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Quality for whom?

© November 2005 Anthony Lawrence

Yet another professional journalist complains that the amateurs are ruining everything. He bolsters his point by quoting a few awful excerpts from Wikipedia and asking us to contemplate the fate of the professionals:

 Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it's
 created by amateurs rather than professionals, it's free. And free
 trumps quality all the time. So what happens to those poor saps who
 write encyclopedias for a living? They wither and die.

Of course. Because, we, the consumers, can't discern crap when we read it. We're helpless waifs, needing professionals to spoon feed us distilled knowledge. But now all these amateurs will fill us up with misinformation and lousy writing. Oh my! O Tempora! O Mores!

Bull hooey.

First, we know junk from treasure, and if we can't get what we need from free sources, we'll pay for it. Professional researchers and writers needn't fear: their services are still needed and still have value.

They just aren't holding us by the testicles any more.

Fact is, there's been a lot of price gouging in the information markets over the years. I include entertainment in the information category, and that's probably the most abusive segment, but even in the other areas, a lot of information has been priced too damn high and just wasn't worth it. But we had no other choice: there was nothing free, so we had to pay. "Pay?", you scoff, "Is the cost of a newspaper so dear?". No. But the real cost is borne by the advertisers, and their costs come back to us in the cost of goods, so yes, those professional journalists do cost us plenty.

And for a lot of things, we don't need them.

Not that some aren't worth reading. But cult of personality, as we have had in the past in every area, does limit us. It filters the flow, restricts us to a sub-set of opinions and knowledge. We would read or hear or see only that which they and their editors and sometimes their advertisers wanted us to experience. The control of our knowledge was very much in their hands. The web, however, has set us free.

Professionalism won't go away. It will just pay less, and there will be more expertise to choose from. That's what journalists like Carr are really worried about: their own income and their own job security. Tough nougies, as we said in kindergarten. You now have a whole bunch more competition. If it were all as bad as the Wikipedia selections he showcased, their position would be secure. But it isn't all that bad, and a whole lot of it is as good or even better than anything that traditional media and professionals offer.

That's the truth that really scares them. We do know good quality from bad, and we also know when we're paying too much for filtered pablum. The world is changing, and the "professionals" need to adjust or die.

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