Telling It Like It Is, All Year Long

Three cheers for constant accountability.
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A sense of justice. A sense of outrage. A belief that there is a right and a wrong way to do things in the market. A desire to show you what things looks like from the inside. A need to blow the doors off the clubby, private world that is institutional stock trading. That's what this column is about, and that's what I tried to convey in 1998.

It's become quite fashionable among columnists around the world to sit back at the end of each year and reflect on what they did right and wrong. That's just fine and I am glad there is such a notion of accountability.

But I never wait until the end of the year to point out my flawed reasoning. I devoted a four-part series to my blown Oct. 8 get-out call, a call that cost me more money than I could ever convey. I still wake up screaming about that day. I spent an enormous amount of time talking about how I screwed up

ICG Communications

(ICGX)

, one of my biggest losses of 1998. If there is someone out there who does not know that I took a bath in

Cendant

(CD)

, because of management chicanery, I can point him to a host of self-flagellating pieces. Just like in trading, I like to fess up fast when I am wrong and write about it, both for cathartic purposes and to try to ensure that it does not happen again.

In 1998 I shared with you my anger over things I did wrong and others did wrong. I tried to use the medium to communicate a sense of the atmosphere and of my own foibles and successes. Mostly I just tried to tell it like it is, like I saw it. Sometimes my life became too much of an open book, partly because of the site. I found myself, for instance, in the

WavePhore

(WAVO)

incident, at the mercy of the print journalists, none of whom even got what the heck I was talking about (only three journalists did not take me to task and two of them were on-liners) and I showed my hurt to you. I keep thinking that after thousands of columns here trying to show you what is going on -- without trying to sell you anything or make you buy anything or tout anything -- the off-liners would make their peace with me. But no, step out of their line, and all of that good stuff is for naught with the dead-tree guys. Yeah, still makes me sick to my stomach. Others in the financial media just tend to ignore us altogether if they are not criticizing us. All I can say is, ignoring us makes us stronger and more resolved to prevail.

When we started

TheStreet.com

, the idea behind it was that there should be some place where the real story could be told, where stuff like the conference calls and the conferences get written about and the lousy prints -- like that

Chase

(CMB)

one last Thursday-- and the crummy managers get exposed. My journalism background is firmly rooted in sports writing and crime reporting, two places where the truth gets an airing a heck of a lot more than it does in any business section. I wanted that level of accountability brought to the world of finance to help level the playing field between the do-it-yourself stock picker who could not afford the $1,500 a month wires, and the institutional guy with everything at his disposal. That's what the on-line trading revolution is about.

Lately it has become fashionable among the off-line fuddy-duddies to criticize the "sportification" of business journalism. That's just horse%#&^#^. Everybody in this country knows that no sports section is as soft on the key players as any business section in a major newspaper. Bums get called bums on the sports page. When some multi-million dollar guy short-arms a pass or doesn't dive for the ball he gets blasted by five columnists. When a coach down by seven goes for the field goal at fourth and goal to go with one minute left to play, you know he is gonna get headslammed on the front page.

But when somebody does something boneheaded or stupid with your money, that's always been out of bounds. You can't write about that. The guy is an advertiser, or he is friends with the publishing side or your company's got a deal with his company. Maybe somebody on the board doesn't like it, or maybe the owner plays golf with the guy. Or maybe the reporters don't have sources or knowledge of what is really going on and they overlook it, instead focusing on those top 10 retirement ideas that suck so badly I can't believe they get written about constantly and without a touch of irony. Why rock the boat?

That's not the way we play it. Never will. You catch us favoring somebody or letting somebody off too easy, someone who would have been raked over the coals in sports, we deserve to be hung. Hang us! Our customer is you. You pay the bills around here. You deserve better. And you are online; you are a click away. You don't tell us, it is your fault.

I have written for just about every major publishing house and newspaper chain in the country, and while no one will ever admit it, you never go against the unwritten rules that would put the knock on the publishing chieftains. The bill payers. The tyranny of the business side is subliminal; it is unstated. We have church-and-state in newsrooms, but it's more like the French church and state that

Orwell

wrote about, not the kind that Jefferson envisioned.

But because of the unique way

TheStreet.com

is set up and because circulation -- you -- is an incredibly important profit center, instead of a major drag as it is off-line because of sky-high distribution costs, there is a mighty big change going on here. None of the non-editorial owners, (the edit staff is part owner of the institution), could kill a story even if we wanted to. I don't have a &$*$% clue what

TheStreet.com

is going to write about beforehand, and I don't care as long as it is accurate. They want to attack a major mutual fund or brokerage house, heck, if it is right, more power to them. If they want to praise something I don't like, that's also

TSC's

prerogative. If you complain to me about the coverage, I will shrug my shoulders and do nothing. Heck I might even yell at you or send you a nasty email. I won't even bother to pass it on to editorial.

Dave Kansas

will take my head off if I do, or worse, just laugh at me, and I work for Dave. If any of the 50-odd reporters (and they are odd) want to attack me, or make fun of me, or ridicule me, so be it. I can't even email them, and if I try, I get the &*(%*^$*& kicked out of me. I will lose the fight every time if I protest.

I once met face-to-face with Dave Kansas literally while another columnist at

TheStreet.com

was writing a story that knocked a very vocal stock of mine down 25 points, and I read the story just like you did. Anything less than that, any heads-up whatsoever, and we wouldn't be worth a warm bucket of spit. It's why I never go to

TheStreet.com

's offices except for board meetings, and I don't venture over to the edit side when I am there. I couldn't pick most of the reporters or editors out of a line-up.

In 1998 I made a lot of enemies with this venture, including once incredibly close friends, because of my burning desire to see it through. Now that it is on firm footing, my role is changing back to the columnist and fund manager combo that I have always loved, but I will be the first to jump up and down if somebody catches a break in the columns they don't deserve.

So, I don't care what gets written about, or how it is written about as long as it tells the truth and can try to help you understand how the game is played so you can be more successful at it. That's what

TheStreet.com

is all about. Journalists, online and off, know this, even if only a couple of off-liners will ever admit it. More important, we know it, and you know it. You wouldn't be subscribers if you didn't. Here we are in year three of our existence and still nobody is paying for anything else on the Net save the

Journal

, and there the price is heavily subsidized, costing far less than the print version, even though it is much more fully featured. (Good predatory-pricing antitrust case there for the enterprising among you.)

So here's to 1999 and doing more of the same that we did last year. I know some of you won't like the new design, others of you will get disconnected, or have trouble getting on the site, or some other fiasco. No excuses: that will be troublesome. But it is the content that matters. And if that ever goes bad, you know where to find me. Best of luck in the New Year.

Also, I am long Chase. For you newbies, I disclose that because I disclose everything. I do not do it so you think, hmm, Cramer is long Chase, I should buy Chase. First, I might sell it if it goes up or if circumstances change. I could sell it at any time. Second, I want you to know where I am coming from. My outrage came because I was long Chase when the print knocked it down three points.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of TheStreet.com. At the time of publication the fund was long Chase Manhattan and had no positions in other stocks mentioned in this column, though positions can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column by sending a letter to TheStreet.com at

letters@thestreet.com.