Magazine article The Spectator

My Daily Fix of Markets Live

Magazine article The Spectator

My Daily Fix of Markets Live

Article excerpt

There are thousands of websites for anyone interested in markets. You can spend whole days shunting from one to another, blitzed by irritating ads, looking at share prices anywhere in the world, reading opinions expert and stupid, bludgeoned by analysis. Where on earth do you start? Can you sift the wheat from the chaff?

More importantly, can you avoid being bored to death?

The small, resolute band who still read the print version of the Financial Times have long since become used to skimming past what we in the trade call a 'house ad' -- a puff for something related to the paper, or owned by its proprietor. On the back page of the FT, inserted into the stockmarket report, is a box. Framed by mugshots of a couple of dubious-looking characters, it urges readers to log on to Markets Live every weekday at 11 a. m. It's hardly arresting, and most newspapers offer something superficially similar: rolling news services, fat-chewing exercises from columnists, or cringingly wooden interviews between pairs of journalists both of whom would rather be writing, which is what they signed up to do before the internet whirled them into the telly.

Alphaville -- www. ft. com/alphaville -- is different. Its inventor is Paul Murphy, the shiftier-looking of the pair of mugshots.

He was a fine, mischievous stock-market reporter when I was City editor of the Daily Telegraph, and I was upset but not surprised when the Guardian pinched him to be its City editor. He has the demeanour of a bookie, and a rapport with those upmarket bookies who call themselves market-makers in stocks and shares.

He eventually found out what the rest of us financial hacks already knew, that nobody in the City reads the Guardian because they think it's full of pinko rubbish.

(If they don't read it, how do they know?

But that's another story. ) So keen was he to escape to a more informed audience that he approached the FT with a half-baked idea for a website -- which would collate blogs, sites and gossip, interact with its users and be somehow different and attractive. The early (paper) version -- it would be stretching a point to call it a business plan -- he sent to me was mostly circles with lines joining them, like one of those organigrams that HR departments invent to justify their existence. Whatever, as the modern argot has it; the FT bought the idea, set him up in a corner of the newsroom and allowed him a couple of the smart, underpaid young things that inhabit every newspaper office -- for an industry that's supposed to be dying, it's astonishing how many bright graduates are fighting to get into it.

You only have to look at the output of Helen Thomas and Sam Jones to see that they're clever. They give the impression of understanding the acronyms in the toxic alphabet soup which is corroding the banks from the inside. They write confidently about SIVs, CPDOs and Lord knows what else. I've no idea whether they really understand them, but they give the impression that they do, and that's what journalism is all about. Alphaville will also send you a 6 a. m. email summarising what's worth reading in the morning papers, a useful bonus for City boys who've been out too late.

None of this would count for much, but for the aforementioned Markets Live. This is a real-time chat between Murphy and Neil Hume, the FT's chief stock-market reporter, or Robert Orr as his stand-in. The pair sit next to each other and type (badly) into their terminals; seconds later, the text streams on to the screen of anyone who has logged in. …

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