18 March 2008

Redefining "Expert"

Traditional media offered up its latest defense of informational elitism last week in a Newsweek (exclusive to the web!) piece entitled "Revenge of the Experts." The current argument is that even those fancy web2.0 services like Mahalo are organizing information endorsed by "smart people" in lieu of the search results from the unwashed masses who use Google.

It's certainly true that it's not always easy to sift through dozens of search results to find the one you want, and that a considerable portion of information on the Internet is, well, garbage. But I can't help but think this is just the latest attempt from the media elites to tell people they can only get reliable information from, well, media elites.

You know, since they have such a stellar track record, especially lately.

So just to use the latest political example, I'm not supposed to trust the random guy who put Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary rant on YouTube so I can see it for myself, but I am supposed to trust the NY Times columnist who says it's not enough that Senator Obama rejected that rant because he was sitting in the pew at the time and said nothing about it then.

Except he wasn't.

And so the columnist who wrote that fact-free screed now acknowledges and regrets his error, but doesn't acknowledge that the error basically invalidates his argument. This "well I was wrong on the facts but I'm still right" attitude - and the realization by so many consumers of media that there are no substantive consequences for "journalists" and pundits who are consistently, wildly wrong on the facts - completely undermines their credibility. It explains why so many consumers of media look to each other for information, and it's why consumers of media trust each other so much more than they trust those who say they're the "newspaper of record" or the official spokesperson for someone or something or whatever.

Not every blogger is an expert, and not every expert (or good journalist) is a blogger. But the collapse in credibility among the media elite (both left and right) and the rise of citizen publishing has created a new group of experts who, in many cases, have far more credibility than those who sit regularly on a Sunday talk show or own a byline at the Washington Post or New York Times.

I honestly believe that the bowtie-clad pundits who regret the day that consumers of media became credible producers of media really only have themselves to blame. I also think what pundits whine about most is the leveling of the playing field that social media technology created.

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