Doris Dungey was "one of the best financial writers in the world," able to explain "complex ideas with wit and great clarity," financial journalist and blogger Felix Salmon said last year at Condé Nast Portfolio.com.
Until Dungey died Sunday at the age of 47 — her life cut tragically short by ovarian cancer — she was known to readers of the financial blog Calculated Risk only by her pseudonym, "Tanta."
Tanta’s insight into the world of mortgage banking and finance came from working in the industry for 20 years, said Calculated Risk founder Bill McBride in a post on the site. McBride said Tanta began writing for the blog after she was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and went on an extended medical leave in 2006.
When McBride first invited Dungey to blog with him, she declined because "her prognosis was grim and she didn’t expect to live very long," McBride said. "To her surprise, after aggressive treatment, her health started to improve and she accepted my invitation."
According to a New York Times obituary, Tanta wrote anonymously because she hoped to go back to work in the industry she sometimes pilloried and other times defended in her blog posts.
Calculated Risk has gained a wide readership by conducting its own analysis of statistics, and questioning the assumptions of financial industry, government and academic sources typically relied on by the mainstream media.
"The great thing about this age of blogs is the way people who really know something about a subject can quickly weigh in, without being filtered through Authority," said economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman in one of several blog posts in which he expressed admiration for Tanta’s work.
While Tanta was not one to take industry claims at face value, she was also a frequent critic of the media’s reporting of the credit crunch. She would often point out stories when she thought reporters were guilty of oversimplification or exaggeration, either because of laziness or ignorance.
Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson was a frequent target, with Tanta observing at one point last year that, "I don’t know how many posts I’ve written on [her] terrible reporting. I guess I’m going to have to start keeping score."
Morgenson, a former stock broker who previously wrote for Money and Forbes, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her coverage of Wall Street.
Tanta wrote a series of 13 posts on mortgage origination, mortgage-backed securities and foreclosures — "The Compleat UberNerd" — which the Times called "a definitive word on the subject."
The insight Dungey provided in one "UberNerd" post, "Mortgage Servicing for UberNerds," even earned her a footnote in a Federal Reserve research report, "Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit."
NPR was long a favorite of Tanta’s, McBride said in a post providing links to causes Dungey had suggested as recipients for donations in her memory. In addition to a local NPR station, Dungey’s causes included cancer centers in Maryland and Ohio where she received treatment, a rape crisis center at Illinois State University, and the drama club at the high school she graduated from in Normal, Ill.
McBride’s first post on Dungey’s passing generated more than 1,200 comments from readers, some of which he collected in a subsequent post published Monday, "Remembering Tanta."
"Tanta was our teacher," McBride himself said on the blog. "She generously shared her knowledge with all of us. I doubt she knew how many lives she touched; her insights, spirit and passion lives on in her writings — and in all of you."
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