IAmA former Financial Times journalist who is starting a new media venture. Ask me anything!
Hi, my name is Izabella Kaminska and I am the former editor of the Financial Times' markets and finance blog Alphaville. After 13 years with the company I have left to set up my own media venture, which I am calling the Blind Spot. You can view it on www.the-blindspot.com. You can ask me anything and I will be answering immediately.
My proof is this https://the-blindspot.com/reddit-iama/
And APOLOGIES. Because I am also a NORMIE so I totally messed up the scheduling by posting this too early on Wednesday (as I thought you were supposed to pre-plan these things and let the questions accumulate). But I'm ready now and I'm ready to be asked ANYTHING. And I apologise profusely to the Reddit community for being such a newbie.
Thank you all for your questions! I am off to get some dinner. I am not ignoring you or dodging "tough" questions. I will review any new ones when I'm back but will stop answering at the end of this evening if that's ok. But by all means feel free to reach out to me via my new blog if there's anything else I can help with.
Q: What do I think of Brexit?
A: I am and always have been all about balance and reviewing every perspective from the other perspective. That's largely because I am a fan of humanity and I don't like othering people or stereotyping. I believe that there is always an exception to every rule. And we should judge people individually. I am an "opt-in collectivist" individualist.
When people start hating on anything in a knee-jerk way I get very suspicious. I don't like being peer pressured into thinking stuff just because everyone else is saying it's x or y. I like to review the evidence and allow the other side to at least listen to the argument, and a lot of the time I think the established consensus formers don't really bother to listen to anyone but themselves. It's a very snobby look down on others perspective. It's also journalistically lazy.
With Brexit I am actually very nuanced. I started off like everyone in my tribe as a knee jerk remainer. But as the debate heated up and I saw the growing hatred and dismissal targeted at those in favour of Brexit (especially the accusations they were idiots) it really started to grate. If your position is superior, why the panic and why the resort to the lowest common denominator communications. Not saying the Brexit side behaved better. But I think in retrospect (my personal impression and I'm sure you will disagree) the Brexit side wasn't coming at it from a position of self-righteous "divine right" type thinking.
So I went to the trouble to actually speak and meet with people who thought the other way. I bothered to research the full picture. I was surprised by how much I wasn't aware of, and how complex the whole picture was. In short I realised many of my impressions had been forged by assumptions and very little substance, and it seemed clear to me that a lot of dedicated remainers -- as the debate escalated and heated up were finding the same thing as they became educated about the wider thing too. I can only speak for my own personal circle of friends and acquaintances, but I found the brexiteers were far more informed about the structures of the EU than most of the remainers. And when faced with detailed arguments many remainers just knee-jerk defended policies they often had just heard about. Obviously this doesn't apply to everyone. But it didn't strike me as authentic or indicative of an argument I should trust. I try to be honest about stuff I don't know about.
Though this process, slowly over time I was nudged into the view that while the Brexit side was not perfect and had some serious issues I disagreed with, they had some incredibly strong points too. Mostly about the technocratic and overly bureaucratic centralising Leviathan the EU was becoming.
To further support I did a lot of research, new and old.
The book that really sealed the deal for me was "The case against joining the common market" by Paul Einzig, the former economic and political writer at the Financial Times, who happened also to be the top authority on money markets and parallel currency zones.
It convinced me the project had run its course, and either way a pushback was necessary.
There were more flippant factors too, like the two panel events I attended in the city just before the vote. One was a BBA panel, and the other something to do with crypto. Both were full of banker and city types. At the end of both panels I asked how the audience would be voting. The audience was almost 99% in favour of Remain, which implied there was a lot of rent extraction going on in the whole project (supporting the view of some of my more leave oriented relatives that the EU "arrangement" in the first place was that the UK would give up manufacturing/agriculture in return for getting the finance sector in the arrangement. Which would be good for city bankers and London, but less good for the wider population.)
Perhaps too simplistically, I thought to myself if voting Brexit means the UK becomes less dependent on finance and more focused on creative value-creating business then that can only be a good thing for the balance of the nation.
Regarding Boris. I think it's very simplistic and unfair to default categorise as anyone who voted for Brexit as pro Boris. It's these sorts of cliches that are so damaging to debate. My position is simple. I'm against mass bureaucratic centralisation that zaps the capacity of creative thinkers to do things differently.
Also, I don't think hyper standardisation is always good. I think systems that defy the norm have to have to be given an opportunity to flourish.
Yes, don't fix if it's not broke, but in the case of the Eu vote, that was not the case. There was plenty of evidence there was damage in need of fixing.
And yes, unattaching yourself from a Borg type protectionist structure can be scary and self-destructive. But it also allows for a fresh approach that can be incredibly liberating. Throughout history people have done the craziest and most self destructive things for liberty and autonomy for a reason. We yearn for autonomy. I believe strongly you have to have the freedom to get things wrong. (Doesn't mean you shouldn't be criticised for dumb decisions though.)
The other thing that tipped my hand was the fact that I personally would do very badly from Brexit. By which I mean, all the reasons to vote Brexit for me were for the collective good of the UK (which I know you probably won't agree with). All the reasons for me to vote Remain were for my own personal good (as an urbanite, weekend travel jaunt type, who was also propertied and benefited from easy access to Europe and lets face it cheap Eastern European labour). I thought if people like me do badly from Brexit there will probably be a constructive wealth transfer to poorer regions of Britain.
How do I feel 6 years on nearly? Do I regret it? No.
I think Brexit showed the system needed reviewing. IT needed a jolt to up its game. Either way it was a good indicator of stuff the "elites" were completely overlooking. And stuff that would never have been addressed if these phenomena had not happened. It was one of the biggest blind spots the system had of all time.
Do I think post Brexit Britain is ideal? No! Of course not. There's lots I don't like. But you always make concessions when you vote for anything. There will always be policies you don't like. As a committed middle ground voter who is about as "flip flop" as it comes, I still see the situation as far more nuanced than most people. I hate the tribalism that has broken out.
The Brexiteers had some very good points that swung it for me, probably because of my personal experiences with centralised communist systems. They also had points that did not appeal or that I disagreed with massively. Which is why it think branding anyone a "brexiteer" is lazy.
