Four Questions: The Big Money Editor Jim Ledbetter

Thebigmoney09.17.08.jpgIn late August, Slate’s spin-off business site, The Big Money, announced it would launch on September 15th. Little did they know what a massively huge day that would be in the financial world. With a successful launch under his belt, editor Jim Ledbetter spoke with about Big Money’s accidentally brilliant timing, future partnerships and scrapping the entire feature well on the Sunday night before launch.

1. It was incredible timing for the launch. What was the scene like over the weekend? How did you deal with all the changes in the financial world?
We had planned to spend most of the weekend getting the site in order and working out all the kinks. I’d been planning for a good three to four weeks a stellar, brilliant lineup of feature stories from economists and a wide variety [of writers] and basically on Sunday, we threw all that out the window because we were following the Lehman saga very closely and it became clear that we really had to shift gears.

I’m telling you that we had a terrific lineup of stuff that we wanted to come into the world showing and we made a decision on Sunday evening to launch a Web site that is supposed to be responsive to the news without the news would be a mistake. We shifted gears and put on hold a lot of the great stuff that we are planning. Slowly now, I’m starting to get some of it on the site.

I think the observation that I would make is that the very reason we launched The Big Money is the recognition that we are living through an extraordinary financial period. Even before Monday’s stock market meltdown, and even before the Lehman bankruptcy, this has been a pretty extraordinary year, with the bailout of Fannie and Freddy, the forced takeover of Bear Stearns, tremendous inflationary pressure. I won’t say we predicted what was going to happen on Monday and certainly the timing was great or lousy or both, but in general, I’d say this is the very reason why a Web site like The Big Money is necessary. This stuff is front-minded and I don’t think that the financial news does a great job of explaining these things to people. There’s room for new voices and new tools on the economy.

2. It’s only been a couple days, but are you seeing any big boosts in traffic because of the massive media coverage of the financial sector?
It’s hard to say because we didn’t have specific traffic numbers in mind. My job is to produce the site and to create interesting stories and interesting tools. Slate put both of our pieces on Monday and Tuesday on the cover, which they didn’t necessarily plan to do.

I think it stands to reason that there has been a boost in traffic but when you don’t have a baseline, how can you measure that? I’m pretty pleased with the traffic that we’ve had to date, but we also are planning to put into place a number of distribution agreements that will get our traffic higher still.

3. Can you talk about any of those agreements?
MSN is planning on running some of our stuff. Reuters. We will make greater use than we have of Other financial news sites [that] we’re in discussion with.

4. You mentioned some projects that you had to table because of this week’s news, but what can we expect in two weeks or a month?
I’m sitting on two fantastic economist’s commentaries. One by Jeffrey Sachs and one by James Galbraith, which while timely in the sense that they are about broader economic issues, aren’t specifically about what’s going on in the stock market right now. I hope to run those as soon as I can justify it when the market calms down a little bit.

I think that we have yet to use the homepage of the site to really promote some of the fantastic tools we’ve created, including our Socially Responsible Investing Stock Screener and We Build Your Presentation. We’ve got lots of stuff lurking in the back of the site because the front really needs to be used for news.