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Not the oracle

It’s interesting to observe how different sources treated Alan Greenspan’s congressional testimony. The Financial Times (bizarrely, in my view) made it their lead story: “Greenspan says economy is close to turning point”. For The New York Times, it didn’t even make the front page: “Recovery near, but its vigor is in doubt”. The Wall Street Journal also relegates it from the front page, although it is the second news item on the website: “Greenspan says he sees the start of likely weak recovery” (subscription required).

Two things are notable. First, even Greenspan doesn’t buy the optimistic view of the direction of the US economy. He’s not an out-and-out pessimist, granted, but his words were tempered with considerable caution. Second, the time when the world hung on every word the Fed chairman said has passed. He’s still important, and certainly has the power to move markets, but does anyone recall him being termed the second (or even the first) most powerful person in the US?

Incidentally, comparisons between FT and WSJ coverage have an added piquancy, as their competition for the world’s business readers is verging on the nasty. As an avid reader of both, here’s my take. If you want to understand what’s happening in the world, nothing touches the FT. If you want to keep up with American business, the Journal knocks spots off all the competition. The FT has done extraordinarily well to top 100,000 in the US. It’s never going to compete (and it doesn’t pretend that it will) with the Journal as the prime business source in the US. I think the FT has Europe similarly locked up, even though the circulation comparison with the WSJ Europe isn’t that far ahead. In Asia, it’s more of a toss up.

On the Web, it’s a different story. FT.com is hopeless compared to the WSJ Online. The Journal took the courageous decision to charge from the outset, and to my mind they’ve remained way ahead of other newspapers in how they use the Web. And if you’re interested in their kind of information, the price they ask is absurdly low. I pay it happily. (Of course, both sites are completely hopeless in linking to anywhere else on the Web, but what BigPub site is?)

They’re very different papers, and we all profit immensely from having both (although stay far, far away from the Journal’s editorial pages if you want to maintain an equable blood pressure).

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