By the same measure Remainers also made many good points. But they also failed to address the bigger and more important issues for me personally. There was always going to be a trade off.
Yes! Chances are Britain will end up evolving things not very differently, or having to bow to the pressures of standardisation anyway just to gain entry to EU markets. Even so, it can still diversify and cut bureaucracy and operate on different standards to service different markets. The vaccine rollout is an excellent example of that.
So I see good and bad in both sides. I am not an absolutist.
The way I feel about Brexit is similar to how I feel about corporatised journalism. Sometimes you just can't make things happen in a large consensus-oriented (usually by committee) organisation that is prone to managerial bloat and risk-aversion.
It's all about potectionism and security vs risk and opportunity. Sometimes it pays to take a leap into the unknown.
Forgive me but I'm having a hard time finding actual fleshed about reasons here.
Most if what I understood was "when people are quickly jumping to one side, I make it a point to take a look at the other side" and "people I don't like were on the remain side, so it was probably a bad side to be on". The closest I saw of an actual reason was "The UK is free to make its own decisions when not tied up in the EU" which granted is true, but what decisions were they being held back from? You mention "issues that were not being addressed by remainers" but didn't actually specify any reasons or issues.
I hope I'm not coming off as abrasive, it just felt like you danced around the actual reasons (maybe not on purpose) and described your feelings around those ideas instead of the ideas themselves.
I think I committed a lot of time to answering and I am not in a position to give you a full essay with citations and references and I don’t want to pull facts from my head that I read in 2016 and get them wrong. But I think I answered your question.
I saw the EU as overly protectionist, technocratic, bureaucratic and overly standardizing. As a pole I think it initiated a terrible brain drain from the country and opened the door to an overly extreme reliance on cheap labour which led to under investment in technology and infrastructure, and worker conditions.. The fact that there is now a massive trucker shortage is a function of this.
I’m not going to be dragged into a brexit discussion right now.
What do you think about geopolitical consequences though? Ideally not only from British, but also wider European perspective? Don't you think that while the EU is far from perfect, the idea of Europe uniting around certain core values is essential to their prevalence in the world where individual European countries don't mean much compared to players like the USA, China, India or even Russia? Not to mention what history has shown many times: the devastating wars that broke out many times, when European countries got all divided and pitted as rivals against one another.
I think the problem is that there isn’t such a thing as a list of core values and the Frictions arise around the cultural differentiation points. By your logic Hong Kong and Taiwan should also be happy to give up autonomy for peace. If small nations can’t exist on their own then what you are championing is empire formation. Why are the Ukrainians not happy to join Russia? Who dictates what the key values are? Somebody always has to compromise. When you force diverse states to compromise on too much that is the opposite of a catalyst for peace. I favour a league of autonomous nations that are allied together but respect each other’s differences. Also Why is hyper scale a good thing? As soon as you share currency and tax base it becomes harder to defend your unique values. For the UK the difference in the legal systems (common law vs constitutional law) was also another big issue.
Sorry! I didn't see this one for some reason. I will answer now. Hang on.
Q: Do you think we're in a tech bubble?
A: I think there is a lot of mania going on. Most of it is overhyped and won't survive a tightening cycle from the Fed. It won't be pretty. But I also think this is largely the result of over regulation in the core finance space. We need to be more fluid about regulation so that it doesn't encourage such dramatic flows into exotic and risky securities. I think crypto got a massive pump from the institutional investment that seemed to flow into it in 2020/2021. This gave it a sense of legitimisation which extended to normalising NFTs and crypto more widely for the retail and beyond class. If that had been a longstanding trend then it might have been a long term sustainable situation. But I haven't seen the scale of institutional flows I was expecting. I think the regulatory climate has changed. Without the institution this space is going to be very hard to sustain. And profits and actual revenues are going to matter from 2022 on. If your business is vapourware and a vision, it's going to be much harder to sell web3 or not.
So yes there's going to be a shake out and we have to start thinking about the collateral damage. That said, it's probably a worth shakeout, and whoever survives it will go on to have a sustainable business. I'm highly cynical about the metaverse as a solution to end-to-end normie, but it will be a market and in its area a highly successful one.
Q: Crypto. Do you think we've now achieved critical mass and certain actors in the financial sector are sufficiently intertwined with it to give rise to a serious financial crisis when, in my opinion, the inevitable ponzi scheme crash comes?
A: Im more concerned about the cross contamination via blockchain. Because that drew funding from the serious core money zone. Crypto is still fairly contained. The bigger risk for crypto will be Reputational damage from retail punter pain. I don't think it's yet a systemic issue.
A bigger concern I have is the consequences of ARK and the vision cult stocks coming back to earth due to their entanglement with index funds, and the big institutional exposures that come with them.
Could you explain your thought process here? https://twitter.com/izakaminska/status/1068269718895828993
Coming out publicly as a brexiteer is hard!. I don’t want to belittle the stress of coming out as gay, but the fear of stigma and ostracization i sense has some similarities.
I too, would like to hear the thought process here.
Do you really want to know my thought process though? Or are you looking to drag up a tweet from 2018 in a bid to politicise this Reddit and then do "modern day" reaction journalism on it? Because I think the thought process is pretty self explicit.
It's a funny thing to ask, not least because even I (the person who wrote it) can't remember the context of the conversation or the framing at the time. So I wonder to myself how someone has come to remember something I tweeted in Nov 2018 so well.
Option 1) the tweet was so incredibly damaging and hurtful it has stuck in your head for over three years, so when you saw I was doing the Reddit, you figured this was a perfect opportunity to confront me on it. Of course if it was that meaningful I'm surprised you didn't reach out to me directly before hand. My contact details are fairly transparent. I would have happily explained. Perhaps you did confront me at the time and my response was not satisfying so you're innocently following up. In which case, fair enough.
Option 2) For some reason you've sought to scrape through my twitter feed today to find something problematic to challenge me on for reasons unknown. In which case I really admire your data processing skills.
Option 3) You're a media reporter looking for a story?
I think the thought process is self evident. I empathise with anyone who feels under pressure from society to not be true to their authentic self because of fear of being slurred, smeared or discriminated against.
"Do you really want to know my thought process though?"
Yes. That was the question. And was the only question. If you're that embarrassed about it just say so.
I answered the question! I'm not embarrassed about it at all.
