Introducing: The Zero Hedge Ombuds(wo)man

One daunting aspect of Zero Hedge is the simply explosive mass of content that the site distributes.  On weekdays, and counting only the front page (and therefore only Senior Staff writings and an occasional guest post or two), Zero Hedge publishes between 25 and 35 primary articles per day usually ranging from 100 to over 4000 words each.  Our contributors add another 5 to 15 pieces daily, depending on how much is going on in the world, or how much post-close drinking went on the day before.  Unlike most finance sites, Zero Hedge also prints content on Saturday and Sunday, as well as market holidays.  Last year, on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Zero Hedge was spitting out stories like an unemployed, single, Canadian atheist.  Whatever conclusions you might (reasonably) draw about our social lives and sanity when reflecting on these facts, what you cannot but agree with is that Zero Hedge produces a metric asston of original content 365 days a year.  (We can say that now that our one year anniversary has just passed).

You may or may not also be aware that no one at Zero Hedge draws a salary.  Even members of the Senior Staff, which if you call "full time" 40 hours a week, each work about 2.2 "full time" jobs for Zero Hedge, get no paycheck.  The vast majority of our revenues and donations go directly to infrastructure like utilities, internet, system administration, research and filing costs for FOIA, legal research and the like.  What remains (if there is any, and many months there isn't) we generally retain in a modest reserve fund in case a server blows up (more and more likely the way you data hungry content gluttons stress our resources), we have to pay for some big legal filing or document production request, or a critical dataset seems worth buying one day.  Again, you may draw a number of conclusions from this, including some not very flattering to us from a mental health perspective.  If any of the Senior Staff once harbored illusions about being well (or even adequately) paid via their association with Zero Hedge (and actually I don't think anyone harbored such fantasies), they have long since been disabused thereof.

Yet, as of this writing, Zero Hedge is #90 on the Technorati "Top 100" blogs in the world in the immediate company of sites like Ubergizmo (which lists two founders, a Senior Associate Editor, an Associate Editor, two Contributing Editors, an International Team of five as well as a System Administrator among its staff- which we doubt consists entirely of volunteers), The Lede (A New York Times Blog- though they might be broke by now for all we know), the gorgeous design site, Inhabitat (with a founder, Managing Editor, six Senior Editors, a Business Development Manager, a Communications Manager, two News Editors, an Intern, a New York Editor, thirteen Contributing Writers and a News and Transportation Editor- an indeterminate number of whom command salaries), Autoblog (apparently an AOL affiliated blog- draw your own budget conclusions), EurekAlert (affiliated with the Association for the Advancement of Science which, in addition to a list of donors spanning 10 pages of 5 column, 8 point font, also named 12 donors who gave $100,000 or more in 2008), Funny or Die (backed by Mark Kvamme of Sequoia Capital, among others), The Campaign Spot (a National Review venture- we doubt they are hurting for cash), friend of Zero Hedge Felix Salmon (under the Reuters umbrella), Cato@Liberty (which is quite obviously well funded- though times are tough for anyone to the right of Chavez these days), and Danger Room (Wired Magazine's security technology nexus).

We also share this quartile of the Technorati top 100 with "one man band" (or nearly so) online publications like Political Wire (Taegan D. Goddard's space), Crooks and Liars (John Amato's digital real estate) and Legal Insurrection (Cornell Law Professor William A. Jacobson's legal tour de force), but these are few and far between when the blogosphere altitude gets this high and the digital air this thin.

At this level there are also online outlets that fall somewhere in the middle, like Powerline (run by attorney John Hinderaker et. al) that seem to represent a collaboration between professional colleagues whose full-time occupations might otherwise to limit them to an aggregate of four articles per day, or so.  In any event, these online presences are generally run by individuals who seem to have reached a station in life such that their day job permits them a bit of serious daily blogging during the work week.  (Certainly, this has the added effect of signaling their expertise to potential clients- an endeavor we fully support).

At the moment, Zero Hedge is also #3 in the Technorati Business section, trading slots in the top five places often with Felix Salmon, Mashable, Calculated Risk and TechCrunch.  Usually not far off if not right next to or above us are Naked Capitalism, The Market Ticker, and The Baseline Scenario, Mish's, Business Insider and, of course and dear to my own heart not just because the front page still bears my by-line, Dealbreaker.  Here, small, tightly run shops are more common, but well funded commercial sites with numerous paid writers and (often) venture or angel financing behind them (like Dealbreaker, and Business Insider) round out nearly half of the population.

