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Wonk Bloggers and the Vanishing Voices of Workers

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."

Read the whole thing, but it reflects my own view. Ygleisias and Klein talk to a very narrow group of sources, essentially well connected Versailles types who can advance their careers. They conduct very few interviews and never with sources who would challenge the narratives of the 1%. It is a lot cheaper to employer bloggers who can generate clever posts several times a day, attracting site traffice and page views, then it is to employ real reporters who go out into the field, talk to a variety of sources, and produce original reporting.

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