My question to you: what do you think is the issue, and did you read it at the time or have you only discovered it more recently?
PS. please see my update note in the post. If I don't respond it's not because I'm dodging the issue. I'm dealing with childcare. I am, however, very curious to hear your own thought process in asking the question.
I give you credit by at least commenting on such an obvious gotcha moment. Honestly though, unless you apologize for such a tone deaf tweet that was sent while you were an adult and not a teenager, you aren’t going to get a lot of love at the moment.
I have a gay teenager and it was much easier to come out as gay for him than say, a Trump fan, because of the community he lives in. Your tweet makes sense but it’s a lot like saying “it’s hard to be white in America today”. That may be true in some specific instances but without broader acknowledgment and nuance it sounds incredibly ignorant.
No one is condemning their children or stating they will burn in hell because of brexit and no one is going around beating brexit voters outside of brexit night clubs.
The alternative view is that there is a reason why most democracies preserve the sanctity of the secret ballot. History is full of absolutely horrific recriminations on people because of their politics.
How are you finding the transition from employee to grifter?
It's hard. I don't like to be self-promotional. I like the work to stand on its own. But in this day and age sitting on the sidelines isn't gonna work, and that I think is one of the "flawed" incentives I am already wising up to when you go it alone. It's very easy to become consumed by the promotional activity. And it's far too easy to descend into more ethically dubious practices.
Let's face it, my website is currently just about a MVP. But it's so easy to structure press releases or operate on line in a way that presents it as far more than it actually is.
Being on the other side of the PR game, however, in this experience will hopefully make me a better journalist as I can see more clearly how the brain of someone wanting to maximise promotion and get attention, and get journalists to write about them, works.
Do you report real news or just what the hedge funds pay you to report?
I have never been paid by a hedge fund, and I think the assertion that hedge funds pay you to circulate rumours is really off.
Most journalists are not in journalism for the money. They're in it because they are motivated to tell the truth or shine a light on what's really going on in the world.
Yes, HFs will often call up trying to push around rumours that benefit their positions. But unless you are total newbie you learn to dismiss these calls. You always have to evaluate the agenda of everyone who is calling to pitch you a story.
Did your superiors give you assignments on what to write articles about? If they did, couldn't the bigger/more influential HFs have indirectly made you push their narratives through your superiors?
I really think this hedge fund thing is a false trail. The idea journalists are secretly pushing hedge fund agendas and profiting from it on the sidelines is really far fetched. There are biases. There are agendas. But this is not the problem.
The bigger corrupting issues are 1) dependence on access journalism. 2) advertising/sponsor influence 3) Journalists being paid lots of money to do public speaking engagements by corps and banks 4) personal crusading agendas.
In the "hedge funds are corrupting journalists" line, the hedge funds are a patsy ! it's such an easy way for fraudulent corps or corps in general to discredit bad news stories about them. "You can't trust this accusation from x journalist, he is in league with evil short sellers!" And then the journo gets smeared to high heaven.
It's not a viable theory. It's frankly ridiculous. In my opinion it is a narrative that has been weaponised by PRs to discredit journalism that upsets their clients.
Didn’t answer the question. The question is the first line. Excellent avoidance.
The question doesn't really make sense. Everyone has a boss. Sometimes stories are originated from the bottom up. Other times an editor says "Hey we really need to do more stuff on this Facebook story". So the answer is: it really depends. But it's a non sequitur because what applies to journalists in my answer, also applies to editors.
Have you listened to BBC Radio 4 recently?
"Most journalists are not in journalism for the money. They're in it because they are motivated to tell the truth or shine a light on what's really going on in the world."
That statement is too ironic. Honestly speaking, what motivated you to say it?
Probably the desire not to offend, to be nice.
No I stick by that comment.
In my experience (and I know lots of journalists) most journalists are motivated by truth telling, curiosity and a desire for recognition as insightful intellectual forces.
Making money is almost always a secondary consideration. Yes there are exceptions to the rules. I would differentiate on-air personality types from core text journalists too.
Rather than asking if HFs are corrupting journalists (which I think is a silly assertion and totally not the case in any broad systemic way), the better question to ask is whether journalists are increasingly confusing activism for journalism. That I think is a much bigger problem. But I also think it is often unwitting. And I suspect that's what you are getting to with respect to your BBC reference.
Is there too much political-crusading journalism out there? Yes, that's entirely possible. Is it motivated or influenced by hedge funds? I don't think so. It's motivated by much more complex corrupting forces (or if you think you're doing the right thing, you might consider those forces enlightening).
Because journalists are often motivated by "righteousness" they can easily fall into campaigning activism. That can impact their neutrality. But frankly I'm not sure neutral journalism really ever existed. Everyone has biases. Being a campaigning journalist isn't bad, it's just a different type of journalism. It's less objective and more judgmental. It's fine as long as the biases are declared and transparent.
The concern with the BBC is: are biased editorial agendas bleeding through their neutrality mandate? I still contend that in the news sphere, the fact that both the left and the right hate the BBC implies they're actually upholding this value as well as they can be. If one side saw them as a champion and the other did not, that would be more telling.
Do you ever regret taking a certain position in a piece after it has been published? Do you feel stressed about being wrong? What is your strategy/ approach on that?
yes all the time. You push "publish" and wait for the onslaught ! But at the same time it's hard to predict what will cause a storm and what will go into a void. Often times stuff I think should be picked up quite widely gets totally lost in the ether, and stuff I think is fairly innocuous goes viral and causes a storm.
If I publish something and it is clearly proven to be wrong or lacking the consideration of a key point, it's important to be transparent, admit the mistake, correct it and move wrong.
We are all human so mistakes will happen. I think your readers are forgiving providing you are transparent.
This is often the case with new topics that you are only beginning to cover. But it's also important to be a journalistic newbie in my opinion. Having a fresh perspective is important. There is a fine balance between expertise and freshness. Expert journal can go native in the sectors they cover. Their sources become their friends. They fear upsetting people or burning bridges. So you need a continuous shake up and moving into news sectors you know less about is usually quite good for that, but you can make early mistakes as you familiarise yourself with the markets.
