The Blogs Insiders Read to Stay Current
November 16, 2005; Page D1
The music industry has one, Wall Street bankers have several and even CPAs have come around.
No self-respecting industry these days is without a
must-read blog. Although they vary wildly on fine points like accuracy,
they are now so widely read that it’s assumed anybody in the business
is up to speed on the latest postings. For outsiders, they are also a
window into the inner workings, preoccupations and gossip of fields
ranging from real estate to mergers and acquisitions.
People who follow electronics got an early peek at a key new product when Engadget posted photos of Microsoft Corp.’s
XBox 360 videogame console a week ahead of its debut. TV executives
keep tabs on which networks are ordering and canceling shows. Doctors
and others in health care can link to the latest news and commentary on
drug marketing. Reporters and media watchers turn to Jim Romenesko, who
runs a blog on the Poynter Institute’s Web site.
Here are some of the most influential blogs across
industries ranging from publishing and finance tonhealth care and
Hollywood, put together by The Wall Street Journal’s beat reporters in
This blog, billed as "Everything You Always Wanted to
Know About the Health Care System, But Were Afraid to Ask," is
published by Matthew Holt, a consultant and publisher of an email
digest of health-care news for executives and hospital administrators.
Mr. Holt uses his blog to draw attention to health-policy articles in
other publications and on other blogs, and share his thoughts about
Medicare policy, health insurers, electronic medical records and
doctors. There have been frequent posts dissecting the new Medicare law
and highlighting waste and fraud in the system. The site is currently
running a contest for readers to come up with solutions for fixing the
health-care system — in 250 words or less.
This blog attempts to deflate real-estate hype.
Updated roughly a half dozen times a day, the site, run by former
magazine editor Lockhart Steele, takes on overpriced condo listings,
pokes fun at the language brokers use to pump up properties, and links
to the relevant news from mainstream press and other blogs. A running
feature called PriceChopper highlights grossly overpriced apartments
and takes credit when the asking price drops. Another fixture called
BubbleWatch links to optimistic market forecasts. Curbed’s major
drawback is its New York-centric coverage and its obsession with
celebrity and luxury properties. Recent posts on projects in Los
Angeles and Boston, however, indicate the site’s willingness to
acknowledge there is a real estate world outside the Big Apple.
A sober alternative to Curbed, the Slatin Report
delivers all-original commentary and analysis on the world of
commercial real estate. The brainchild of veteran real-estate
journalist Peter Slatin, the site weighs in on real-estate investment
trusts, industry dealmakers, and design and architecture. A recent
article pointed out how Donald Trump could get locked out of profits
for decades in a complicated transfer of a property he’s involved in.
Mr. Trump disputed the characterization as "totally false." One issue
with the site is that the posts are sporadic and irregular. But users
can sign up for an email alert when new items appear.
This blog is one of the best ways to keep up on
Madison Avenue’s ups and downs. Published by Steve Hall, a former
ad-agency employee, adrants covers topics ranging from urinal
advertising to the news of the day, all with a bemused tone. The site
also provides links to breaking-news stories featured by other Web
publications. John Osborn, president and chief executive of the New
York office of Omnicom Group‘s BBDO Worldwide, is a fan.
This site systematically takes apart proxy statements,
quarterlies and news releases, offering opinions and asking questions
about management compensation and other items tucked away in the small
print. Free-lance journalist Michelle Leder, who runs the site, hands
out gold stars on Fridays to companies with clear disclosures and
points out oddities buried in the footnotes, like sudden changes to
stock-option plans, or when loan issuer Dollar Financial Corp. recently
forgave the interest on a loan to its own chief executive. (Dollar
Financial didn’t return calls seeking comment.) Newer entries have
included one about Lisa Marie Presley’s evolving stake in a company
called CKX Inc.
A popular opinion and news-analysis blog among traders
and institutional investors written by Jeff Matthews, head of the hedge
fund Ram Partners in Greenwich, Conn. Mr. Matthews, a mostly
value-oriented investor, isn’t afraid to rile up the vocal trading
community by commenting on closely watched stocks such as Overstock.com
Inc., dissecting the chief executives latest public comments on his
blog. While he occasionally makes grand market pronouncements — he
recently declared that the real-estate market had peaked — he is
admired for also supporting any such prophetic dictums. The blog
skewers boilerplate financial filings, and features analysis on
everything from Google Inc. (he’s a fan) to the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission.
