Sorkin Disses Bloggers

Large There were some angry tweets directed at Aaron Sorkin yesterday. In an article describing his media diet (I love this series in the Atlantic), he says says that he prefers to get his media from the experts and he stays away from blogs.

When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from "BobsThoughts.com," Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website–something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us.

He does get some props for his description of the comment section at Yahoo News.

The homepage on my web browser is Yahoo, which I'm told it shouldn't be, but I've just been too lazy to change it. From time to time I'll read some of the comments under stories on it to get a sense of what it must be like at a Klan meeting.

 

22 thoughts on “Sorkin Disses Bloggers

  1. I explain to students that it depends on why they’re citing a blog. If they are citing a blog as an expert, well, they have to be very sure that the blog is by an expert. If they’re citing a blog as an example of a public opinion on an issue, they can do that.

  2. Same thing about Wikipedia. Speaking of the hypothetical BobsThoughts.com, it might be possible to figure out Bob’s expertise–easier if there’s a blurb about Bob on his background (assuming you can believe it), but not impossible if he’s mostly anonymous. That’s critical reading.
    Admittedly, it takes effort and time, and Sorkin’s free to want things from sources deemed reliable. But I think his view of the major newspapers is a bit too rosy. The competition for a NYTimes reporter slot is high, yes. But how much “sample of one” stories have we all read there? And those seem to make it through editorial juuuuuust fine.

  3. To name just one, Felix Salmon is too good for the NYT of WSJ; he doesn’t (as far as I can tell) kowtow to valuable sources or write beat-sweeteners or anything. Three cheers to Reuters for hiring him, and three more for letting him do his thing.

  4. Is this guy joking? Eugene Volokh and Greg Mankiw (or, from the other end of the spectrum, Jack Balkin and Mark Thoma) have incomparably better credentials and have cleared a much, much higher bar than the average j-school grad.

  5. Matt Yglesias’ comment section continues in my opinion to win the “worst comment section on the internet” title.
    It’s like a drunken argument among middle-schoolers–every day, on every post.

  6. “Matt Yglesias’ comment section continues in my opinion to win the “worst comment section on the internet” title. It’s like a drunken argument among middle-schoolers–every day, on every post.”
    Really? I only dipped into one thread, but they seemed pretty civil. Not super smart, but civil.
    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/05/open-educational-resources/
    “Is it worse the usenet?”
    That was before my time, but yeah, it’s pretty bad. Here’s a youtube thread on a clip of Ave Maria. There’s some capitalization, punctuation and some flashes of insight here and there, but it’s still a pretty bad scene. It’s the Greyhound Terminal of the internet.

  7. Sorkin is wrong to base his decision on “credentialing”, as are you, Julie. We’re going to have to do a lot more critical reading of information going into the future, and that’s going to mean not relying on someone else to have vetted the information for us.
    There might be certain vetting standards at the NY Times, but, say, for example, in an article on autism, Emily Willingham’s (daisymayfattypant’s) blog might actually have a higher standard of vetting. To know that, one has to both know Dr. Willingham’s background and have read enough of her work to critically read her scientific reporting.
    We’re simply not going back to a world where we can rely on credentialing to be enough to believe or disbelieve (an issue doctors are encountering and having to deal with). Yup, there’s a lot of unreliable information out there on blogs, but there’s also a lot of useful information (and, credentialed sources aren’t perfect, either).

  8. bj, I appreciate the correction, but find it mystifying that you would be so quick to say I was wrong without knowing my own reasoning (which may or may not align with Sorkin’s) or what I assign.
    The technological highway is vast and complicated and we all must use shortcuts. If it works for Sorkin, who the f$%k cares what he does? What I do and do not permit students to cite has everything to do with the assignments that I assign and my pedagogical goals. Why would you say that was wrong, without knowing what those parameters are?

