Friday, June 23, 2006

It's time I joined ...

... this debate.
The other day GlennReynolds posted this item about Christine Rosen's TNR review of An Army of Davids. I was interested because I reviewed the book myself: How technology allows little guy to beat Big Media. I also interviewed the author. I found Rosen's review way off the mark. I can't decide whether to attribute her put-downs of such Glennisms as "heh" and "indeed' to humorlessness or cluelessness. But two passages struck me as central to the problem with her review.
The first is this: "The little guy can be a poet or a pop star; with technology as his handmaiden, anything is possible. But this follow-your-bliss vision of individual fulfillment has little patience for the standards necessary for judging genuine talent, which is why Reynolds's book reads more like a middle-aged hobbyist's utopian manifesto than a blueprint for cultural renaissance."
And here's the second: "But the old institutions--the academy, publishing, the press--are essentially arbiters that vetted writing and thought before broadcasting to the world. They provide editors and peer review, valuing opinion formulated by sustained research over opinion produced by a Google search. They are the superego checking the authorial id. But the techno-utopianism that haunts the blogosphere doesn't account for the importance of any of this."
Rosen doesn't seem to grasp - or else willfully ignores - that it is precisely "the old institutions," those"arbiters that vetted writing and thought" whose judgment is being called into question. As Glenn writes: "Millions of Americans who were once in awe of the punditocracy now realize that anyone can do this stuff--and that many unknowns can do it better than the lords of the profession." Rosen quotes this, but doesn't seem to get the point. The institutional superego has been found to filter out viewpoints, not because those viewpoints are ill-informed or poorly reasoned, but because they run counter to said superego's favored viewpoint. It is just possible that people will discern quality of thought and art when it is presented to them. It is just possible that when people regard something as true or beautiful they may be correct - even if the self-designated arbiters of thought and expression think otherwise.

Maxine at Petrona also has some thoughts on this that I thoroughly agree with: Now where was I? As Maxine points out, the relation between the new and the old media is already symbiotic and likely to stay that way - indeed, it is better that it stay that way and develop accordingly. But Maxine also nicely summarizes the value of blogging, which "enables voices to be heard and news to be broadcast that otherwise might not be, as evidenced most clearly in oppressive regimes and war zones. It enables individual people and groups to make connections which is beneficial in so many ways -- to mental health, to social support, to feedback for business enterprises (see The Publishing Contrarian and Skint Writer, for example), for creative feedback on writing , art and other activities. It empowers individuals in ways never conceived by the creators of Google, Yahoo et al., although these and other corporations are busy jumping on the business bandwaggons (opportunities) ..."

8 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:27 PM

    "It is just possible that people will discern quality of thought and art when it is presented to them. It is just possible that when people regard something as true or beautiful they may be correct - even if the self-designated arbiters of thought and expression think otherwise."
    Well said - and true. I'd rather read Michael Yon or Bill Roggio above any talking head the networks produce. Better Glenn or Wretchard, better Hugh Hewitt or Michell Malkin than any comparable op-eds from the lamestream. Competition has arrived, and the lazy, complacent media combine doesn't like it, and will do anything to smear the reputation of the new media. Well, the ABCCBCLATNBCNYTWP media group has already lost.

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  2. Anonymous11:28 PM

    "Rosen doesn't seem to grasp - or else willfully ignores - that it is precisely "the old institutions," those"arbiters that vetted writing and thought" whose judgment is being called into question."

    Maybe it's that she resents that their judgment is being called into question. The quotes you cite reek of paternalism, or elitism, or some kind of ism that gets under the skin of people like me that consider themselves, and most other people, ordinary. She's wrong that "...the techno-utopianism that haunts the blogosphere doesn't account for the importance of any of this." Actually, one of the joys of the blogosphere is HOLDING to account the SELF-importance of the old-line institutions (as well as others within the blogosphere). As the saying goes, "We're going to fact-check your a$$."

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  3. Engram11:33 PM

    It's interesting, but blogging is "refereed" and peer-reviewed in a way that is not unlike articles submitted for publication. The difference is that the peer review comes after the writing is published instead of before. The after-the-fact evaluation is almost instantaneous, and it is often performed by experts. I don't see it as a replacement for the standard peer review process that is used by scientific journals, but it is an excellent and mind-expanding addition to the traditional approach. People who can't see that need to remove the shackles that serve only to keep their relatively small minds small.

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  4. Anonymous11:56 PM

    What Ms. Rosen misses is that the rest of us -- not all of us -- but somebody in the vast unwashed masses of us -- knows more than both the blogger and the the "old institutions and arbitors." Almost before the strokes are posted, on the well travelled sites, someone with expertise is evaluating what is written and can respond to what is written. And surprise! An awful lot of us have the smarts to sort it out, going through blogs and websites and weighing the evidence. The evidence is that generally speaking, the old media is found wanting.

    Too many times in the last 5 years I have been betrayed and mislead by stories on the major networks and in the MSM. Ms. Rosen probably still thinks the Rather documents came off a typewriter.

    And when there is misinformation or miscommunication, most of the bloggers I follow are able to correct their gaffes without hiding it in section C below the fold. This step -- the pajama media -- in the information revolution is incredible.

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  5. Anonymous2:33 AM

    Trying to convince the establishment that there is no establishment is like trying to teach Britney Spears quantum physics.

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  6. Rosen worries about the ''standards necessary for judging genuine talent,'' yet cites ''pop stars'' as her example.

    And what, I wonder, is wrong with technology empowering millions of people to select a pop star, rather than, say, allowing a record label executive to do so? When the market speaks, let it speak with its own voice.

    The pop star example is just the silliest of her examples.

    As we have seen from the reporting by Yon and Roggio, to the speedy dismantling of CBS's National Guard story, the technological handmaiden that she scorns has also clearly improved standards in the media. That Rosen fails to see such an obvious truth reinforces the fact that some MSM flaks will not survive the fallout (or at least don't deserve to).

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  7. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Ms Rosen's article reminds me of advice from old friend that she should have followed. "Better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to publish a letter to the editor (or a book review in TNR) and expose yourself as an idiot to thousands and leave a permanent record of your idiocy."

    Of course, many years ago, Steve Allen (who I bet would have loved blogging) said that, in order to make sense of them, "all letters to the editor should be read aloud in an angry voice." Ms Rosen's review likewise "should be read aloud in an angry voice."

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  8. Wow, a lot of anonymous comments on this post! I wish people who feel the need to be anonymous would instead call themselves "other" as Blogger offers, then they could say "other 1" "other 2" etc, so we'd know if it was all the same person or not. (Are all you anonymi the same or different people?)

    Be that as it may, there is value to peer review, in my opinion and experience of years as an editor. It is a filtering fuction. All other options require the poor reader to wade through stuff. I am sure that the "wisdom of the crowds" ranking/commenting system has value, but so far, a technology has not been produced that can replace peer review as a filter for the massive output of authors of various kinds. Added to that, in some areas one needs a published record. In science, for example, people build on past work. It is no good if that past work is constantly shifting. It can certainly evolve and change, of course, but you have to have version control, and the databases in which people access the article have to be able to keep pace with it.

    So, some of you anonymi, yes there is a lot wrong with the old media (or mainstream media) there is a lot wrong with the new media (one of my good blogging friends Minx is currently being subjected to evil and upsetting spam on her blog and email).

    But there is also much good in both, and I continue to believe we can coexist, and indeed, should coexist.

    In short, I agree with Frank ;-)

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