A Discussion with Henry Blodget
By Jane Buckley
In a recent Tonight Show episode, host Jimmy Fallon entertained the audience with a version of the popular game “two truths and a lie,” aptly called: “Two Truths and an Alternative Fact.” On actor Ryan Gosling, for example: he has appeared on “La La Land” (fact); he has cameoed on “The Mickey Mouse Club” (fact); when he gets older, the actor will be known as “Ryan Goose” (alternative fact). As lighthearted as his game was, Fallon was just scratching the surface of a new phenomenon that is dividing the United States today: Fake News. With endless information ready to hungry readers at the click of a mouse, readers have started to decide for themselves which articles they choose to believe and which they don’t, to the extent that they will disregard certain news outlets completely. This creates the obvious problem of large percentages of the population willingly agreeing to facts that could be false. Welcome to the life under the Trump administration.
Trying to facilitate discussion of this phenomenon, Timothy Dwight College hosted Business Insider Cofounder and CEO Henry Blodget (‘88) to speak at a college tea about the phenomenon known as fake news. As advertised by the description for the college tea, “Henry Blodget a former top-ranked Wall Street analyst, Blodget is often a guest on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and other networks. He has contributed to The Atlantic, Slate, The New York Times, Fortune, New York, the Financial Times, and other publications.” Evidently, Blodget is a man of many credentials, and his talk was engaging and entertaining. In a question-answer style discussion, Blodget spoke to a group of about 40 students and alumni about his personal experience working for the journalism world, and then about his perspective on this era of fake news, especially under President Trump. Blodget was well-spoken and charismatic, immediately drawing his audience in with a mix of thoughtful advice and funny anecdotes.
The discussion launched with a simple question, asking Blodget about his transition from Yale to his prestigious role as the founder of one of the most successful news outlets in the U.S. Blodget graduated from Yale in 1988, and after spending a year teaching in Japan and writing a book about his experience, he spent 10 years on Wall Street covering the dot com boom where he, in his own words, “rode the boom up and then came crashing back down with it.” After the introduction, the discussion turned more to fake news and President Trump.
Calling the fake news phenomenon a “bewildering situation,” Blodget explained how difficult it is to convince people who are set on their beliefs, to change their minds. We’re all guilty of it–scrolling through With the nearly unlimited access to a plethora of news sources that most people have today, it has become easier than ever to pick and choose sources based on what you want to hear. Blodget didn’t present a solution to the problem besides emphasizing his own company’s commitment to the truth.
Questions like “how do you keep Business Insider reliable?” and “who do you hire to make this possible” came up, allowing Blodget to explain his company’s 100% commitment to publishing what is actually true, despite any pushback readers might give. He pointed out that Blodget took pride in the fact that while his news source published many relevant financial and political pieces, Business Insider mixed up its variety with more light-hearted articles, for example: featuring Mark Zuckerberg’s dog. When asked whether he felt attacked by the Trump administration, Blodget answered that he didn’t feel personally targeted, but was worried about the state of free press, and democracy in general, under the current administration. He also explained to us his choice in making Business Insider a completely electronic source, and how that makes it so much more accessible and readable for today’s generation.
Blodget had an interesting and well-qualified perspective on the issue of fake versus real news, but ultimately there is no satisfying solution to the phenomenon. He foresees no easy fix, and it seems that people will keep trusting sources that tell them what they want to hear. A heartening note that he ended on, however, was to give specific advice to students who wanted to go into journalism, by encouraging initiative and emphasizing the importance of good journalists in today’s political climate. Blodget ended the discussion with a simple piece of advice: “If you’re passionate about journalism, start doing it.”
Jane is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.