Thursday, October 15, 2009

Championing Experience

Last time, I wrote about Choire Sicha's New York Times op-ed from last week.

That piece was published just below another column that caught my eye. This one was about the downfall of Gourmet magazine.

The author, Christopher Kimball, is the editor of Cook's Illustrated. But he takes no delight in the closing of his competitor.

In fact, he laments the fading of the "old-media" tradition of writers gaining experience, spending years covering an industry or topic and learning to write and report with excellence:

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up.

While I've seen many people - bloggers, mostly - celebrating this coronation of the ordinary, Kimball's not so complimentary:

The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise - the kind that comes from real experience, the hard won blood-on-the-floor kind.

I happen to agree with him, probably unsurprisingly, since I've got a few years' experience in journalism myself. But how do those of us who do have professional credentials and expertise make sure we can still make a living at it? Here's Kimball's prescription:

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice.

It may not be popular, but I agree with Kimball. And I especially like the part about asking to be paid for what we do.

Too many people think that work done online doesn't really "count" as work. Those of us who are professionals really cannot afford to accept that idea.


  1. Regardless of where the information winds up, the merit of expertise is in providing value that persuades, influences, and provides knowledge - through ideas and writing. To not recognize that is to devalue all of the uber-talented journalists who provide so much to our lives, careers, and the very heart of who we are as a people.

  2. Mind if I make a comparison? It's the difference between reality TV and Masterpiece Theatre.

    To further the comparison: we must insist on consuming the higher quality stuff as well as producing it. If there's no market for it we can't ask to be paid for it, and we ARE the market. So while I agree with you, Karen, and Barbara, and Mr. Kimball, this is a case of putting our money where our mouths are, literally. Going for whatever is cheapest pervades our society down to shopping at Wal-mart for cheaply-made Chinese imports, and suddenly we're complaining that there are no jobs in America.

    Well, we have to pay for them. In all sectors. So while I demand payment, I also must insist on paying for, and receiving, better goods and services.

  3. You're absolutely right, Petrea. I am a PBS (as opposed to reality TV) consumer and I think there will continue to be a market for higher quality, in journalism and other venues.

    But yes, we'll have to pay (more) for them and hope other people will do so also.

  4. Sigh. I wish everyone felt the same way.