Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Blogosphere versus the Punditocracy

This month the New York Times put up a pay wall. I was not even tempted to subscribe.

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and happily pay for the Economist.

When purchasing anything, we look at the value of the product. Is it worth the price? With the New York Times, it clearly isn’t.

Occasionally, the Times prints something compelling. But since political correctness has so thoroughly infiltrated its journalistic marrow that it can’t be trusted to report the news objectively, that seems to me to undermine its claim to my or anyone else’s money.

Of course I still have access to some Times material through Twitter, and I do comment on its material… mostly because it influences the way New Yorkers think and the way the news is covered in the media.

When it comes to the ramblings of its columnists I am amazed at how bad most of it is.

You wouldn’t want to be shipwrecked on the intellectual version of a desert island and have only Tom Friedman, Nick Kristof, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman and their ilk to provide you with mental sustenance.

Pretty soon, you would become a living echo of vapid party line thinking. And you would think that you were saying something interesting and intelligent.

Such is the price of believing the hype that surrounds the New York Times.

According to Rob Long at the Ricochet blog and John Hinderaker at Powerline, it makes sense that the mainstream media hates the blogosphere. It turns out that bloggers are more competent and more expert on various subjects than are the supposedly deep thinkers at places like the New York Times.

Some bloggers have ripped away the veil of illusion that is covers the general ineptitude of Tom Friedman.

Hinderaker succinctly states: “Still, Friedman must be one of the most overrated people in the world.”

What occasioned this critique? Over at the Ricochet blog Rob Long unearthed a Friedman prediction from 1999. He discovered that Friedman had predicted that online bookseller and retailer Amazon was doomed to fail.

As is his general wont, Friedman larded up his prediction with some pseudo-cleverness about how someone working out of his living room in Iowa could easily crush Amazon.

As Long analyzed it, the problem was not that Friedman was wrong. The problem lay elsewhere.

In Long’s words: “Look the point isn't that Friedman made a stupid prediction.  We all make stupid predictions.  The point is that we have a pundit class that's uniquely unqualified to pronounce on business, and business opportunities, and yet arrogantly and pompously does so anyway.  There's something monumentally irritating about Friedman's flatulently confident assertions, backed up as they are without a shred of experience, knowledge, or skin in the game.  It's worth remembering -- especially these days, when business and economic predictions keep erupting from the noisy, nasty, uninformed bowels of the pundit class.”

Reading this, John Hinderaker was inspired to check out how Amazon stock had performed since the moment that Friedman dissed it. Then he took a look at the performance of New York Times stock.

You know where this is going. While Amazon has grown and expanded and enriched its stockholders-- even counting the tech wreck of 2000-- the New York Times stock has collapsed.

In Hinderaker’s words: “… there is a delicious irony in the fact that there is indeed one industry with respect to which Friedman's dire prediction came true: Friedman's own industry, journalism. It turns out that amateurs, many of whom have far more expertise with respect to business, politics, the arts--you name it--than Tom Friedman and other pundits with newspaper columns can, almost for free, turn out exactly the same product that Friedman does. Only better.”

When you get right down to it, Hinderaker adds, the reason why people no longer rely on the mainstream media for information and opinion, is that the quality is lacking. If the barons who control these media outlets whined less and stopped blaming technology, then perhaps they would see that their own editorial practices have contributed significantly to their downfall.

If all you’re reading is Tom Friedman you might imagine that he has something interesting to say. I hope you don’t, but you might. If you have access to a variety of opinions offered by people who are not members of the pundit class, then you will discover that membership in the pundit class is anything but merit-based.

In Hinderaker‘s words: “The Times has declined for a number of reasons, but one of the important ones is that citizen journalism turned out to be not just a viable alternative, but a superior alternative, to the myopia that Friedman and his colleagues represent. Friedman was perceptive enough to diagnose the problem that micro-competition could cause for Amazon (albeit incorrectly) but not perceptive enough to apply the same reasoning to his own industry. That fact speaks volumes about how much trust we should put in the pundit class, especially when it opines about business matters.”


David Foster said...

People often have a very hard time seeing trends in their own industries. HBS professor Clayton Christensen tells of an experience he had with a class of MBA students:

He had written a paper postulating that the B-schools' traditional MBA programs are being threatened by two disruptions: executive evening--and-weekend MBA programs (allowing working managers to earn their MBA degrees in as little as a year) and the growth of on-the-job management training at institutions like Motorola University and GE Crotonville.

After reading the paper, Christensen asked the students "how many of you think that the leading MBA programs are being disrupted?" Only three out of 102 students raised their hands.

Those who weren't concerned--the vast majority--tended to point to quantitative data--the numbers of students battling to get into the leading schools, the starting salaries of the graduates, etc etc. Christensen asked one of the most vocal defenders of "the invincibility of the leading business schools" this question. "What if you were dean of one of these schools. What data would convince you that this was something that you needed to address?"

"I'd look at the school's market share among the CEO's of the Global 1000 corporation," the student responded. "If our market share started to drop, then I'd worry." Christensen pointed out that market share, measured in this way, is distinctly a lagging indicator, and that by the point it began to drop, it would be game over.

Christensen is an expert in disruptive innovation, and these were students who had taken his class...but apparently the class didn't take with most of them very well!

(From my review of his book, here)

Phocion said...

Did not mean to leave out things like logistics et al.