Of course. I see my journalism as iterative. I definitely evolve my position over time. I view my job as scrutinising concepts and finding the flaws within models, but hopefully to ensure things develop in a better and more efficient way. I think it's good that the gig economy's exploitative practices were exposed. This way it could itself evolve to overcome those issues. My continuous fear is that a lot of innovation is only temporary, because when the forces of scale hit your business model you revert to the old practices which existed Chesterton's fence style, for a reason. But I now think even if that's the case, the routine shaking up of the system is necessary to avoid total centralisation and monopoly, and to preserve the interests of the little guy.
But generally (like with a lot of writers) my writing can be categorised by different phases. The first phase was the post 2008 phase which was centred on financial cynicism and a motivation to shine a light on complex market structures and incentives. The second phase 2012-2015 was my techno utopian phase where I had a lot of hope in the tech industry to save our skin and innovate our way out of trouble. Then there was the 2015-2020 phase which could be defined as the techno cynical phase, where I became overly fearful that most innovations end up reverting to the old systems because of scaling forces, being corrupted, monopolising, or can only differentiate themselves by some sort of hidden exploitation.
Post 2020 I am in a freedom-maximising phase, where I am value the importance of independent systems that can at least pushback against bureaucracy and the managerial state.
Do you monitor if anyone actually reads your content?
Always! engagement with your community is so important. Obviously if a piece goes viral and you 300 comments - or if people get really hateful, it can be hard. But some of my best insights are sparked by my readers. Feedback is really important.
Absolutely. The thing is, I don't know if that's a good thing. I think the whole click count/analytics side of the media equation is one of the problems. You fall for the trap of creating content that will get clicks rather than which is important and needs to be set out for the record.
At the blindspot I hope to differentiate the two.
Hi Izabella best of luck with the new venture. How much leeway do you have in deciding which stories to pursue? We keep hearing about the strict UK libel laws has this ever impacted your reporting?
Libel is a very big issue, and I think as a start-up venture my biggest concern. When you are with a big established brand like the FT there is a resident in-house lawyer to look through all your copy to make sure there is no libel risk. But even then, if you write something contentious you start to get letters. I haven't personally been in any court proceedings over anything I've written or allowed to be published, however, I have been sent many threatening legal letters in my time. And just dealing with letters is expensive enough.
How journalism protects itself from legal action is one of the things I am trying to address with my start up.
As it stands some of the best journalism doesn't get published because those with power and money get wind of the story coming-out via rights of reply (which are absolutely essential and fair), and then lawyer up. The problem for any publisher isn't whether they will win in a court stand off, it's whether they will have balance sheet to support the extensive pre-trial costs before any formal litigation even starts. For small publications this is a big issue.
Alphaville's biggest court related affair was related to the Wirecard story, in which legal intimidation was a key strategy in trying to muffle the journalism. But this happens all the time. And it is intimidating.
On the other, there is also an asymmetry the other way. It's incredibly easy to get away with libelling those on the bottom end of the ladder and who you think will never have the resources to challenge you. So bad journalists can get away with terrible smearing and sloppy journalism if it pertains to average people.
This asymmetry is leading to the pollution of the information landscape in my opinion. The really important work that should be circulating never gets out (even if in an actual contest in court it would defy a libel action) while the poor quality journalism gets to circulate far and wide.
What we need is a marketplace for bridge financing libel. For both ends. And to do that competently and price it efficiently you need a credit system for journalism.
Have you read / seen Manufacturing Consent, and if yes how does it make you reflect on your journalism / editorial decisions etc?
one of the most influential books on my life. Huge fan, and it also was a big input in my MA dissertation at LCP back in 2001 where I analysed the media coverage of the anti-capitalist May Day riots.
Can you expand on this a bit? How has it influenced you and what can we learn from it?
If you've not seen the documentary you should. What we can learn from it is that there is small consensus forming demographic whose opinion is most important to materialise change. Their consent is essential in the PR game.
So so so cool! I really appreciate the humor you add in the articles.
I'd be happy if you answered one of these;
Well, have you guys ever digged into what the queen of England invests her money in? Or the royal family?
What % of the ft are articles that are paid for / written by/ written with corporate press, or investor relationship departments? I'm asking since some times it really feels like a lot, i do understand it's hard to do none of it tho.
What is your worst investment ever?
Ages ago we had an intern looking at the crown estate. But it didn't yield very much. I think the British press have a deference for the queen so they're unlikely to ever push too hard on the matter.
All FT articles are 100% independent of corporate influence. What the FT tends to do is special supplements, which carry thematically themed sponsorship, which writers can contribute and get paid for additional to their main salary. But the content still has to follow core journalistic practice. Journalists working on the supplements are not supposed to do the writing on core FT time but in their own time.
If we carry guest posts which obviously allow a special interest to present their perspective, then this content is unpaid.
The way corporate influence penetrates copy in different ways. The bigger issue in my mind is access journalism, and the pandering to corporate sponsors/advertisers on a much broader and sometimes unconscious level.
Why did journalists stop asking the right questions to politicians instead of just repeating what they say?
Good question. But suspect it has a lot to do with access journalism.
I saw a video from Vinay Gupta, a member of the original Ethereum design team. He describes the emotional & psychological reasons for its creation & its impact on the world. https://vimeo.com/161183966.
He suggests Technologists are building a new world because they do not understand the old one. He references a speech from 1959, CP Snow’s Two Cultures, which asked if there was a divide between the Humanities and Science.
From your coverage of the crypto space how do you see the different cultural tribes behaving, are technologists & humanities cooperating or not talking?
What about Defi vs Wall Street vs Memers?
Are there Anthropologists covering this space, if so what& where are they talking about it?
If coiners want to create a new world/coin city will they ask people from the Humanities to guide their design choices or do they want to live in a cyberpunk future?
I recall a recent tweet
“Author: Don’t build the terrible thing, a warning to history.
Silicon Valley: At last we have built the terrible thing,described in the classic novel “Don’t build the terrible thing.”
Finally do the price highs of crypto exist in a world without ultra-low interest rates?
Thank you for kind attention.
I met Vinay in the early days of Ethereum. He always struck me as an interesting thinker. And seeing him explode at Max Keiser in an explosive conversation about what it means to be an anarchist (if I recall) in a pub somewhere in the centre of London will always be a key memory from the early crypto days in my mind.
