Newsweek advances Andrew Keen’s ignorance

I’ve had a few days to calm down after reading Newsweek’s “Web Exclusive” this week — Revenge of the Experts — so I think it’s safe to comment now. Newsweek has done what many of us feared, they’ve picked up Andrew Keen’s meme about the “cult of the amateur” and manufactured a new lede without taking into consideration the fallacy of the meme in the first place. This is how falsehood gets spread throughout the culture, which is exactly what Keen — and apparently now Newsweek — believe is the problem with “amateurs.” For all of Keen’s rantings about truth, there is little to be found in the Newsweek argument.

Let’s begin with the assumption in the title, that there is a battle underway in our culture between experts and amateurs. Says who? The so-called experts, that’s who, because they feel their protected turf is being threatened. It is, but not by any amateur movement or cult. Institutional arrogance is their biggest threat. They need to look in the mirror.

Let me repeat; there is no movement by amateurs to take anything away from professionals, and this is especially true in media. The extent to which everyday people look to non-traditional sources of information today is not an indication that they are being lured away from “truth” by roaming mobs of ignorant automatons. That defection is more illustrative of the failure of traditional, institutional media than anything else, along with the arrogance-gone-to-seed of anyone claiming exclusive access to “truth.” In the words of the immortal Frank Barone, “Holy crap!”

“The individual user has been king on the Internet,” the article says, “but the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward edited information vetted by professionals.” What? Wait, there’s more:

In short, the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. “People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,” says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a “perfect storm of demand for expert information.”

Again, this assumes facts not in evidence, such as we’re coming out of a season when people were quite happy with crap. This is hogwash. Only to the modernist, pragmatist mind is there any sudden lust for truth. Hell, it’s been there all along.

The story points to start-up Mahalo with it’s “people-powered search” as evidence of the “shift” and then goes on to quote its founder, Jason Calacanis as an expert. To add weight to Mahalo, the writer lumps it in with other efforts supported by its major investor, Sequoia Capital — names like YouTube, Yahoo and Google — as if that qualifies the expertise of Calacanis. This is textbook modernism at work, expertise by association. It’s also crap because, while fielding an impressive list of winners, Sequoia has also had its share losers. Remember eToys?

Calacanis’s comments are combined with those of Keen, who joyfully breathes his poison into the story.

It’s also easier to woo advertisers with the promise of controlled content than with hit-and-miss blog blather. “Nobody wants to advertise next to crap,” says Andrew Keen, author of “The Cult of the Amateur,” a jeremiad against the ills of the unregulated Web.

A jeremiad? Ills of the unregulated Web? What ills? Boy, there’s nothing the pragmatist mind enjoys more than rules and regulations, because they’re always made by the haves to sustain what they, well, have.

The article at least gives the final word to Glenn Reynolds, whose book An Army of Davids contains the phrase, “the triumph of personal technology over mass technology.” I’ve read that book, too, and I can tell you it doesn’t even remotely suggest the cult-like attack on truth that Keen is taking to the bank.

The Newsweek article actually has the gall to make the statement that we’re in a new period of “podium worship,” a validation of expertise that somehow had been stripped away by the chaos of personal media. But hidden in the story is its real purpose — to send a message to Madison Avenue that things will be okay and that vetted content will be there for them and their money. For all the popularity of the pejorative “user-generated content,” nobody’s been able to make a lot of money with it, and Calacanis, et al, want to assure us all that their content will be equally attractive to users but also safe for ads.

That, of course, remains to be seen. Advertisers don’t just want a sterile environment; they also want eyeballs, and that’s the real conundrum for the pragmatist’s view of new media. In this way of thinking, there is only one reason to make “content” and that is to make money. Why else do it? Indeed.

The Telcos want the government to think of the Web as just another medium, so that they can police the thing for everybody and sell access to the highest bidders. Keen and Newsweek likewise want everything to just return to the way it was. Sorry, but that horse left the barn years ago. And while Newsweek uses the term “revival” to describe what they hope to see happening, I think “nostalgia” is a more accurate term.

And the saddest thing of all about articles like these is that they are added to record. People hoping for relief from the disruption of personal technology will point to them as evidence of hope, when in reality, they’re pure folly, bathed in assumptions that aren’t real.

And again, isn’t that exactly what “experts” are supposed to prevent?

UPDATE: Howard Owens brilliantly deconstructs the entire Newsweek piece.


  1. fix your stylesheet shit for brains

  2. I read your review as a critique on Keen’s book, rather than on the Newsweek’s article. While you make some good points against Keen’s thesis, I don’t think the Newsweek article brings the same message as Keen’s (note: there is only one short quote from Keen in the Newsweek article). Although related, I think the Newsweek article makes a point to debunk the myth of the web 2.0 democracy. Indeed, if there is only 1% of Wikipedia users doing most of the edits, a few designated users at Digg choosing what makes the front page, and a selected few who takes care of the moderation at Slashdot, that is not exactly supporting the premisses of a participative web 2.0 democracy. The message I get from the author is that the “experts” (a very loaded term, which I would change for “editorial committee”) are still required in order to have quality content.

  3. Martin, I appreciate your note, but the point of my post is to state that Newsweek is advancing the meme that Andrew Keen birthed. There has never been a “web 2.0 democracy,” so why is there a need to debunk it?

  4. Andy,

    What’s wrong with my stylesheet? (I used to have a dog named “shit for brains.” We called him “SB.”)