This blog from deallawyers.com, an educational group
that offers research on legal issues surrounding deal activity,
dissects M&A flow based on both obscure and widely known legal
issues. It evaluates private-equity involvement, recent arbitrations,
cross-border transactions and other issues for companies like Toys ‘R’
Us Inc. and Six Flags Inc. It also examines deal technicalities
like lock-ups, stapled financings and M&A accounting. Downsides to
the blog, though, are that it’s written with a lot of jargon and
postings can be a little sparse.
The site focuses on how drug companies can get
accurate and trustworthy information to doctors and consumers. John
Mack, publisher of the monthly online newsletter Pharma Marketing News,
started his blog in January 2005. He offers commentary on news events
and is often critical of the industry’s focus on blockbuster drugs and
what Mr. Mack views as unethical or misguided marketing. Among his pet
peeves is erectile-dysfunction advertising, which he believes focuses
too heavily on younger men and libido-enhancing promises while failing
to educate consumers about the disease. The site lambastes pharma
companies for ads that foster a "magic pill solution preference among
Americans," while rarely mentioning changes in lifestyle or diet that
will help reduce risks such as cardiovascular disease. But he’s quick
to praise efforts that address the industry’s credibility problem with
consumers, such as Johnson & Johnson‘s new TV and print campaigns that he says put drug risks on more-equal footing with drug benefits.
The Lefsetz Letter started in 1986 as a photocopied
tip sheet for music-industry executives. Today Bob Lefsetz, a former
artist-management executive, posts his opinions on everything to do
with the music business. Mr. Lefsetz offers wide-ranging,
stream-of-consciousness rants — often blasted out multiple times
daily. They include ruminations on everything from the industry’s
strategy of suing peer-to-peer network users (futile), to U2’s recent
guest appearance on HBO’s "Entourage" (like a married man flaunting a
girlfriend on the side, "just to be able to impress his buddies") to
Rod Stewart fans ("so old and so out of it that they’ll buy ANYTHING
with his name on it. As long as it doesn’t disrupt their cocktail
parties.") Sign up for email list at http://lefsetz.com12, or on the Web at: rhino.com/rzine/columnists/lefsetz/index.lasso13
This blog compiles entertainment news and adds a heavy
dose of snarky opinion. Agents, producers, studio executives and other
power players in Hollywood read it religiously — largely because it
lavishes attention on them. (The site’s motto is: "LA is the world’s
cultural capital. Defamer is the gossip rag it deserves.") A recent
entry on CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves describes him as "a future
galactic despot who will one day use his humble position as head of a
successful network to hold the entire universe in his incredibly
charismatic sway." (CBS declined to respond to the quote.) The site,
launched last year by Gawker Media, keeps tabs on which networks have
ordered or canceled which shows and closely monitors movie box-office
tallies, along with the latest peccadilloes of major stars.
Focused on TV news, the blog presents snippets from
top stories of the day and is constantly updated with items ranging
from major network decisions — NBC’s recent move to make its entire
flagship "Nightly News" broadcast free on the Internet, for example —
to gossip about behind-the-scenes fighting at the morning news shows.
TV Newser, which is hosted by the journalism-related Web site Media
Bistro, also includes job listings and detailed parsing of ratings with
a heavy focus on cable news channels. Towson University student Brian
Stelter says he founded the site last year after being inspired by the
blanket coverage the cable networks gave the start of the 2003 Iraq war.
Run by Michael Cader, a former book packager, this
paid site (cost: $20 a month) contains a selection of print and
Web-based book-publishing stories, as well as first-person
editorializing. Mr. Calder gets information from sources including
agents, editors, publicists, authors, and licensees. The site lists the
latest book proposals to be sold, including in some cases a sense of
what price they fetched. It’s also widely used to get in touch with
people in the industry — the agent who represents a particular author,
for example. Mr. Cader has an arch tone, and is quick to jump on news
involving Internet companies such as Google Inc. or Amazon.com Inc. But
he sometimes is too reliant on industry handouts, such as this recent
posting: "Hyperion Plans ‘Lost’ Book."