I tend to agree though with the argument that technologists are building a new world because they do not understand the old one. Which is why I think they are naive to forces the of scale and how they will force them to make concessions that imitate the old systems ever more closely. But the post 2020 me thinks it's also good that they're trying, and it's probably a good thing to continuously challenge the incumbent power structure so as to keep it on its toes, and force it to improve and update itself as well.
In terms of anthropologists covering this area, you should definitely follow Gillian Tett who is one of the most creative minds at the FT. I love the way she thinks about so many different things and she has an incredible knack for timing her observations at exactly the right moment when people are ready to absorb new thinking.
I think historically (in a zirp world) crypto prices have been more influenced by flow than interest rates, but yes, as rates go up, crypto will be hit because the cost of capital will become too expensive to punt on ventures with zero profit,
2010-2020 was dominated by cashflow rich but profit light business models. I suspect revenue AND PROFIT are now going to become increasingly key. The extended pre-revenue route to market will really suffer.
Which way politically does your own writing lean?
I go through phases. I generally lean against the wind and try to counterbalance excesses. There is virtue and sin in all political perspectives. Apart from in absolutist systems. I think it's important to understand that political views are cyclical and context is always relevant. Like Joseph and the pharaoh, it's best to be countercyclical. Which is why I have long helped out with the Anacyclosis Institute.
I would call myself an open minded moderate who leans towards freedom maximisation and autonomy, but who is also conscious of the need for a collective system (ideally not coercive and opt in) to help defend the weak as well as our humanity.
My polish background informs my perspectives a lot.
When the FT publishes a rumour, say an M&A deal ... is the source usually one of the companies involved deliberately tipping off the market?
We always protect our sources! All I will say is that you have to be very careful about who is spreading the rumour around and that you aren't being played.
What's your opinion on the integrity of the journalists of Motley Fool, Yahoo Finance etc?
To be honest I don't know enough about their editorial structures to comment.
Do you think there is groupthink and narrative consensus in mainstream media? If yes, does twitter make the groupthink easier or worse?
Yes and yes. I think it’s because of lack of facial expressions and emotive feedback. I would like to start a system of consensus credit for this reason. Where you receive platform credit if you manage to approach a contentious situation in a diplomatic way and reach a voluntary consensus with the counterpart. Which both parties sign off on. Diplomacy and respect for other perspectives.
Just a few quick fire:
Unicameral parliament or elected "house of lords" for revising/scrutiny of legislation only
You can abolish one tax - what is it?
Is the gender critical/transpositive divide a -long term- fundamental split in the feminist movement?
Do you have a coin collection...or an numismatist edge to yourself....?
Is it better to own a house/rocketship/helicopter etc or to use a house/rocketship/helicopter etc (both is not an answer)
What puts you off the rural idyll/homesteading/allotment movement?
What stores do you regularly use to buy online
From where/about what do you feel the most pressure/conflict with regard to bringing up your child/ren?
1) I think the House of Lords is a good idea. 2) VAT 3) don’t know 4) I own some Roman coins 5) own house use the other two. 6) nothing 7) uk retail - try to not use amazon as much as possible. 8) sleep.
Good concept (stories not covered) and epic BHAG (bring trust back into journalism). While essential to bring great journalism skills to the new gig, what attributes, habits, ways of thinking, etc, if any, do you think you might need to rethink, ditch, mitigate, or monitor in yourself as you migrate from the (say, “media hive” thinking?) to solo thinking?
BHAG is a great acronym! Let's make it happen.
I want to create a values-centred journalism model/protocol which is centred on encouraging journalists to self declare their values/codes and biases in transparent ways. If codes of practice you agree with aren't out there, the idea is to create your own constitution. These guilds (much like in the reddit community) can then be used to help reconfigure how journalistic information is configured and distributed online, especially in the independent space.
I believe very strongly that bias is not the problem. We all have biases. Many are unconscious. The problem is not being transparent where you have an agenda.
It's not the overtly political journalism that is the problem. It's the journalism that perceives itself to be neutral but isn't really, because it's consumed by a hive/pack mentality that disrespects or under values challenger perspectives.
Being properly neutral is really hard. I actually don't think it's possible. What's more important is being transparent, fair and open minded.
I am very much against the "no platforming" trend. I think controversial views need to be challenged.
I am also not a fan of the fact-checking mania, in the sense of using it as some sort of fool proof mechanism to judge the validity/truthfulness of any story. My view is that facts alone don't determine the honesty of any particular story. You can have a perfectly fact checked story go out, which still massively misrepresents the situation on the ground because of omission or framing.
Facts are important. Of course. And you must always get your facts right. But a story being 100% fact-based is not a defence against bias or manipulation. Some "facts" are disingenuous in their own sense. This is especially the case in the field of science which by nature is supposed to take a fluid approach to fact. Science is a continuously evolving process. Some "Facts" are also unknowable. Today's facts can end up tomorrow's originally flawed assumption. And consensus isn't the same thing as truth.
That's why I want The Blind Spot to focus on consensus challenging arguments and also on shining a light on consensus views that emerge from pack oriented repetition of assumptions than actually informed evaluation of events.
What books/films/articles have most influenced your thinking?
There are so many it's hard to pin them down. I am a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica, South Park and Herodotus.
Hahaha how good is the pandemic special?! 😅 Ever tried to interview the creators? They did an amazing episode on cars haring apps
I would absolutely love to interview the creators. But it might be a crap interview as I am too much of a fanboy. Also a big fan of their deepfake special, classy justice.
Hi, best of luck in the new venture, FTAV truly stood out from everything else in Financial journalism.
To me, Alphaville seemed so different from the rest of the FT (different style, different tech - the infamous tech on ML..., etc), did it feel that different when working there, or we're things more integrated than it seemed from the outside (or at least just to me anyway...)?
Be interested in any views you can express now your out the stable door!
Can only speak for myself. Internally it felt like we were the naughty kids that nobody took seriously. But how we were perceived changed over time. I think in the beginning we were perceived as these random weirdos who do stuff on the internet that nobody internally understand. Our content wasn't taken very seriously internally. We had a much better reputation externally . But then as the internet became more and more important and everyone moved towards developing a social media presence, we were integrated more and more into the central system.
