14 April 2008

Redefining "Expert," Part 2

Last month I cited an article in Newsweek called "Revenge of the Experts" that discussed how many web2.0 sites are employing more advanced "smart search" algorithms. The article appeared (at least to me) to suggest that people who found information and news online still sought the opinions of so-called experts before trusting their own peers.

This despite recent surveys finding that people online find peers to be much more credible than corporate press releases or even mainstream media.

The citizen-pundit vs. elite-pundit tension is growing. I noticed this from Christina McMenemy sifting through the reaction to J&J's recent "BabyCamp" experiment:
There was a point in one discussion where the issue of trust was mentioned, and several women mentioned that they trust the opinions of other moms more than they trust large corporations. But then one blogger (this one) suddenly said in the middle of the conversation, "Well, I don't trust the opinions of other moms!" I'm glad I was sitting behind her so she didn't see my eyes nearly bug out of my head in surprise. Or hers. Or hers. (Although she may have seen hers as she slowly moved her chair away.)

Maybe I just have an abnormally educated and talented bunch of mom friends, but if I needed advice on something about parenting, products for my children, myself, or my home, you can bet I'm turning to another mom to get their opinion. (Not all have to be moms, either, depending on what you're asking about. I'm looking at you, Auntie Suebob.) Chances are, they have advice that I will find helpful, even if I don't follow their guidance.
I find it more than a bit interesting that the person who according to Christina claims NOT to trust the opinions of other moms is Leslie Morgan Steiner, an executive at the Washington Post. She's the author/editor of books called "Our Inner Catfight" and "The Mommy Wars."

Steiner is obviously accomplished and smart, but she ain't no "citizen-journalist."

I'm curious as to why J&J sought to invite her - probably because she "blogs" for the Post and gets a lot of traffic. But I'm more interested in why she doesn't trust the opinions of other moms. Is it because she doesn't see other moms as her "peers," and trusts MBA-executive types or newspaper publishers instead? I could be wrong, but that's my guess.

To me, social media will eventually get us past all this. The truth is there are plenty of elite "pundits" on the Sunday & cable talk shows who are smart, and plenty who are as dumb as a bag of hammers. There are also a lot of geniuses and morons who write online. Social media gives everyone a platform to compare the strength of their ideas with anybody on television. One thing the two groups have in common - neither likes it very much when the other points out how wrong they are.

"Beltway elites" trust each other because they talk with each other a lot. The same goes for bloggers and participants in common online communities. I'm pretty sure that's what the surveys mean. So to be trusted, you have to talk a lot with the people you care about.

It's not hard.


PunditMom said...

That is fascinating that Morgan Steiner would say that, but I'm not surprised. I've heard her speak and I've read her blog, and it's really no secret that she is very condescending toward other mothers. I don't know why -- maybe she thinks her opinion is the only one any of us should trust?

Erika Jurney said...

I was sitting next to her when she said it and it was creepy as hell. She mentioned she was a former J&J employee, so I imagine that's why they invited her.

Dana said...

Like Erika, I was just feet away from her.

"Citizen journalist" not need be a pejorative. There are many journalists, in my estimation, who do not live up to that term's legendary standards. After seeing all of Steiner's "momploitation" books, I'd say she's an example of this.