Thursday, July 27, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell Takes a Swipe

Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and Tipping Point fame takes a swipe at bloggers in a post entitled "The Derivative Myth" :

"I was on a panel sponsored by Slate magazine a few weeks ago on the future of print journalism, and I found myself the lone voice defending the continuing relevance of things like newspapers. At one point I said—half in jest—that without the New York Times, there would be nothing for bloggers to blog about."

Chris Anderson, of The Long Tail, took him to task for this, and he responded:

"I’m not sure why this statement should be controversial. Has the level of self-regard in the blogosphere really reached such dizzying heights that it can’t acknowledge the work that traditional media does on behalf of the rest of us? Yes, the newspaper business isn’t as lucrative as it once was (although it’s still pretty lucrative). And it doesn’t seem as exciting and relevant as it once was. But newspapers continue to perform an incredibly important function as informational gatekeepers—a function, as far as I can tell, that grows more important with time, not less. Between them, for instance, the Times and the Post have literally hundreds of trained professionals whose only job it is to sift through the mountains of information that come out of the various levels of government and find what is of value and of importance to the rest of us. Where would we be without them? We’d be lost."

I posted the following in his comments box:

My area of expertise is theatre and the arts. With traditional media increasingly cutting back on space for the arts, and usually assigning reporters to cover it that have little or no background in the arts (this has been the case since time immemorial), the blogs are actually a place to find BETTER, more informed, and more thoughtful commentary thatn I can fine in any traditional newspaper, the NY Times included.

It isn't that the blogs are going to REPLACE traditional news media, but rather that it can provide knowledgeable viewpoints on topics that traditional media deems "niche markets" and ignores.

If you want to read real theatre criticism, I recommend Mathhew Freeman ( and Isaac Butler ( and George Hunka ( Believe me, these guys couldn't care less about the NY Times.

Damn snotty New Yorker types. Lost without the NY Times. Kill me now.


parabasis said...

Gosh, thanks Scott! I'm incredibly flattered!

I do think that I would have to find new things to blog about if the NYTimes didn't exist. It would certainly make things about my job harder (especially the time I spend criticizing the Times!) and, to some extent, I think we bloggers exist in a relational way to the Times, that's simply a fact. It's that powerful a cultural organ. If it wasn't that powerful a cultural organ, I think we'd develop different relational paradigms than the one we have now. Not cease to exist as Gladwell seems to say.

In other words, the New York Times provides an incredible amount of fodder for the blogosphere, and profesional journalists do certain work that amateur journalists do/can not. So we exist in symbiosis with each other. But this is less true in theater, because there ain't a lot of theater journalism out there, and what passes for theater journalism (interviews/puff pieces on upcoming shows) any of us could probably do. Maybe not as well, but do. Unlike, say, going to White House Briefing. We can't do that. Adam Nagourney can.

Anyway.. thanks for inspiring all of these thoughts, and thanks for sticking up for our little corner of Blogistan.

P'tit Boo said...

Scott, I guess George can speak for himself, but I don't think it's accurate to say that he could careless about the NY Times. He actually writes articles for them sometimes and I am glad the NY Times is starting to hire people like George to write for them.

I am glad you're getting the conversations again.
It's summer and it's slow. I bet it will start all up again in september when we're all stuck inside again.

Alison Croggon said...

Scary, this approving gratitude for the "gate keeping" people who keep back all the information we don't need. Shades of Winston Smith in the Ministry of Truth...

I actually was a professional journalist, long long ago, in a galaxy far far away, for a metropolitan daily here. And occasionally, when I can get off my arse, I freelance. To me, there's no big black line between them... I like blogging because it is free of the constraints of the mass media. As much as I dislike the ignorant condemnation of bloggers by mainstream types (they'll get theirs) I also dislike the blanket condemnation of journalism. There is much to criticise, often, but you should be able to tell the difference between that and the valuable stuff.

YS said...

I remember an NPR interview with Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post. He intensely denied the signifigance of the blogoshpere. Some of his denials reminded me suspiciously of some of my colleagues in the Staffing Industry who, (even in the late 90's,) were saying that internet job boards were a fad. I remember staring at them like they were from Mars.

However, Bradley said one thing that I could not disagree with. He said something along the lines of this: "What do the television/radio news producers, talk radio hosts, magazine writers and popular bloggers do first thing in the morning? Well, whether it be on on-line, at their desk, or at their breakfast table, they open the morning paper. And from the Post and Times they get the information they are going to talk about."

Can't argue with that. And Gladwell is right, that will never be replaced. But I imagine it won't be too long before you have members of the blogosphere who do more than comment, who actually pick up a phone and start to gather news, hound sources, and go after stories they think are being overlooked. (Like the outcome or not, Matt Drudge undeniably brought the country a story that a couple of major magazines had killed.)

With regards to Arts Journalism, I think we saw some of this with the Rachel Corrie flap. George Hunka at Superfluities and Garret Eisler at Playgoer were actually doing some reporting.

Criticism is where the rubber meets the road. Alison's site is mostly reviews and George Hunka does freelance for NYTimes, but many in the blogosphere, aside from the occasional post, do not review regularly. (Isaac's valuable Pig Farm project is an exception.)

Here in Boston, our NPR reviewer Bill Marx, is now out of a job as NPR scales back its Arts coverage.

Scott Walters said...

George writes FOR the NY Times, but his blog does not RELY ON the NY Times as a springboard for ideas. That was my point.

Freeman said...

I think that old media is a bit tense about the prevalence of new media. There's a reason for this and it's not just hubris. New Media is not policed by journalistic editorial principles and market forces: it's individuals who take things as seriously as they want and are as accurate as they can be, often thirdhand. I love the blogs, but they won't replace the Times or the New Yorker or anything else. Not yet.

They CAN, though, be a fantastic supplement to these resources and drive discussions in ways that old media simply doesn't have the dexterity to. Togther, blogs and newspapers combine to create an enhanced, interactive, exciting entire that is spoken to as of as it speaks.