Please Call Me An Idiot!

March 04, 2008

Very kewl: I've been called some really nasty names in print! And not just by my boss ...

Yes, the avid investors who populate one of the most entertaining sites in investing,, have called me out. One of the posts was so dirty that it had to be removed. Probably the nicest comment was that I was simply an idiot.

What caused such ill will? Were they upset by a recent column? Did I propose James Cramer as the next CEO at Vanguard?

In my last blog item, I mistakingly referred generically to Cree and Applied Materials as "computer manufacturers."

I wish I could report that as soon as typing those words the following popped through my dim circuitry: "Dummy ... they're not COMPUTER manufacturers, they're CHIP manufacturers!"

Of course, to many of the uninformed out there, the difference between computer makers and chip makers is kinda like deciding between talking in modern Geek and classic Geek. But as an ex-tech reporter, I'm very familiar with Cree and Applied Materials. I also realize that it's way too broad of a generalization to refer to all high-tech manufacturers as "computer" makers. I dunno what I was thinking ...

Probably more about the real point I was trying to make: Cree and Applied Materials are very diversified high-tech companies (see how I dodged that one ... writing at its finest, eh?) What I was trying to say was that someone needs to question the practice of creating new sectors ... especially by some of these independent consultants and researchers who are seemingly coming out of the woodwork to market all sorts of "alternative energy" exchange-traded funds.

Sorry, I've just got some real questions about this "green" investing craze using ETFs. But I guess casting doubt about any revolution will be viewed by some as a renewed call to arms.

No problem. One of the difficult aspects of modern journalism is the pressure to act like you're an expert. Journalists are trained to accurately and fairly get to the core of different issues. We're supposed to find the most informed "experts" and report what they believe.

But editors keep telling me that people don't want to weed through all of that information to form their own conclusions. Unless you start with concrete tips and advice right away, your online audience will dwindle.

So everyone wants to be the next Ben Stein or Suze Orman. It's not an accident that many of the most prolific investment writers on the Internet these days are advisors. On the one hand, they know the market and are topic experts.

At some point, though, I hope the momentum starts swinging back to real journalism. Is it too naïve to think that people will realize how many conflicts of interests run rampant in the money management world?

So I continue to hope that someday investors will come to understand that there's no free lunch to reading about investing. The more shortcuts they take, the more they're opening up their portfolios to cookie cutter advice and added risk.

I've written columns on this very topic and urged people not to consider me an "expert." At my best, I'm simply trying to spark investors to think more about what they're doing with their portfolios.

Believe me, I'd rather be called an idiot than an expert.

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