Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wall Street Journal is Bad for Business

One of my favorite blogs over the last year-and-a-half has been the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital, which covers issues at the intersection of business and the environment: energy prices, sustainable business practices, new technologies, science, politics, etc.  While I didn't always agree with the blog's analysis, its even-handedness and objectivity is a breath of fresh air on a publication given to writing outright falsehoods in its editorial page.  And as a 24-year-old with long-term career ambitions in the clean energy business, it is a daily must-read, as one of the best sources of sustainable business news and analysis on the internet.

So I was a bit shocked to visit the site today and find myself greeted by a headline announcing its cancellation: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Now, I know the Wall Street Journal's editorial page is a right-wing pigpen of nonsense, but this seems like this is a bad move for the WSJ from a BUSINESS standpoint - and you'd think that business concerns would ultimately trump ideology.  

Granted, Environmental Capital probably doesn't generate a positive ROI in the PRESENT.  But as a top source of news for those working in the clean energy and sustainability space, it would seem poised to grow its readership as the clean tech space takes off.  Indeed, given that this is the fastest growing sector of the global economy, it seems like particularly strange timing to punt on the issue.  Just look at US venture capital funding for clean tech over the last few years:

True, VC funding of clean tech fell by 34% from 2008-09, but TOTAL VC funding fell by a much greater 55%, and the deal volume barely changed.  Since 2003, clean tech's share of VC funding has risen from just 3% to 25%.

Looking forward, the evidence is even more compelling that clean technologies will be the next great industry.  A Deloitte survey found that clean technologies are the only category in which a majority of VC firms plan to increase their investments across the next three years - nearly twice as many as the next highest category (medical devices and equipment).  Only 6% plan to decrease investments:

So it's absolutely flabbergasting that the WSJ is canceling its well-regarded blog on the subject.  In doing so, the WSJ is abandoning its opportunity to grow with the clean economy.  Moreover, they're virtually ensuring they'll lose their share of readers in the 18-35 demographic, a growing percentage of which will find themselves employed in clean technologies over the coming years.

The only explanation for the WSJ's decision is ideology: the editors concluded that Environmental Capital was a little too friendly to the environment, and decided an ideological purge was necessary.  From now on, it's likely that all WSJ publications will toe the party line of "clean energy bad, global warming fake," or risk crackdown and expulsion.

This too seems like bad business.  The paper must figure that no matter the politics of its business audience, they will still be captive customers to the country's top source of business news; a right-wing ideology only broadens its appeal beyond the business community by establishing itself as the leading paper for political conservatives.  But this is excessively short-term.  Young businesspersons are increasingly liberal on issues of science and climate change, and will increasingly distrust a paper that chooses to ignore the facts in favor of ideology.

It's a sad trend for a paper that was once--and still considers itself to be--the paper of repute for people of business.  The creep of right-wing orthodoxy seems to be reaching its tentacles into all aspects of the paper's coverage, even supposedly objective sections.  How can you trust the paper on business issues and investment advice when it bails on the fastest growing sector of the economy, when its coverage is driven more by ideology than business sense?

The blog's authors don't leave without a parting shot, which I think is further evidence that this was an ideological decision.  As Joe Romm points out, the title "So long, and thanks for all the fish" comes from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

The phrase also carries a profoundly ironic underlying meaning given the context and the subject area of the blog.  Wikipedia’s entry on the not-bad film version explains:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Stephen Fry) narrates that the dolphins, the second most-intelligent creatures on Earth, attempted to warn mankind about the planet’s impending destruction, but humans interpreted the dolphins’ communications as tricks. The dolphins left the planet, leaving their final message to humans as “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
Was this intentional by Johnson?  You decide.


  1. I sympathizewith you, I too will miss Environmental Capital. If you haven't come across these before, though, they are good sources for energy news and analysis:

  2. thanks - i read Green Inc. sometimes, but wasn't aware of the FT blog. I've bookmarked both of those.

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  4. Thank you for providing the perspective. I just read a part of the article,so I don't know much what to say. Good luck for the new member! Edward Ryan Cullen
    Edward Ryan Cullen