell a mythical concept to the world.

How Localisation Can Miss The Point

I’m a frequent visitor to BusinessInsider. They recently started an Australian edition, and now you get automatically redirected to that version. You can get into the US edition by clicking above the right of the navigation bar.

I don’t want to visit the Australian Edition of BusinessInsider! BusinessInsider is where I consume news and US markets, US technology and random stuff like slideshows of aircraft carriers and 11 Things I Didn’t Know About Stevie Cohen. It is definitely the junkiest business news aggregator but that’s what makes it great – you always find something relevant because its coverage is so broad.

Localisation can miss the point when your foreign visitors are there for the fact that you are a foreign source of information.

When I visit the Financial Times “logged out”, I’m redirected to the Asian edition of the FT. I love my pink paper, and when I visit the FT I want to read things primarily about the United Kingdom. If I wanted to read about Asia I’d probably go to Bloomberg or the South China Morning Post through Victoria’s PressDisplay subscription.

When I visit the Wall Street Journal, I’m redirected to the Asian edition. While most of the WSJ is gated, there are some good opinion columns and blogs that satisfy the “long tail” interests I have like how Chapter 11 bankruptcies function and following white collar crime cases. Again, if I had a subscription there I’d be able to choose my preferences.

All in all, localisation misses the point for me. I visit foreign news sources because they are foreign and I have a specific desire to consume content from the country they are published in. Redirecting the WSJ to the Asian edition is as useful to me as the National Business Review having a “Europe Edition” if I visited their online edition from the South of France.

I’m sure someone has written a script that stops sites redirecting you based on where you are. Until then, the main solution is to either ignore the website that redirects you or pay for an account. I am almost at the point where the benefit of a Financial Times subscription would exceed its cost!

When you think about it – that’s probably their intention. “If we thwart the ability of foreign potential subscribers to easily access the content a decent percentage will stump up for a subscription”.

What Brendan Horan Tells Us About Our Media

The NZ First MP Brendan Horan turned up for work today. He’s been booted from NZ First by Winston Peters because there are allegations yet to be proven in court that something is fishy with Mr Horan’s late mother’s estate.

This tells us that our media are absolutely pathetic. They have forgotten the maxim of innocent until proven guilty and entered ever more depraved waters over the past few decades.

The New Zealand media are worse than useless. They are primarily staffed (radio, print and TV) by dullards. There are a handful of insightful commentators and good interviewers, but to call the rest “hacks” would actually be a compliment.

The fact that some allegation against an MP can take precedence overactual problems experienced every day by Kiwisshows that we should rejoice at Fairfax Media layoffs and the increasing reliance on online media.

While it might be newsworthy that Brendan Horan made a lot of calls to the TAB, it’s more newsworthy that ourentire political class on both sides of the Houseare gambling with New Zealand’s future and not being held to account by anyone in the media.

No matter how this case turns out – Horan resigning, getting charged with theft perhaps – it’s just another reminder of what a terrible media we have.

You’d think that there was some semblance of neutrality or independent thinking going on inside the Beltway. But you’d be entirely wrong.

How about investigating how most Kiwis never get pay rises?

How about investigating how most Kiwis have no chance of ever getting out of debt because they can’t get any more hours at their casualised workplace?

How about investigating how lots of businesses are taking the piss when it comes to marking up imported goods and services?

The correlation of beliefs and opinions of policy options the government should take to lead NZ out of recession are so similar you might as well call it how it is : our political class and our media are the same people and care more about gossip than critical examination of the direction this country is going in.