Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Puzzles, Mysteries and the Rise of the Blogosphere

Some old fart who retired from the CIA years ago used to claim that there were two kinds of intelligence problems--the puzzles, which could be solved with additional pieces of information, and the mysteries, which required analysis, and, in the end, a judgement call. Puzzles tended to be quantifiable (both as formulated and as answered) while mysteries tended to be more subjective and dependent on analytical work (again, both as posed and in terms of response). The late-20th century mandarins of Pax Americana were, on the whole, happier with puzzles than with mysteries (at least as they surveyed the external world).

Certainly, today, the pride of the mainstream media lies in its ability to provide coverage and hard information. Some of this coverage may verge on the ridiculous (Anderson Cooper on the tip of the spear facing the Taliban, Anderson Cooper on the seawall facing the storm surge). Some of the coverage is historically heroic (printing the Pentagon Papers). But when the defenders of the existing media, with its far flung network of bureaus and stringers, its travel budgets and longstanding sources, make the argue that navel-gazing bloggers can't hope to meet the need for reporting, for hard information, they are focusing on the puzzles, not the mysteries.

What the bloggers do well--frequently better than the traditional media--is address the mysteries. And right now, and for the foreseeable future, the ability to decipher the mysteries is more useful than the capacity to unearth more pieces of the puzzle. The isn't always the case. But right now, particularly in the financial sphere, it is. Given that most financial news consists of rewritten press releases, conference calls posted on the internet, and statistical series with highly choreographed release rituals (admittedly designed more to insure the integrity of the financial markets and level the playing field than to insure maximum publicity), the opportunity for SCOOP are pretty small.

So, floreat Blogonia!

Just charge down Majuba Hill and don't worry to much about the point of the spear.

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