Behind the scenes of EJMR – An interview with Kirk

The Economic Jobs Market Rumor Forum is a controversial web forum for economists.  Christine Mattauch, a German freelance journalist based in New York City, recently wrote a story about EJMR for Handelsblatt (“Die Gerüchteküche der Volkswirte”) . She got in touch with “Kirk”,  the anonymous moderator of the forum and did the following interview with him by email.

Christine Mattauch: When was the website founded, and why?

Kirk: An economist who went by the alias of Tatonnement founded Economics Job Market Rumors (EJMR) several years ago. The aim was to provide a forum to help economists share information and tips about the complex economics job market. About a year ago Tatonnement no longer wanted to moderate the site and offered it to the person who made the best proposal to be the next moderator.

How many users does it have, and could you say how they are scattered by countries/regions? Any idea where the site ranks in comparison with competitors?

In a typical month EJMR receives between 50,000-60,000 unique visitors, over 200,000 visits and 2 million pageviews. The average length of a visit is over 8 minutes. The top 5 countries by visitors are US, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia. I don’t really think of other sites as competitors as EJMR operates in a fairly unique space.

In you own view, what makes the site attractive to the econ community? What would you consider being unique?

EJMR provides students with insider information of the economics job market and profession that they can’t find anywhere else. It also gives economists a unique opportunity to unwind and discuss various topics with fellow economists without having to worry about their reputation being tarnished.

Why do you want to stay anonymous?

For two primary reasons. Given that EJMR often breaks the news of controversies in the economics profession, it could be damaging to my career to be named as the moderator of the site. Secondly, since EJMR discusses a lot of political and economic issues I feel it is important to remain as non-partisan as possible, and show no preference to any topic. Users of the site have various theories on my identity, but they’re not very close!

Would you reveal if you are the administrator or founder of the website, or maybe both? Any personal/background information you would allow us to share, like male/female, living in London (or not), being a student/an economist, whatever?

The name Kirk gives it away. Where I come from the scarcity problem has been solved by replicators and the Federation no longer has a need for economists. I stand alone in a society dominated by political scientists.

Is the site being operated out of passion (as a hobby, we would say in German) or is it a commercial project?

A combination of the two, but primarily as a hobby. Web design is a hobby of mine and I and find it much more interesting to be working on a site that has so many users and serves a useful purpose rather than tinkering with projects that nobody looks at. Since taking over EJMR I’ve added several new features including a optimized site for smartphones, a quote button, a voting system, and identifier tags so that within a thread users are able to anonymously identify each other using 4 character tags.

A main feature is that anyone can post easily and that entries are hardly censored. Why is that?

This brings several benefits to EJMR. Firstly, by having minimal entry barriers it raises the number of active contributors to the site and minimises the number of ‘lurkers’. Secondly, the anonymity and ease of use allows users to express their opinions or reveal information that they would not be comfortable to do otherwise. Thirdly, a lot of moderation does take place, but it is done discreetly.

John Cawley with Cornell University writes in a guide for young economists about the site: “I had high hopes for it, thinking it might be a clearinghouse for important information. Sadly, it’s virtually useless as the message boards are overwhelmed with unrelated and offensive posts. Job candidates are better off ignoring it.” – Your comment?

I wholeheartedly disagree. Out of every 50 posts, about 4 or 5 may be unrelated or offensive. These are either deleted quickly or sink to the bottom of the site when no one responds. In addition, users of EJMR also have a mechanism to report each post to be deleted; adding an element of crowd sourced moderating to the site. The site is popular with some of the most distinguished economics professors, but I’ll admit that it can help to have a sense of humor when visiting EJMR.

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