  9. “We’re going to have to do a lot more critical reading of information going into the future, and that’s going to mean not relying on someone else to have vetted the information for us.”
    I agree with part A of this, but part B is just crazy talk. I will never stop relying on people vetting information for me, whether it’s my atmospheric scientist or doctor friends (credentialed by their PhD and MD programs) or a news organization that uses experienced reporters and editors whose purpose is supposed to be objective journalism. I’m not so naive to think that there’s such a thing as “true objectivity” but am glad that places like the NYT and WSJ exist to strive for it. Of course I read their articles carefully too, looking for too much reliance on single sources, especially anonymous ones, etc.
    Back in the day, I used to accuse my mother of having gone to the “Reader’s Digest school of medicine” and it seems everyone does this now. It’s great when you can identify some odd side effect that the doctors have neglected (as my mother has in fact done, to her credit) but not so great when you deny the preponderance of evidence about vaccines or something like that. We can’t all have the capacity to judge everything based on our own personal knowledge and it’s critical to acknowledge our own ignorance and figure out who we can rely on.

  10. I’m writing a book with another philosopher and two economists this week, all of us pretty well-respected in our fields, and at least the two economists very highly respected (and rightly so). We were trying to figure out how to characterise “education” and I automatically, as I tend to, turned to wikipedia. They all laughed at me — but then agreed that the first two sentences of the entry were a great starting point for our thinking. I simply cannot imagine for a moment that we’d have found a NYT piece as useful (I feel bad about saying that now, because I just had dinner with a really nice retired NYT correspondent, spouse of one of the economists, but it is true).

  11. “I simply cannot imagine for a moment that we’d have found a NYT piece as useful”
    Well that’s not fair contrast — the NY times isn’t trying to be a starting point for “how to characteristic ‘education'”
    But, yeah, Wikipedia is great, if you think about what you’re using and try to verify their sources (a requirement for any information).
    af — I should have said “just”, ’cause I believe in expertise, too. I just don’t think expertise is going to be simply defined by who you work for or what degree you have. Those things might be necessary, but realty checks will be needed even for sources whose expertise we respect. It’s “reality checking” that I want to teach my kids: how to detect if information might be reliable (or suspicious).

  12. We subscribe to both the WSJ and the NYT. Reporters are generalists, though, so I find it useful to turn to the web for commentary from experts. Most of the blogs I read regularly link to and write comments on other sources.
    I had to Google Alan Sorkin. If Yahoo works for him, that’s fine, but it’s like judging all restaurants by McDonalds. There are other options. The Yahoo commentariat wouldn’t be my choice for reading matter. In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, twitter reports from the scene, and websites written by English speakers who also spoke Japanese (and linked to Japanese news feeds) were preferable to waiting for the evening news. (At which point one would see a few minutes of reporting, then ads, then, well, you know the evening news formula.)
    I had to Google Alan Sorkin, because we’re not watching our tv. Or rather, we do watch some shows at times, but in a targeted manner. We broke the habit of family tv watching when the sitcoms became stupid and vile. Off-color humor is not funny, and it doesn’t mix with children. Does Hollywood even know how to tell a joke anymore?
    Our kids don’t consume unfiltered tv, either. This may be a problem for Hollywood. To judge from my teens’ Facebook walls, they and their peers swap funny things they’ve found on youTube. They seek out shows on Hulu. They’re not sitting in front of the tv, waiting for the next show. They are more likely to make jokes about Charlie the Magic Unicorn, or Epic Mealtime, or Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time, than whatever Disney Labs (or network producers) have cooked up this season.
    So, Mr. Sorkin’s complaints strike me as sort of wistful nostalgia for a time when there were Authorities. When you could tell the same joke over and over, or the same dramatic plot over and over, and people would laugh or cry because there wasn’t any competition. We try to explain to our children that there was a time when everyone in the country knew what had happened on Dynasty last week. It’s like trying to explain to them the time when most households had one wired phone.

  13. There might be some scientific barrier to a punch line. Like how no matter how much money you throw at a perpetual motion machine, it won’t happen due to the third law of thermodynamics. In which case, demand doesn’t matter.

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