The ‘Anti-Columnist’

When I first stumbled upon the “World’s Next Great Investing Columnist” contest on MarketWatch, my preliminary thoughts were similar to what I imagine you may be thinking now:

Great.  What the online financial media world needs now is another over-educated, under-achieving, pretentious noisemaker that will clutter the minds of investors by attracting page views and clicks to the parent company’s website, all for the purpose of catering to advertisers who sell products and services investors don’t need.

I skipped down to the comments section of the MarketWatch article that announced the contest and was not surprised to find readers who shared my sentiment:  One reader likened the typical financial columnist to “political hacks parroting talking points,” and another greeted the contest with the sarcastic lamentation, “just traded in some air miles for a half-dozen financial news sources.”

At that moment, I began to imagine how fun and interesting it might be if someone entered the contest as The Anti-Columnist—the writer who writes because they have something to say, not because they have to say something—the columnist who refuses to follow the typical columnist formula, which, to paraphrase another MarketWatch reader, is to:

Create a controversial title to get the clicks… state some ‘facts’ you Googled supporting your title… intersperse some trite humor and borderline-offensive commentary… Publish. Next week, present a contrary article following all of the above.

This comment sealed The Anti-Columnist idea for me—that someone representing this reader, and others like him or her, absolutely must be the next MarketWatch columnist!  In fact, I’m often more entertained and informed by reader comments than the columnists!

I immediately began scribbling down thoughts that would later become my submission to the first phase of the contest.  In the article, joining the cynicism and sarcasm of readers like you, I wrote of the paradox that exists for today’s investor that I believe is best expressed by the 20th century psychologist, Herbert Simon, who coined the term bounded rationality:

… In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else:  a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.  What information consumes is rather obvious:  it consumes the attention of its recipients.  Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

The cost of paying attention can be high; seeking is the opposite of finding; and media writers know this: Online columnists know they have but just a few seconds to get your click.  To do this, they press your fear, greed and illusion of control buttons to distract you away from your search for useful information.

You can read the full article and cast a vote for The Anti-Columnist idea by following this link to the article: Are You the Hunted or the Hunter? 

Ironically (but not surprisingly) readers must use the Facebook “like” button at the top of the MarketWatch article to vote.  I believe there may be just enough intelligent people who are on Facebook that can vote for the article to help us win.  But I digress…

Thank you for reading.  By the way, in the event I (we) make it to Round 2 of the contest, what ideas do you have for my second article?  What would you like to read that most online financial columnists do not say?


Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher.


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