Better Housekeeping

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Running into economic bloggers Mark Thoma, of the University of Oregon, and Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, at the annual Conference on Macroeconomics at the National Bureau of Economic Research last week, I was forced to reflect on the way I keep track of developments that, unlike this one, don’t happen near me.

Thoma said he had been on the road for three weeks.  “Oh, where?” I innocently inquired, revealing that I hadn’t been reading. The Royal Economic Society meetings in Manchester, and Institute for New Economic Thinking session in Paris, he replied.

On leave, I asked?  No, said Thoma, he was teaching his regular load. He recorded his lectures before he left, and does the rest online. The story was much the same with Cowen.

Granted, I’ve been busy, but I was still embarrassed, since, as their presence at the NBER event suggests, Thoma and Cowen taken together are Ground Zero of the news-oriented economic blogosphere.

So I spent a day to taking stock of the way I read them and the rest of the blogosphere.

Ordinarily I scan all at the same time, once a week, on Friday, the blogs I follow, instead of relying on feeds. (The copy editor tells me that this is antediluvian, but it is so.) It’s an accident of history that for years I have returned to the bookmarks of an old, otherwise-unused browser to do so. It helps, I find, to have a separate destination, though after five years those bookmarks are a mess.

So, I thought, why not visit these blogs from the Economic Principals homepage where I list them? Many subscribers to EP’s bulldog edition never make the trip, because they receive the early edition via email. This would be a good time to visit the website, if only for old time’s sake.  The design will change next month.

I remain a fan of  print. I scan the front pages of the newsprint editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times at breakfast and then put them aside to read in the evening. I take The Boston Globe to the office, in order to pass it on to the coffee shop next door. I look at Politico and The Washington Post  online. The Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The New Yorker, and Science arrive on the weekend in the postal mail.

I link the economic journalists I read, both as a way of keeping tabs, and for the benefit of readers who may not hear the same dog whistle that I do. (What makes journalism different from blogging is a topic for another day.)

Thinking it over, I reordered the blogs to reflect the way I read them, and changed the way they are identified, by the name of the author instead of the site (which appears soon enough in a tab when you put the cursor on the link). Soapbox names, such as EP, are essentially relics of an age when space was scarce.

Since millions of such digital soapboxes now exist, more information is conveyed by a person’s name.  How much easier is it to remember the difference among Mark Thoma, Bill Parke and Jim Hamilton than to distinguish among Economist’s View, Economics Roundtable and Econbrowser?

I have added Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw’s blogs to the list as well, since I look at them, too, every Friday.  The two then-young professors  started out writing opposing columns for Fortune nearly twenty years ago, before they went on to greater glories, and remain the top of a certain kind of information food chain. I added, too, EconAcademics, a blog aggregator maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis that covers blog posts concerned with academic research

Finally I moved Alphaville, an especially lively blog sponsored by the FT, from the journalism list to the high-frequency .roster where it belongs.  And I subtracted Project Syndicate, which also started twenty years ago, and has growth too big and various to read.

As for the NBER macro conference, Thoma and Cowen gave good accounts of various sessions, here, for instance, and here. To me, the topics seemed a little stale. But then I am a journalist, not an economist, and I have been off working in another part of the forest.