Audit Notes: FHLB Bomb, Subprime Fraud, Gannett Is Cheap

Bloomberg’s Jon Weil has the Lede of the Day, writing about a “trillion-dollar time bomb”:

The Federal Home Loan Banks are a frequently overlooked band of government-chartered cooperatives whose name screams systemic risk with every word. Federal means Uncle Sam. Homes are a declining asset. A loan is money out the door. And banks are the things that get taxpayer bailouts when they’re too big to fail and enough of their loans go bad.

Guess what? The FHLBs are fudging their numbers.

— Well, whaddya know? The SEC charged somebody with committing fraud in the subprime securities market. The WSJ:

James Kelsoe, once a star mutual-fund manager, was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of deliberately inflating the value of subprime securities in order to hide losses in his funds after the real-estate bubble burst.

An administrative proceeding filed Wednesday alleged a scheme by the 46-year-old managing director at Morgan Keegan & Co., a Memphis, Tenn., unit of Regions Financial Corp., to take advantage of opaque pricing on many thinly traded securities backed by subprime mortgages.

— Leave it to Gannett to team up with content farm Demand Media. The LAT:

The arrangement calls for Demand Media to create and maintain a new travel section for USA Today’s website called Travel Tips. The section, which debuted Wednesday, is populated by thousands of how-to articles created by Demand’s editors and freelancers…

Using a combination of technology and humans, Demand generates 5,000 articles and videos a day, far more than any single media company can produce on its own. The company uses an algorithm to continuously sift through massive amounts of data from search engines to divine what people are interested in reading. The algorithm spits out popular keywords that are massaged by editors into headlines, then pumped into a database.

An army of 7,000 freelancers taps into the database, which on any given day contains hundreds of thousands of topics. They are paid an average of $15 an article, or $20 for each video.

Something tells me this isn’t going to work out well for USA Today. You get what you pay for.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.