I’m interested to know things like as a professional writer do you have hardware preferences and software likes and dislikes.
I would like to know about your keyboard choices, split key, laptop keyboard, curved, soft key-click keys or clicky-clacky keys, dvorak or qwerty - is a keyboard layout important to you?
Apple or PC?
How do you take notes, do you have a note taking system, can you recommend a note taking method?
When you begin your research where do you start and how do you organize your findings?
Do you store leads in Excel, send yourself text messages, leave yourself voice messages?
I’m interested in you method. I’m interested in the how.
I think Otter has been a revelation. But I worry about how secure the system is. When you are dealing with sensitive interviews it's scary to think they're being transcribed and hosted on a potentially insecure system.
Somewhere in my house I have a teeline short hand certificate. But I rarely use that these days. I tend to approach quote taking from the golden quote perspective. that means taking rough bullet point notes and when you hear an excellent quote taking it down verbatim. I still have a bit of my own shorthand, which nobody apart from me would probably be able to read back. I also type while talking. WFH has enabled recording. But it's important to stress that best practice journalism means informing those you are talking to that you are recording them and setting the ground rules for the conversation.
The ground rules for me are:
If you call me up in a professional setting and we've not set any rules, you've got to assume everything you're telling me is on the record.
If you say off the record that means I can attribute what you've said to someone generic "an insider closer to x said".
If it's deep background that means I can't quote you at all but I can use the info to inform my reporting more widely.
If I encounter you in a non professional setting, and you don't know I'm a journalist and assume you can speak freely, if you tell me something newsworthy I would use what I've heard solely on a deep background basis. Unless, of course, I revealed to you I was actually a journalist and we set an on the record or of the record rule.
In terms of tech, my bigger concerns right now are what publishing tools I should be using. Wordpress, Squarespace, Mailchimp, Substack, WIX etc etc.
What advice would you give to a newbie in the financial journalism business?
In the UK reporting roles are hard to come by and rarely seem to pay as well as PR despite having the same broad requirements.
Well I think you need to be creative. These days you have so many independent channels to make your own name for yourself. A MSM job can help launch your career for sure, but in the end having a nifty or creative take on something can be more important.
One of the issues with MSM recruitment IMHO is that to get that first job you often have to make a concession on your values. This sees left-leaning people take jobs at more right wing oriented papers or vice versa. Sometimes it can involve taking trade press positions in markets you really don't care about.
While spending time on a paper or publication whose values do not align with your own can be very disciplining and help you learn your craft, it's disingenuous not just to you but also to readers.
And I think this is now one of the key issues now impacting MSM journalism. Readers buy XX publication because they think it's committed to free-market capitalism or what not, but actually it's staffed by people who don't agree with the core principles.
Back in the day, there was never a trend for employees to try and convert their publications' values from the inside. These days, however -- thanks to the power of internal social media groups -- these repressed individuals feel they can draw strength in numbers to help lobby their companies for change.
I'm not sure that's sensible. If you don't like the values of the corporation you are working for I think it's more sensible to quit and go where your values are aligned. Unless you are working at a publication, of course, whose values are clearly linked to free speech and tolerating perspectives from all sides. In which case you have to be realistic that your views will be confronted, albeit in a respectful manner. But if that publication begins to shut down alternative views or one particular view begins to dominate, you know that perhaps their core values aren't matching up to the masthead.
This is why I am trying to create "value-aligned" journalism.
I will post a more comprehensive declaration of my values shortly. But very succinctly, The Blind Spot's key mission is to make bias transparent, maximise free speech in a responsible way (i.e. within the confines of libel and hate speech law), challenge consensus and avoid access journalism or cutting too many backroom deals.
Hi Izzy and best of luck with the new venture. My question is, how do you survive in such a competitive industry with so many male egos? Not asking for a friend!
I think you need to be creative. I think you need to use humour. And I think you need to forge community. I think you have to be brave and above all I think you need to not be scared of challenging consensus. And that means not being afraid to ask stupid questions or experiment outside of the box.
The latter is ever harder these days as there is less tolerance for shooting from the hip.
Izzy, best of luck! Between crypto, ESG, bnpl, which ones do you feel has any potential and which ones are fraud/irrelevant/fads?
I think all of the above are fads. But they still have an impact on the market while they are fads so you still have to understand them and watch them. You can't ignore them.
How can the advertising model for editorial content be improved? Very few people are willing to subscribe and pay for content anymore.
With "values-centred" journalism. So that advertisers can associated with values from the beginning, not just brands.
Did you make an account and post this just to promote your website? I think you did.
Yes. But also because I thought it was an interesting thing to share.
Love your works at FT!
Can you recommend some Polish films? I watched Sexmission that you mentioned on Twitter. Like it a lot.
Also, what is your view on the advent of woke culture / cancel culture in the past few years?
I recommend all films by Wajda. Kieslowski films too. And while it’s not a polish film if you haven’t seen Mr Jones by Agnieszka Holland it’s a must watch - all about the corruption of the press during the Soviet system, specifically Walter duranty of the NYT, who became so captured by the party he purposefully buried the information about the collective farming induced genocide of the Ukrainian people known as the Holodomor.
On the other topic I think it’s worth you looking up what Aesopian means 😜
Why have you left the Financial Times to run a WordPress blog?
What’s wrong with Wordpress? Alphaville ran on Wordpress for many years. But I’m hoping the Wordpress blog is only a temporary stepping stone to building something more concrete. You have to start somewhere.
Hi Izabella, thank you for enlightening us over the years.
What history books do you love & recommend?
The number one history book I love is Herodotus. Because he was the father of history and of cataloguing events in a somewhat journalistic style. But he also leaned heavily on fact-fiction to get his point across and to present the truth as he saw fit. This was the fascinating thing about Herodotus. It was very clear it was embellished. But it was the sentiment in the copy that mattered. Ryszard Kapuscinski, another hero, was a polish journalist working for the PAP agency during communism. He picked up on the Herodotus style (and even wrote a book called Herodotus) as a means of using allegory to critique the active political situation in poland. IT's often what he didn't write or say that mattered most. He was writing in two modes. The official (relatively dry mode) for censors, and the unofficial mode for those who could read between the lines.
Shah of Shahs is one of my favourite books precisely because of the allegory.
