May 2012 – Financial news aggregators

We all know the importance of accurate, current and relevant financial news. Even more than the news, we need some perspective on the news, some ability to separate important information from background noise and to place that information in a meaningful context. That responsibility has traditionally fallen to journalists, financial and otherwise.

For anyone attempting to make sense of a day’s (or week’s or year’s) events, the problem is not a shortage of stuff to drawn on. Quite the opposite: the problem is that absolute torrent of information that pummels us. By way of simple example, Google News tracks 25,000 publications (including 4,500 English-language news sites) daily.

One answer is to turn to a trusted, professional source for all your news: Reuters, Dow-Jones, the New York Times, the Financial Times and a few others have long and distinguished records.  But each has its own limits, biases and idiosyncrasies. In response, more and more readers have come to rely on news feeds and news aggregators.

News aggregators do not create news. They collect news from various third party sources, but they “choose to aggregate, to pass along, to recommend, to sort, involves normative evaluation of content,” note long-time journalists, Bill Kovach of The New York Times and Tom Rosenstiel of The Los Angeles Times (Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, Bloomsbury: 2010).  Ideally, they then present it in an easily accessible format to readers. That can make them an excellent choice for quickly accessing relevant and important financial information.

The problem is that there are too many news aggregators and too little quality control. Some like Google, automatically pull links from a multitude of online sources and then present those that contain specific keywords and have been read by the largest number of people. They are driven by algorithms that choose sites automatically based on hits, clicks, keywords and trends. These sites process of  millions of data points and use complicated mathematical formulae to decide which stories to present to you. Another approach targets a set of predetermined feeds. For these news aggregators the “source” might be more important than the story.

What we have searched for is what Kovach and Rosenstiel term the “smart aggregator,” a financial news aggregator who understands what its purpose is. These websites understand that investors want a place where they can quickly and easily go through the important financial headlines of the day, and just as easily click through to the stories that they choose.  They understand that what is popular is not always relevant or useful and they take the time to properly separate the wheat from the chaff. Essentially what we sought were financial news aggregators that have an element of human curation.

How did we identify the web’s best financial news aggregators?  Simple: we identified as many as we could and then test drove each one during the week of April 23-27, 2012.  In reviewing each site, we applied the same criteria:

    • were the aggregated sources diverse?
    • were the aggregated sources reliable?
    • did the story coverage and selection represent intelligent priorities?
    • was the site efficiently constructed and easy to navigate, and ideally,
    • was there a discernible human presence, or voice, in the process?

Two stood out, while a dozen were more trouble than they were worth.

Abnormal Returns

Abnormal Returns is likely the web’s most-celebrated financial news aggregator.  Like the Observer, Abnormal Returns is an independent publication; that is, it’s not part of a larger media entity.  In six years, its daily linkfest and “forecast-free” ethos has made it a daily destination for thousands.

Counterparties

Counterparties are “the other guys” in every financial transaction, the buyer when you’re a seller, the insurer when you’re the insured.  On the web, Counterparties is a young, human-curated news aggregator.  Part of the Thomson Reuters empire, its eclectic, lively and sharply-done.

Sites that made us go “hmmmm.” There were two other sites that offered important, provocative and/or diverting content, but which did not rise to the level of our top two.  Nonetheless we’d like to commend the two of them for your consideration.

Smart Brief

Smart Brief is less a news aggregator than a newsletter aggregator.  The editors write that “[t]he premise behind SmartBrief is simple: there’s too much information out there and too little time in the day to read it all. Our editors hand-pick the most relevant and important news from all over, summarize it, link to the original sources and deliver it — for FREE — in one-stop-shop e-newsletters.”  Some of the newsletters are produced by trade associations (New York Society of Security Analysts) for more-or-less targeted audiences (from “retirement savings community” to “operations and finance professionals”).  The newsletters update between daily and bi-weekly.

Fark

Fark is another of those sites that David, our esteemed publisher, likes and that I just shake my head at.  (But hey, he’s the boss so …) Fark, which advertises “Real News, Real Funny” describes itself as  “a news aggregator and an edited social networking news site. Every day Fark receives 2,000 or so news submissions from its readership, from which we hand-pick the funny and weird notable news — and not-news — of the day. “  The site has been around since 2000 and posts 6-10 business stories a day.  You can get a sense of their editorial sensibilities by looking at two of their top stories from April 27: “New Woolrich designer clothes that conceal firearms will no longer have your wife asking if the Glock makes her butt look big” (CBS News) and a Reuters story on the effect of Amazon’s earnings announcement on the equities market.

As always, not only could we be wrong, we’d be delighted to be proven wrong.  If you’ve found a better aggregator or you’ve found a serious error with one of our choices, write me  If you can show us a better mousetrap, we’ll include it and we’ll highlight that in David’s next column.  We’ll also give you public credit for your find and we’ll offer you a chance to contribute to the rewrite.

As always, I’d love to hear your ideas for “best of” focuses in the months ahead or for particular websites.  Write me! Remember time is money, why not take a few minutes to read this month’s feature? It just might help you avoid the multitude of aggregators who do little more than steal your time, and have more to do with racking up page hits than providing relevant and useful information.

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