This daily blog provides links to reviews and news,
along with sharp commentary. A recent posting noted that the New
Orleans Public Library had reopened — but only after firing 90% of its
staff. Elsewhere, after romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
said it plans to add novels with Nascar storylines, the site posted
this prediction: "Look for ‘Naked Came the Pit Crew’ early next
spring." The site is published by Jessa Crispin, a former nonprofit
A lot of fan sites and trade publications operate Web
sites dedicated to theater news, but the big gun is BroadwayStars.
Filled with an exhaustive list of daily theater news — some stories
are culled from obscure regional alternative publications — the site
also contains links to various discussion boards. (Things can get catty
in a hurry.) A popular feature here is a list of Broadway shows that
have been discussed by producers in news articles but haven’t been
formally announced, such as a stage production of Walt Disney
Co.’s "The Little Mermaid." On the downside, the site, operated by a
company called 2die4 Productions of Irvington, N.Y., is cluttered —
there’s even a five-day weather forecast for top theater cities.
This site, run by Tax Analysts, a nonprofit publisher
based in Arlington, Va., offers a handy way to catch up on breaking
news. The site also has interesting historical material, such as copies
of actual federal income-tax returns filed by presidents from Franklin
D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. (Look under "Tax History.") There also
are transcripts of conferences organized by Tax Analysts, such as one
last month on the subject: "Can or should you have tax reform without
increasing taxes?" Tax Analysts also offers several subscription-only
publications, such as Tax Notes, an influential weekly.
This blog from Barry Ritholtz, chief market strategist
at money-management firm Maxim Group LLC, mixes straight market
commentary with Mr. Ritholtz’s musings on the inner workings of
glamorous industries such as music, film and technology. Mr. Ritholtz
mulls over interest rates, gross domestic product and bond markets,
complete with charts and links to news sites. Then, on separate pages,
he ruminates on movie box-office slumps, TiVo and music file-sharing.
Contemplation takes many forms, including quotes and essays. He
evaluates news like the latest on the avian flu and inserts
eye-catching charts and graphics to make his point.
This opinion and news analysis blog is run by Jack
Ciesielski, a certified public accountant who owns the
investment-research firm R.G. Associates in Baltimore. Mr. Ciesielski
has served on several accounting rule-making and policy advisory
boards. He uses his blog, which he updates roughly once a week, to rant
about the latest corporate troubles, such as Delphi Corp.’s recent
accounting mess. Other frequent topics include stock-option expensing,
Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and lease restatements. Recently, Mr.
Ciesielski has taken up troubled auto companies as discussion fodder,
with a posting last month called "Dana in the Dumps," referring to
auto-parts maker Dana Corp.’s latest restatements.
This blog spells out legal issues affecting
property-casualty insurers, and keeps editorializing to a minimum. The
person behind the site is Marc Mayerson, a Harvard Law School-trained
lawyer with Spriggs & Hollingsworth in Washington, D.C. Unlike
other more light-hearted blogs, these postings are written with some
wonky weight — recent entries dissected court decisions against State
Farm Insurance Cos. and the nuances of liability issues in certain
insurance policies. Mr. Mayerson keeps up with hurricane-related
insurance issues, sometimes even discussing his own insurance policy as
a reference point.
This blog tracks the latest developments from a range
of businesses interested in delivering entertainment, news and other
services to consumers in new ways (through mobile phones, for example).
It reports its own news, offers commentary and draws attention to
articles in other publications. The site is run by Rafat Ali and Staci
Kramer. This month, Mr. Ali wrote that pricing the new Sanyo Mobile
ESPN phone at $500 was "suicide, pure and simple." (ESPN said the price
listed for the phone was incorrect on the blog site, omitting a $100
rebate, and that the blog entry didn’t describe the phone’s range of
features.) The blog regularly breaks news, in September scooping
mainstream media outlets including The Wall Street Journal on Viacom
Inc.’s deal to acquire IFilm. Fans include Jim Bankoff, executive vice
president for programming at AOL, and Liz Schimel, senior vice
president for content development at Comcast Corp.
This blog tracks monetary issues, among others,
through a macroeconomic lens. It offers the views of Nouriel Roubini
and is affiliated with the subscription-based site, Roubini Global
Economics Service, a New York-based economics research group. Entries
take a global view on currency swings and appear every few days. Recent
meditations have included postings on Brazil issuing long-term
local-currency-denominated bonds in the international market. Mr.
Roubini also recently examined asset bubbles.