In the past you’ve mentioned your dyslexia - how did that impact your journalism? The clichés are that tjsy could be a hinderance, especially early on in your career.
I only got diagnosed as dyslexic in my early 30s... as a child of the 80s nobody tested for dyslexia back then. But it made sense completely. My dad has also always had a problem with writing, so I suspect it might even be genetic.
Spell check has obviously really helped people like me. The errors that really get me these days are when I am thinking fast (and my fingers are not keeping up with my thoughts) and I accidentally word swap similar looking words entirely, which are in themselves properly spelled out. There will probably be a number of these in this Reddit chat.
Dyslexia did hurt my early career a bit. For example, when I was a Reuters graduate trainee I did not excel at filing copy very quickly. Especially responsive market reports. I've really had to create rules-based techniques in my head to cope with the pressures or operating quickly.
It also takes me a while to read and absorb text. So the main impact is on speed. I am in awe of people like Jamie Powell who are a copy creating machine. He has this amazing ability to go into the zone and file off a perfectly crafted post in under 30 mins.
I can sometimes agonise for days over a single big think piece.
How will you, as a single person with your own views and opinions, be able to be objective in your reporting?
Well that's why I don't want to be a single person product. The aim with The Blind Spot is to scale up as quickly as possible and create a small and nimble team to help me to bust my own Blind Spots.
Love matt levine
Which Bitcoin twitter influencer do you think is generally the most reasonable, sensible and balanced?
You seemed to be quite vocal on twitter about your sceptical views on lockdown. Was that influenced by your ancestry?
How diverse are the political leanings at the FT? Across the spectrum of more right leaning? (British Overton window, not USA)
From the nocoiner space I value the views of Martin Walker a lot. On the bitcoin side, I have really come to appreciate the views of Nic Carter. I think he is a really smart guy who approaches the field with a lot of nuance and realism.
I do believe my polish ancestry did influence my more critical slant on lockdown. But also my belief in personal accountability and the often paradoxical effects of mandates on anything.
Politically, I don't like to define myself as anything. Because I am genuinely one of those cliche middle ground flip floppers. I'm not married to any position and always open to persuasion by a better argument. This is why I don't want The Blind Spot to lean anywhere politically. I want it to be a home for compelling arguments and points, and respectful debate. I think it's important to have a diverse team so that you can constantly have your assumptions tested and punctured. I do worry that now I have been ejected from the AV chat I won't get the cross examination I used to get for my instinct based reactions.
That said, I'm happy to operate a chat somewhere else online that models itself on the Monty Python concept of come and have an argument with me :)
I learn from arguing points and challenging assumptions. People sometimes interpret that the wrong way or take it personally. They shouldn't. I really like a good argument. It's sad when you lose friends or acquaintances because they can't take the "we agree to disagree" approach. I don't get offended when people disagree with me, which is why I'm not keen on blocking people on twitter unless they really are being below the belt or rude.
I think confrontation is a good thing. As long as it is respectful.
What about the politics of the FT newsroom generally? From the outside I get the impression it is rather Blairite.
I think most newsrooms resemble a type of medieval court system. You have to forge alliances, and pathways to get the editor's attention or to get them to back you. If you're not good at politicking yourself, great content alone often doesn't cut it. The hierarchies are very entrenched. Alphaville was very different. It was far more anarchic. We had a very flat structure which focused on author accountability, with respect to the views that were being presented or argued or the topics that were being pursued. It was bottom up.
That's not to say there was no editorial control. It was just much more collegiate. And to be fair, based on my broader experience of media (CNBC, Reuters), the FT newsroom as a whole is one of the most collegiate structures in journalism. I found Reuters far more hierarchal.
Isn’t journalism dead?
No. It just has to be reconfigured.
I loved your work at FT. Can't wait to see what you're up to with this new thing.
Can you tease any broad themes you're interested in covering on TBS?
I'm also interested in what part 2 of this "plan to restore trust on the internet" is. That's certainly an ambitious undertaking.
Yes, I have a number of themes I want to pursue.
I spent 6 months at the FT investigating the Wuhan Lab leak which resulted in only 3 published pieces. I lot of the most important stuff in this story is weighty wonky background. A mainstream paper is never going to publish this properly as it can't easily be packaged into an 800 or 2000 format. So I will be pushing ahead with this.
While it's not strictly a finance story, the whole point of the spotlights is to shine a light on stories that will eventually influence core markets but may be a bit more off beat.
The other theme I want to pursue is media. I don't think the media does a very good job of reporting on the media, and there is so much going on.
Part of that story is me unpacking with transparency what it takes to become a viable media venture and investigating how good intentions about neutrality can get compromised. What sparks the deals. Can you actually avoid access journalism?
Financially: I will continue to look at CBDCs. But I'm very keen to get deep into the China story, but from an entirely different angle. More on this to come shortly.
My other hunch is that geopolitical risk is mounting up in a very alarming way, so I want to start a contemporaneous WW3 watch segment. My view is that the financial community is actually not that clued up about military strategy or defense structure composition. I want to follow the money and the commodities in this story. I want to talk tactics. We all became armchair epidemiologists with Covid. Now we may have to become arm chair military tacticians. So I want to be an interface for understanding how military tactics work for the financial community.
Some of my Polish family hails from Ukrainian territory (Chernivtsi) so I'm keen to get into this story, but from a financial/economic pivot perspective.
WW3 watch might sound a bit hyperbolic, and if it proves a damp squib all I can say is THANK GOD. The point of the series is not to fan or beat the drum for confrontation. Quite the opposite. It's to track the growing risk that something quite extraordinary is coming about in the next few years and prime the financial community, for having to add a whole new letter into the ESG acronym (an A, for ally).
Hi Izzy, thanks for doing this AMA - big fan of FTAV!
I'm curious why you've decided to go for this now - is there a particular event that provided the push or is this something you've been mulling over for a long time and now seems like the right time to go for it?
I've been mulling going independent since about February, when I originally applied for voluntary redundancy at the FT which would have earned me a nice year's worth of funding to get stuff going. I love the FT, and have huge respect for everyone there. But there is a terrible inertia in funding more experimental content or stuff that is consensus challenging at the moment. Due to Alphaville's integration into the main site, (CENTRALISATION) readers can't easily differentiate it from core FT content these days. That gave us a lot less liberty to experiment or use parody or cheekiness to get stories across. (As we would get letters).
