Who Will Be Web 2.0’s Jon Stewart?

The Jon Stewart, Jim Cramer interview is compelling television (be sure to watch all three parts).  It’s an interesting case study on media and industry relations, and should be required for anyone who invests, directly or indirectly, in the stock market.

I’m not a Cramer-hater.  I have sporadically read and watched him since the good old days when TheStreet.Com had a TV show and I had a TIVO.  He’s cost me a lot of money, but so has every other media outlet I ever listened to.  For that matter, so has Morningstar (thanks a lot for those Citigroup and Bank of America recommendations).  I think Cramer’s current show is way over the top, but I also understand his point that he’s trying to bring these topics to a younger generation.  I guess someone needed to be the Jason Ellis of the financial sector, and he took the job.

The thing that kept standing out to me during the interview, however, is the idea that there are two financial markets.  One run by the rich insiders who have all the knowledge and pull all the strings, and another funded by the 401(k)’s and investment portfolios of the rest of us.  The latter serving not to secure our future, but to support the accelerated wealth accumulation of those who control the former.  If any part of this is true, it completely sucks, and makes the fairness of the stock market suspect.

And when I saw the clips of Cramer and others allegedly manipulating the stock market, it all sounded very familiar.  It sounded just like the venture capitalists, marketers, sycophants and other hangers on who invest in and promote all these Web 2.0/social networking/whatever applications.  Think about it.  Today’s hype about Twitter and Facebook sounds a lot like yesterday’s hype about Lehman Brothers, AIG and Washington Mutual.  The stock market pundits don’t promote those stocks any longer, just like the Web 2.0 hype-machine no longer raves about those former world changing services that wound up in the Dead Pool.  Those who believe that they may make money by promoting these stocks and applications aren’t concerned about how things go for the end user.  They just want to create buzz to increase the likelihood of a payout.  Everybody’s bullshitting everybody else and, after the insiders cash (or get bailed) out, the end users get left holding the bag.

We need a Jon Stewart too.

I have tried to do my part, to the point that a lot of the hype-machine won’t have anything to do with me.  But my podium is small compared to the consolidated podium of those who want to control the message.  Until the skeptics reach critical mass, the questioning voice gets drowned out by the hyperbole.

Plus, people just don’t want to hear it.  This part troubles me the most.

When I have a thought or an idea, I want people to test and challenge it.  The guys who work for me know this.  They have learned that I will be disappointed if they don’t vigorously test my thoughts and ideas.  In fact, my ideas get more scrutiny than theirs.  And that’s just the way I like it.  If I can successfully defend my idea against a passionate lunch table attack, then I feel better about it.  If I can’t, well maybe I need to go back to the drawing board.  Additionally, I really enjoy spirited debate.  It’s fun to argue and spar over ideas, and truth is best found through that process.  Not by nodding our heads eagerly to whatever cockamamie plan someone comes up with.

But, again, lots of people don’t approach it that way.  My wife frequently tells me that her friends are put off or offended by my challenges to their statements or ideas (actually, she tells me I can come across as an asshole).  What’s fun and useful to me is viewed as rude or impolite by them.  Sometimes I try to keep my mouth shut and let bad ideas die their own slow death, but it’s hard not to help the process along.  If she read this blog, my wife would say that was an assholish statement, but I don’t mean it that way.

I think people caught up in the Web 2.0 let’s change the world and get filthy rich in the process euphoria are equally uncomfortable defending their positions.  Some of them because they genuinely don’t like conflict.  Lots of them because they are afraid it might decrease the likelihood of getting paid.

Manners and gentility aside, we need a Jon Stewart.  We need a bunch of them.