Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Professional (writer) vs. the amateur (Astronaut)

Over at Wired, Tony Long comes to the defense of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen. Keen's premise is the internet is empowering the "armature" to the determent of the "professional" and thus the culture. Long agrees and after qualifying his trepidation about the state of journalism he then pits the Journalist as his "professional" against the "armature" citizen/blogger journalist in a fixed fight where the Journalist, thanks to, among other things, getting paid (or paid more) to write, wins so handily that the armature loses the very title journalist.

What Long and Keen aren’t telling you--or just don't get--is they're confusing terms in an effort to stave off fear of extinction. What good is a professional "journalist"--or to be more specific "writer"--when the scientist, the doctor, the refugee, the soldier no longer needs them to bring you their story. More specifically, what Long and Keen are bemoaning is the prospect of Professionals and Experts in every conceivable field and profession bypassing the people who get paid to write and writing it themselves. Sure, the writing/story may not be as slick, and it will certainly suffer from the inclusion of minutia that only a professional in the field would think important enough to include, but what Long and Keen know is those deficiencies (if you want to call them that) aren’t enough to justify their continued livelihood.

To appreciate the beauty of Web 2.0 [are we ready to retire that term yet?], you have to appreciate that a blog post by whoever is vetted every step on its way to mass consumption. That means, this blog post might as well be buried under a pile of submissions on some publisher's desk unless or until another random blogger judges it interesting enough to link to. And then again, this blog post is going nowhere unless or until yet another blogger "judges" it worth reading and links to it. This hurdle is never fully cleared. With each and every successive link the blog post must meet the standards of yet another editor. So the point at which a blog post becomes widely read, or a blogger achieves an enviable level of popularity, also happens to be a station most Journalists or their pieces would never achieve had they relegated their works to a lowly blog.

To make matters worse from the Journalist's is some of those nonprofessional writers happen to be really good writers too. It's as if the world is closing in on these professional writers. Their subjects are either writing their own stories or those stories are being written by people who really know what they're talking about, and some of those people are better writers than the Journalist could ever dream of being. That's what Keen and Long are trying to tell us. They're not really really good writers either of them, and they can't hope to write a piece on any topic when there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of lifelong experts on that exact topic weighing in at the same time. They're being outmoded. The bar for their profession is being pushed that much higher, the game is back on--and they resent it.