All of this is a long way of saying, it is usually a lot of work and potentially a lot of capital to maintain this kind of infrastructure.  Someone pointed out to us yesterday that Wikileaks (which primarily posts uploaded content, rather than creating much of its own) runs on a budget of $200,000 per year- before paying a cent in staff salary.

Still, don't think for a moment we are complaining.

At least among the all-volunteer Senior Staff, we absolutely love what we do, and for some of us it has become more than just an obsession, but a fixation bordering on unhealthy.  (As I write the first draft of this post, 4:30 am ET approaches).  Most of us hail from the annoyingly-high-paid finance world and the opportunity cost of Senior Staffing Zero Hedge 180% of full time is, therefore, significant.  ("Sacrilege" in particular deserves mention here given that, in the face of the brutal battering you ceaselessly inflict on his overwhelmed severs even at 2am ET, I have no idea why he hasn't quit yet).  Of course, I would be remiss not to mention our contributors here as well.  (Thanks guys and gals!)

But, having waxed poetic on our greatness and accomplishments, it falls to us to admit that there is a Dark Side(tm) to employing a non-professional (read: unpaid) and skeleton crew.  We miss quite a lot.  Our tips@zh inbox sees about 200-300 emails per day, of which perhaps 15% are penis enlargement advertisements and 25% represent actionable, interesting material.  Yesterday between 12:00am and 11:59pm we processed more than 1700 comments.  No, that's not a typo.  We are hosting over 225,000 comments in total today.

As you will quickly see, it is literally impossible for a newsroom as sparse as ours to cover such a beat.  We miss quite a lot of interesting stories.  Many reader tips are, if not ignored, simply lost in the static.  More significantly, Zero Hedge employs no "Managing Editor."

Unfortunately, Zero Hedge, which was but a small online carve-out lost in a salty sea of foam only 10 months ago, has reached a point where the weight of subject matter we regularly manage requires a bit more care and attention than we have been able to give before now.

It is for this reason that Zero Hedge has retained our first Ombuds(wo)man.

It would not be waterboarding the matter in the least to suggest that Zero Hedge is a literal lightening rod for criticism.  Nor would it be out of place to point out that, where it is dismissed, Zero Hedge tends to fall into the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" bucket.  True, we have hit a number of very thin nails on the head (national security exceptions to financial disclosures and AIG balance sheets come to mind).  But, to the extent "extraordinary evidence" is the side of that balance sheet that readers (or non-reader critics) find lacking, we are underperforming in the marketplace.  This will not do.

The sorts of small details that are likely to escape a writing staff with no formal editors in-house, quite obviously, escape us- as we have no formal editors in-house.  Moreover, despite the fact that we maintain a dedicated abuse / legal team (with a dedicated inbox that we monitor pretty closely), most Zero Hedge criticism seems to find root in the pages of other blogs, whose authors do not appear to regard comment from us as a pre-requisite to unfettered publication.  Often, we learn of some "cutting" rebuke somewhere in the blogosphere (or even the mainstream media) days or even weeks after its publication.  In fact, it seems to be the rule that issues of citation, clerical or even significant factual errors on Zero Hedge play out in public before we ever hear of them.  This month (as you may have noticed) has been no exception.

In keeping with tradition here at Zero Hedge, our Ombuds(wo)man is pseudonymous.  In fact, his/her true identity is known only to two members of the Senior Staff.  In keeping with our manifesto, we believe this will permit a certain savagery that might not be available to a named Zero Hedge critic.  We can, however, credit him/her with the following sanitized biography:

- An annoying number of years in Big Law
- A fewer (but better) number in corporate finance
- Several past and present directorships including two with public firms
- Several tedious "scholarly" publications (mostly legal related)
- An intimidating hourly rate (when permitted to run undiscounted)
- A disconcerting affinity for H. L. Mencken

We are still astonished that we are paying so little.  Jana spent two hours trying to determine if a decimal point had misprinted.

Though we may regret it, our new addition has unfettered access to the front page of Zero Hedge and can be expected to pen missives in the early morning hours when we are least likely to find them and strike them down.  No one is immune, Senior Staff, Authors and Contributors alike.

As if all that were not enough, members of the public can complain (or rave?) directly to the Ombuds(wo)man via email at: ombudsman [at] zerohedge [dot] com

Of course, we will probably try to distract you immediately from this development by unveiling the massive site remake that is Zero Hedge 3.0 early next month.  (Though, to our dismay, the site mock-ups appear to include a whole "Notes from the Ombuds(wo)man" section).

Meanwhile, there is plenty for us to do, and the population of our critics just increased by (at least) one.