Alphaville was always an internet culture/community focused product. And without the capacity to be a bit rough ended and unscripted, it was IMHO going to lose its vibe and get ever more corporatised. It was supposed to be a place you could actually make mistakes on, but learn in the process and amend and iterate from your community. It was about transparency in the journalistic process, taking our readers on our journeys to expose Wirecard, learn about crypto etc etc.
When my VR was declined, I was guaranteed there would be investment thrown at Alphaville. We advertised for new staff thereafter, but when it was decided we wouldn't after all be able to expand the team, I decided that it would be impossible to take Alphaville to the next level on my watch. I didn't want the stripped down alphaville to be associated with my input.
We used to be a team of 8, we were now down to less than 4 (as some of us had other internal commitments). Eventually I realised that since I was already continuously hustling for funding and resources internally to execute stuff, (and continuously throwing my own personal funds at getting experimental stuff done), I might as well try and do that externally. At least I would have a much wider pool of potential supporters to target, more incentive to do well and a bigger slice of any financial success that was to come.
Of course Brexiting myself would be scary too and potentially self-destructive -- but without Risk there is no chance to change and improve stuff.
What do you think about the SEC head Gary Gensler admitting that most retail trades are being filtered through private dark pools? This is validation for the Apes. But calls into question the validity of the entire market.
Hasn't this been a known known since the rise of Zerohedge?
He didn't ask if this was already known. He asked what is your opinion on the SEC openly admitting it? And to add-on, the fact that they have not acted on it.
Edit: seriously, why be a journalist? You can be a politician with the way you've been dodging question this whole AMA.
I don’t like to comment on things I am not informed about. I haven’t looked at the gensler details so am withholding an opinion until I actually research what he says. Based on the comment the only thing I am sure of is that this has been a known known for ages. And historically it’s not like regulators haven’t tackled this. I don’t have time to research that right now but when I do, if it’s signifiant development, I will surely comment either here, on Twitter or on my blog.
Thanks for taking the questions.
Favourite gig economy co?
Kiss, marry, kill - Jamie, Jemima, Claire?
And most of all, I'm a huge fan of FTAV and your articles have always been a thriller. Wish you success and good luck!
What do you think has created the opportunity that Blind Spot is trying to take on? Do you worry that the content may end up being too niche and random?
If I had a favourite cryptocurrency - it would have to be bitcoin. To be clear I am still a big critic of the whole sector, but my big concession is that I think it's better for finance that these systems exist and operate as competitors. And I am increasingly appreciating the DAO concept as I come to struggle with bootstrapping and raising money for funding start-up costs.
I quite like Fiverr, but mainly because it's evolved and is now a marketplace with fluctuating prices for freelancers. The better gig economy platforms allow freelancers to set their own rates.
I'm going to say Kill Jemima, as she is the one who will be most likely to not take it personally (and the concept here is you can't opt out right?), kiss Jamie and marry Claire.
I think the opportunity that has created the blind spot is a mass risk aversion and middle management bureaucracy in mainstream media that is preventing proper consensus-challenging journalism to get out.
What's the best way to support your new venture?
This is the question. I am currently trying to come up with a concrete monetisation plan and pricing list. One of my big dilemmas is whether substack has any role to play in the system.
I am collaborating with the incredible Theo Casey of Market Color (formerly editor of The Fleet Street letter) to eventually roll out an experience that is really very different and unique. And one of my concerns with sub stack is the templating and inability to be fully creative with the front end. But I am still a massive fan of what they are doing.
My plan at the moment is 1) A free (hopefully sponsored) truncated newsletter with some occasional unexpected additions which starts weekly but goes daily as soon as I have the resources.
2) A premium subscription for my in-depth thematic and investigative pieces (Spotlights) which can be monthly or annual.
3) Thematically oriented super chats.
4) Sponsored podcast
5) Advertising on the main blog.
6) A one-off lifelong "super subscription" for all Blind Spot content for all perpetuity, which is transferrable on the secondary market for a small fee for the re-registration.
How you can support me: Please share my content as it gets published. Subscribe to my Youtube so I can get the superchats going (and do share the parody video I made as a taster of what is to come on The Blind Spot). Follow the u/theblindsp0t on Twitter. Or take out a super sub when they are launched, and be patient as we ramp things up.
And I may monetise my Tweets, altho I do feel that having the monetisation button on your Twitter feed looks a little desperate. What do you think?
Big fan of your editorial work, and specially Alphaville, over the last few years. I'm not kidding when I say you and your former team (shout out to Jemima!) have played a really important role in assuring me that no, I'm not going insane, and that yes, "things" are really as stupid as they look like, and this market (esp. tech) is in a full blown manic phase that will come to a hard and painful stop eventually.
Anyway, I have a few questions, the last one of which is a bit stingy but I can't help but ask you because it is about one thing about you that I learnt and that frankly shocked me when I first read it, especially because I think it's partly a parallel symptom to all the stuff I cover in the preceding questions:
Do you think we're in a tech bubble? What do you make of the cultish behaviour around certain stocks and just the apparent general demise of all traditional criteria for valuing stocks and picking investments? I think this is a ripple effect of the post-social media's "post truth" - from anti-vaxxers through populist politics to Elon and dogecoin. What do you think?
Crypto. Do you think we've now achieved critical mass and certain actors in the financial sector are sufficiently intertwined with it to give rise to a serious financial crisis when, in my opinion, the inevitable ponzi scheme crash comes?
Finally, and this is the stingy one: how come someone who's so evidently in-tune with the lunacy of the last 10 years somehow thinks Brexit was a good choice for the UK? When I first read you thought that I couldn't believe it. Surely there's some more nuance to it, so let me ask you: why do you think that for real, and what is it with the EU that is so fundamentally broken that you think the UK - and a BoJo-led UK at that - is better off on its own, specially amidst increased geopolitical risk and instability (and even more so when you really don't know where the US will take you every other election)?
Edit: u/realizakaminska, I have to be honest, I'm a bit surprised to see you've answered every single comment here but this one. I think that probably owes itself to my last question. I think that must tell us something but, anyway, moving on: wishing you all the best in your new project.
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