Monthly Archives: June 2007

Rise of the Amatuer, The Debate Continues

Tgota_cover_180_uk_versionMaking a big splash lately is  “The Cult of the Amateur” by Andrew Keen.

A couple thoughts before I go into analysis.

1. Obviously an appropriation of Leander Khaney’s Cult of Mac (my old editor at Wired).
2. Business Week video interview here.
3. Jeff Howe’s thoughts: Coming from the crowdsourcing angle, Jeff is obviously on the other side of this debate.
5. Lessig’s tears the book apart
4. My initial reaction when I saw Keen in a debate at Personal Democracy Forum.

My favorite panel was the debate on the amateur – whether or not
everyone being able to take part in media is destroying our culture,
with Robert Scoble and Craig Newmark
on one end of the debate, Clay Shriky ridding the middle and Andrew
Keen at the far end. Robert Scoble was hilarious (as I expected).

I’ll give Andrew Keen credit for having the balls to say to this crowd
of bloggers that the democratization of media was a bad thing. I kept
waiting for someone to throw rotten produce at him.

But the debate seemed like a red herring to me. Should we only have
professionals doing the media or just let the amateurs have it?

Why is it an “either-or” decision? …..

So now a bit more.

A friend/colleague from Assignment Zero is throwing around an idea: Responding to Keen’s book with arguments formed by….amateurs. (I’m suggesting Debatepedia, but that might not be the ethos he wants).

Yes. A wikipedia-esque response to Andrew Keen’s thesis. I applaud the creativity. Let’s see if it happens.

I’m still left with one sour spot about Keen’s book. Why is everyone an amateur? At the Future of News  Steve Boriss put it best

Most who write for Old Media are professional journalists, but amateurs
in the topics they write about. By contrast, most of the leading, elite
bloggers are experts in their specialized topic areas, but amateurs in
journalism. Is the public really better off reading amateur-grade
information from journalists rather than professional-grade information
from non-journalists? More to the point, will they prefer it?

And just to go full circle. That seems to be what we experienced at Assignment Zero. As Jeff Howe put it when looking over the 80+ interviews that we conducted:

This is the beauty of open organizational systems. People
self-select, assigning themselves to tasks for which they are
best-suited. Contrast this with the process by which an interviewer is
assigned to interviewee in a closed system (a magazine or newspaper). A
journalist is often chosen to conduct a Q&A with a subject based on
his or her availability. That’s a pretty poor qualification, though
it’s borne of simple necessity. The professional in this closed system
(and I speak from personal experience), often lacks the time it takes
to adequately acquaint oneself with the subject’s work, ideas and
experience. If the resulting product feels a little rote and
indifferent, do you blame the journalist or the system?

But not only did the interviews betray a level of passion and
specialization rarely found in the mainstream media, they were simply
better reads. Magazines and newspapers tend to pasteurize such
interviews to filter out any content that any reader anywhere might
possibly deem offensive or obscure or simply irrelevant. The result is
something that’s leached of idiosyncrasy, complex ideas and the
accidental poetry that arises from an animated conversation.