What’s up with live blogging?

One of the strange inventions of our new media era is live blogging of conference calls by financial media. What’s up with that? 

Today, for example, The Wall Street Journal is live blogging the Goldman Sachs conference call on its AIG risk. The odd thing is, of course, it’s a conference call – an investor could be listening live to get the news personally in real time.

Live blogging is minute-by-minute, as fast as a reporter can type a summary of what he’s hearing. You read things like this from the WSJ:

10:56: The hold music is Mozart. One of the better symphonies.

11:04: The conference call starts.

… 

11:12: If AIG failed, GS would have been able to collect on its hedges. That is why the company said it had no material exposure to AIG.

11:12: Viniar on AIG collateral: “We also have taxpayer money at GS and it’s our responsibility not to lose it.”

11:13: If GS was fine if AIG failed, how was it fully hedged? Viniar defends not returning some of AIG’s collateral or taking the discount. “We had about $7.5 billion of collateral, and if we had to take a discount on it, then GS would not be fully covered.” …

All well and good, but live blogging reminds me of play-by-play commentary on a basketball game – it lacks something if you don’t watch or hear the game itself. Live blogging is in print, with no video or audio. It’s a step removed – almost live, but not quite.

My thought: An investor who wants to be in the know would listen to the Goldman Sachs call. An investor could follow the live blog at the same time, but there isn’t much value without hearing or seeing the actual event. 

In fact, it’s spring break so I am watching – right now on TV – the University of Kansas play its first-round game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The game is live, and I’m seeing it first-hand.

Wouldn’t it be silly, it occurs to me, to follow the game through a live blog? But wait. Going back to the WSJ.com home page, I see there is a live blog on the KU game … Lagging a few minutes behind what I see on TV, there’s the play-by-play. But I’ve already seen each play before it’s reported. I could multitask and read this almost-live blog for additional commentary – or I could just watch, get all the information I need and enjoy the game. Then, I might read a news story or column in the morning paper to find well-thought-out commentary on what happened (in sports or finance).

News media are in a period of experimentation, and live blogging is part of that. For my money, live blogging of a conference call does not provide a good substitute for listening live. Even then, the value depends on the blogger’s ability to add insightful explanation in real time.

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