It’s a derivative world

Malcolm Gladwell has been criticised for his views about what he sees as the derivative nature of the blogosphere.  One of his critics was Chris Anderson, Mr Long Tail himself.  Anderson took umbrage at what he saw as Gladwell’s derision of bloggers:

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.

For this, I have been now been rebuked by Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired and the author of the just released “The Long Tail.?? (I should say that Anderson rebuked me very graciously, and also that I think Chris is a smart guy and everyone should buy his book.) The gist of what I was saying, Anderson argues, was something like:

“Blogs, which are mostly written by amateurs, couldn’t possibly do what We Do. Instead, they mostly just comment on what we do, supplying low-value-add chatter about our stories that must not be confused with Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals.”

He then goes on to produce some statistics, showing that only a small percentage of blogs actually link to major media outlets.

I think, first of all, that Chris is taking my comments a bit out of context here. I made that comment to another panel member—Ariana Huffington of Huffington Post fame—and we were explicitly talking about the kinds of political blogs that have proliferated in recent years. And when it comes to politics—and to some extent high culture and business and economics—it is quite right to argue that traditional print media like the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal continue to set the conversational agenda.

I have tremendous respect for Gladwell based simply on his two books, Blink and The Tipping Point.  He sees value in derivative media sources and I think he has a good point:

We need derivative media sources to help us make sense of what we learn from primary sources. But you can’t have one without the other, and although it maybe possible for some bloggers to think of their thoughts as rising, fully formed, from the blogosphere, it just ain’t so.

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