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  6. What’s the current term…“reputation economy”? In any case, user-generated content and “professionally-generated” content are treated by us, the “content consumers” (an ugly term but I couldn’t think of anything better this morning) in exactly the same way. If we like it, or we trust it, then we read, view, or listen to it. If not, we don’t. To quote a certain big-eared Texan “it’s just that simple”.

    Old media: some sitcoms were funny, even if other people thought they were crap, and they attracted viewers. Cronkite became a trusted news source and CBS News had great ratings.

    New media: some YouTube clips become very popular, even though “production values” are low. Some bloggers become very popular because they’re entertaining, or because people feel they can trust their information.

    Note that in neither case does it really matter whether the people producing the content are getting paid for it, or are recognized “experts” in some field.

    Popularity is all that matters to advertisers, usually, and that does not depend upon who produces the content.

    As for an advertiser’s association with the content: at one time, boycotting advertisers worked because advertising was the lifeblood for a television production, or a newspaper. Losing a sponsor might mean that there was no money to produce content, which at the time was an expensive proposition.

    That is no longer true.

    It’s a false assumption. When I can put my content up for free, I don’t have to have advertising revenue to support it, and advertising dollars do not have leverage over content producers like they once had. Removing that leverage makes it less likely that people will worry about whether an advertiser’s ad is on a site they don’t like.

    There’s another small factor in the removal of advertising as leverage, which may need to be studied, it’s just a hunch on my part. To most browsers on the Web, the ads are kind of like background noise and they seem chosen almost at random — people are so desperate to monetize some sites that the ads have nothing to do with the content of the site. This perception of randomness, for me, means that I don’t blame the choice of ad on the site owner, for I feel like they didn’t actually get to choose the ad anyway. I know this is just perception, and that many people _do_ exercise some control over their ads, but it’s the way it feels to me. Like I said, a hunch.

  7. >Terry Says:
    >What’s wrong with my stylesheet? …

    Hi Terry,
    The comment pages don’t wrap properly when I’m using Safari on a Mac. The comment text spills off the page to the right so I have to widen the browser window and scroll to read comments. That could be what bugged andy, too.

    I enjoy reading your posts, thanks.

  8. Great post. I didn’t read the Newsweek article, but I have noticed the recent explosion of “return of the expert” stories around, coinciding with Keen’s promotional work.

    You might be interested in my deconstruction of another recent Keen-inspired piece — the Hesse WaPo article from last week:

    A brief bit of digging found that the example she uses in her lede (and returns to at the conclusion) is in fact erroneous — her experts are wrong and the web is right…


  1. […] Here’s a handy tip: When someone says that something is “a perfect storm” of something, 99 times out of 100 they are full of crap. And speaking of crap, Andrew “I hate the Internet” Keen says that one of the reasons for the decline of UGC (which is assumed) is that “no one wants to advertise next to crap.” I’m tempted to say that if that were the case, then there would be a lot fewer ads in Newsweek magazine and plenty of other media outlets, but that’s almost too easy. Still — I guess I said it anyway. […]

  2. […] Terry Heaton / Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog: NEWSWEEK ADVANCES ANDREW KEEN’S IGNORANCE  —  I’ve had a few days to calm down after reading Newsweek’s “Web Exclusive” this week — Revenge of the Experts — so I think it’s safe to comment now.  Newsweek has done what many of us feared, they’ve picked up Andrew Keen’s meme about the … […]

  3. […] Then there’s Newsweek’s most recent nonsense, declaring the end of user-generated content and “The Revenge of the Experts.”  Quite honestly, as a former network news journalist myself,  I admit there’s no doubt that MSM needed a quick kick to the head long ago.  Thanksfully, the low barriers to entry for UGC create a much more competitive environment for information distribution generally, even if some of it is meaningless froth.  So, for that matter, is at least two hours of the four-hour Today Show.  To scrub your brain clean if you can make it through the Newsweek article, check out Matthew Ingram’s blog entry, “Newsweek Does a UGC Drive-By” Terry Heaton’s, “Newsweek Advances Andrew Keen’s Ignorance,” or just peruse what we’re doing here at FlipTheMedia (which, from all this, CLEARLY needs FLIPPING!). […]

  4. […] What? No. Hell no. Who is the idiot that wrote this? If you work in the media biz, please don’t let anyone in your company start passing this story around. It’s flat wrong. And if you need a second opinion, here’s Terry Heaton with the many reasons why. […]

  5. DigiDave says:

    Newsweek Advances Andrew Keen’s Ignorance

    I try very hard to ignore Andrew Keen’s book Cult of Amateur. But, like Terry Heaton, I too read a recent Newsweek article that proclaimed his brillance and was in a fit of rage for at least a half-hour after reading it. ThePoMoBlog does a good job of…

  6. […] follow any responses to this entry through the magic of RSS 2.0. You can also leave a response, or trackback from your ownsite. […]

  7. […] PoMo: I’ve had a few days to calm down after reading Newsweek’s “Web Exclusive” this week — Revenge of the Experts — so I think it’s safe to comment now. Newsweek has done what many of us feared, they’ve picked up Andrew Keen’s meme about the “cult of the amateur” and manufactured a new lede without taking into consideration the fallacy of the meme in the first place. […]

  8. […] I’m not fond of Andrew Keen’s thesis that the “amateur” is ruining the Internet. I quite disagree; Terry Heaton explains. […]

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