Dealbreaker’s Bess Levin: tough and funny

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — I was a bit uneasy about meeting the infamous Dealbreaker blogger Bess Levin.

After all, Levin, at only 25 years old, is reputed to be the scourge of Wall Street.

I half-dreaded that Levin would, as writers sometimes do, come across as an extension of her work and, thus, act satirical, cutting and outrageous. Bracing myself to encounter a diva, I wasn’t exactly disappointed at first.

Bess Levin, Dealbreaker’s editor

As it turned out, Levin kept me waiting long enough, at Café Gitane in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, to prompt me to check my watch repeatedly and, finally, wonder if she planned to show up at all.

Then she swept into the restaurant, waving and gushing heartfelt apologies as she sat down. I promptly lost any trepidation about interviewing a modern-day Dorothy Parker of the blogosphere.

In fact, as she made excuses, I couldn’t help but think Levin was actually more girlish than churlish. “Girlish” might not exactly a term that you’d associate with someone who has risen to a position of authority and responsibility — or would subsequently post a piece on June 15 about a Wall Streeter’s “library of porn in his office and the finest collection of dildoes in the world.”

An entertainer

That item strikes me as vintage Bess Levin. It maintains the spirit of “Wall Street torture porn,” which is how she described Dealbreaker’s approach and appeal. Check out Dealbreaker here.

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The New York Observer called Levin “the most important young Wall Street blogger in the country,” which probably isn’t too far off the mark, either. See Observer item here.

Clearly, she gets a kick out of poking holes in the pompous image of Wall Street professionals, to the delight of journalists who don’t have the same cleverness — or freedom — to write like her.

Note that I didn’t write “her fellow journalists.” Levin insists the description doesn’t apply to what she does at Dealbreaker. “I try to make Wall Street funny,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t think of myself as a ‘reporter.’ I write less serious (stuff).”

The media universe embraces Levin as a symbol of the Really New Journalism (sorry, Tom Wolfe), someone whose job description is to lampoon the establishment and entertain the masses with both biting and good-natured sarcasm. She comes out of the tradition of the National Lampoon, “Saturday Night Live”
the Onion and, of course, Gawker.

“I don’t see myself going down the traditional path of journalism,” she says. “It’s fun just to make myself laugh.”

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Levin has a knack for writing irreverent, witty and insightful stuff. But what makes proudly hard-bitten journalists look at her in something approaching awe is her precocious age. Levin is not too far removed from attending Amherst College or, even high school in suburban New Jersey.

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Much of Levin’s success results from the states of the journalism and Wall Street landscapes. The rise of the Internet has attracted a large number of young readers who would sooner dig a ditch than buy a newspaper or a magazine at a newsstand.

This situation has forced the nation’s once-stodgy media companies to dig deep to tape young, adventurous writers, who are at home on the Web and can communicate with their peers.

And she is funny.

When I asked her “best quality,” she kidded that she had “too many to mention” and her “worst quality” was “having such a capacious intellect and formidable market savvy that it can make it difficult to relate to the plebeians on Wall Street I chronicle such as Lloyd Blankfein
and George Soros”

Her most popular posts include “anything involving a certain befleeced investor in Stamford, Conn.”, “8 Ways to Charlie Gasparino’s Heart,” “I Need a Moment to Vent” and “IM series Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan.”

Levin said her “biggest gaffe” was “underwriting the Dealbreaker Enhanced Strategy CDO^4 Fund — the billions in profit weren’t worth the economic calamity visited upon so many ordinary Americans. That one will haunt me for the rest of my days.”

With tongue planted deep in cheek, she insists that Dealbreaker is deadly serious.

“I can’t believe you would have the temerity to suggest otherwise. The slightest nuanced or cadence change in my prose could wreak catastrophic dislocation in the global market system. Ask Dick Fuld. He knows,” Levin said.

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‘I tease out of love’

Levin has a bright future. My only concern is that she might eventually have a hard time coming up with increasingly outrageous material to satisfy her unquenchable audience. On a much broader scale, Hunter Thompson became a victim of this syndrome.

Thompson, the self-appointed Dr. Gonzo of journalism, ultimately became a caricature of his image as a hard-partying, outrageous symbol of the New Journalism.

Levin has a healthy sense of proportion. She said the notion that people fear her “is amusing to me. “I don’t think of myself as inspiring fear in people. I tease out of love. If I’ve written a lot about you, it means I am a fan.”

She noted that her four years at Dealbreaker “feel like 30,” in light of the usual rapid rate of turnover in the blogosphere.

“Thinking back to birth,” she mused, “I’ve always been a smart-ass. I always had a pretty good imagination. Even in college, I’d write ridiculous stories about my friends and roommates. It’s reminiscent of things I write now, except that the only difference is now I’m writing about billionaires.”

I asked her about the future. She has no idea what may lie ahead, but expects that one thing will remain the same.

“I still don’t want to be a journalist.”

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your favorite purveyor of sarcastic humor?

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