Audit Notes: high-frequency trading, Ann Arbor news, SEC access

A whistleblower sparks a growing investigation, reports the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal has a good page-one story and scoop on a high-frequency trader turned whistleblower whose complaint has sparked a big investigation by regulators into whether exchanges are screwing small investors:

He became convinced exchanges were providing such an edge after he says he was offered one himself when he ran a high-speed trading firm—a way to place orders that can be filled ahead of others placed earlier. The key: a kind of order called “Hide Not Slide.”

The encounter set off an odyssey for Mr. Bodek that has fueled a sweeping SEC inquiry into the activities of sophisticated trading firms and stock-exchange operators—including Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., NYSE Euronext, Direct Edge Holdings LLC and BATS Global Markets—according to exchange and other officials, and lawyers with knowledge of the inquiry…

The upshot, say critics, is a stock market grown so complex and opaque that many investors have little idea how it operates, and are made wary by the repeated glitches. Any notion that the computer-armed traders are being given an unfair edge could only heighten investor concerns.

— Here’s a good Nieman Lab post on lessons from the Ann Arbor Chronicle, which started up a few years ago and is now bringing in a hundred thousand dollars a year and growing at a 16 percent clip. For instance, tip jars (something I suggested, half in jest in the pre-everybody-goes-paywall days) work:

Though the Chronicle is a for-profit LLC, 25 percent of revenue last year — $22,000, by their numbers — came from voluntary “subscriptions” and contributions from readers. Every one of the Chronicle’s vast, meticulous posts about local government deliberation now finishes with a solicitation to join, though Askins is careful never to call it a “donation.”

The Chronicle has become increasingly important as Advance Publications, owner of the Times-Picayune, gutted Ann Arbor’s newspaper and replaced it with

“What’s happened here is clearly a train wreck in terms of journalistic integrity, ability to cover the community,” Morgan said.

The site’s new staff is dominated by non-locals who are “a couple years out of college, maybe,” Morgan said. In the time a single Chronicle freelancer was covering public schools, she said, cycled through three different beat reporters.

— I missed this story when it ran a couple of weeks ago, but make sure to read this Bloomberg piece on the revolving door at the SEC. It FOIA’d emails from former SEC commissioner Annette Nazareth to current high-level SEC officials that show the coziness and access granted those who cash in as lobbyists:

Nazareth and her colleagues at Davis Polk played a central role as the financial industry shaped its Dodd-Frank priorities, helping write more than 80 comment letters to regulators. The firm’s clients, including Sifma, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp., targeted rules such as the so-called Volcker ban on proprietary trading, arguing it could create excessive burdens on banks, choke off business and hurt the economy…

In her e-mails, Nazareth blended the personal and professional. For instance, she sympathized with Schapiro over a “frustrating” New York Times article in one message, and in another offered to sell the SEC a Davis Polk Web product “at an appropriate government rate”…

As lawmakers neared a deal to create a new consumer agency to police products like credit cards and mortgages, Nazareth forwarded Becker a news article about the agreement. “I am beginning to feel ill!” she wrote on March 1.

— Finally, here’s Steven Colbert spot-on take on USA Today’s redesign:

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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. Tags: , , , ,