Half-baked

Half-baked

: Fred Wilson (second link today) talks about fully baked vs. half-baked blog posts. I prefer half-baked.

Fully baked is a lecture or a book or a show. It says, “I’m done. Eat what I tell you.”

Half-baked is a conversation. It says, “Join in. Add some pepperoni before it’s done, make it better, make it right for you. Enjoy.”

Old media necessitated fully baked thought and expression: You had to “finish” it and get it “right” before you used precious paper, production, and distribution and you couldn’t go back and do it over again; you couldn’t rethink.

New media allows half-baked notions to be distributed and shared and improved upon and rethought.

At the end of the day, I believe, the half-baked approach will end up with better thought, thanks to the conversation.

Of course, quality is still a factor. A stupid notion, whether fully or half-baked, is still a stupid notion and no amount of remixing or baking can fix it. Bad sauce makes bad pizzas.

And, of course, as a writer myself, I don’t mean to say that everything should be a committee product (in fact, what I like best about blogging is that there isn’t an editor standing between me and you, my real editors). I don’t want to read a novel written by committee. I’ve seen many a movie and TV show and magazine story wrecked by too much collaboration. Yes, the individual’s voice and viewpoint and talent still has value and too many chefs can ruin the broth.

But what’s interesting about this notion of fully v. half-baked is that it addresses an assumption behind all media, an essential snobbery that, by necessity, got cooked into old media: The limitations of old production and distribution — the fact that someone owned the printing press and paid for the paper and would not allow anything to get onto that paper until it fit his definition of baked — meant that we all thought something wasn’t good or right until it was declared done by someone with the power to do so: The tyranny of the chef.

But when you think about it, that attitude reveals such hubris: believing that a thought can ever be done, that one author or one editor can know more than all their readers is so egotistical.

That is the essential attitude shift that must happen in media, especially news media: Discussion is often more intelligent than content. Paraphrasing Dan Gillmor, the audience knows more than the author.

Once we in big media stop acting as if we can fully bake anything, as if we know best, as if we are the only authorities, as if we’re finished and the story is done when it’s printed, then the public we serve should stop shooting at us when we screw up. If we provide valuable reporting and experience and resources but admit we’re human and are not the final authority, if we join in the conversation that’s already going on around us — the remixing of our news, the baking of it — then both we and the public we serve can learn the real value of collaboration.

In the end, itreally is just a simple attitude shift: It says that when we publish something, we know it’s not fully baked; we expect it to be debated and challenged and remixed and improved; we welcome that.

Half-baked is better.

: Hey, commenters, don’t get too literal about “half-baked,” as if it means numbskulled. It’s Fred’s creative wording and I like it and it’s not to say that one puts out numbskulled ideas. It says that any idea we put out is likely to be unfinished and the key is admitting that.

  • http://www.tyndallreport.com Andrew Tyndall

    This half-baked argument amounts to nothing more than a rationalization for passing off sloppy, ill-considered rants as discourse.
    Thinking something through before you publish it, making sure it is fair and not meanspirited, taking counterarguments seriously, checking one’s facts, considering all sides of an issue, making sure you have expressed yourself clearly so as not to be misconstrued–these actions do not amount to “snobbery,” they are basic acts of consideration for one’s readers.
    “Believing that a thought can never be done” is no excuse for a failure to honor the simple courtesies of intelligent conversation, namely trying one’s hardest to say what one means and mean what one says…a reasonable working definition of a fully-baked idea.

  • http://http://robertdfeinman.com/society robertdfeinman

    Perhaps what you are really railing against is the Time magazine syndrome of passing a piece past too many editors, each of whom thinks he must do something to the copy.
    The result isn’t fully baked, it’s characterless pablum.
    News needs to be vetted, opinion can be as idiosyncratic as you feel.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Andrew: You’re missing the point. The half-baked argument assumes that anything can stand further refinement from the public. Not to assume that is hubris in its finest mass media form. Rather thought his story was fully baked but it wasn’t even half-baked. If he’d admitted it was half-baked, he would still be in the kitchen.

  • http://tomwatson.typepad.com Tom Watson

    Jeff, I think your argument is a bridge too far. Half-baked is half-baked, or less. Don’t undercount professionalism, my friend!! How can you, since you are one? I enjoy half-baked. I read half-baked. I write half-baked and I argue with half-baked. But I’ve produced fully-baked and it’s better. If discourse follows, fine. Hubris can be a powerful force for good. I agree 100% in “the conversation” as i’ve said many times, but we’d be lost as a republic without professional reporters, Jeff.
    I have some thoughts related to deep throat and sources here, and they go to the center of your argument, I think:
    http://tomwatson.typepad.com/tom_watson/2005/06/my_anonymous_so.html

  • http://www.scaredmonkeys.com Tom

    As a blogger who used to be a caterer, I love the half baked arguement.
    If you are going to cook something for a party, you never fully bake something, unless you are going to serve it immediately, otherwise it will be overcooked if it sits for long.
    However, when you half bake it, it is ready to serve when the guests are ready, and you are a hero.
    Is it about you or your guests?

  • http://www.tyndallreport.com Andrew Tyndall

    Jeff–point taken, the distributed world of journalism changes the pivotal moment in the trajectory of a story: the point at which it is released by reporters to their readers.
    In your old media model, “further refinement” was confined to letters to the editor, the complaints department, ombudsmen’s investigations, possible retractions. In your new media model, one’s readers are participants in fact-checking, op-ed writing, news analysis sidebars and so on.
    Nevertheless, I insist that the initiating work of the original writer and the distributed work of the active, participated readers are only worth doing if everybody contributes in good faith. That means well-thought-out, fully-considered, fact-checked, conscientious contributions.
    By contrast, your “half-baked” argument implicitly condones ill-considered participation. Dan Rather should not have published a half-baked story under any circumstances. Admitting it was half-baked would have been no excuse. Your argument implies that as long as it is stamped with the Half-Baked seal of approval, even casual rumormongering is to be encouraged. I disagree.

  • Aurora

    Or, it’s just, you know, lazy…

  • http://abbagav.blogspot.com AbbaGav

    Sometimes I like half-baked, when I have enough time for it. But sometimes I just have to microwave it and throw out more condiments. But you are right, you can’t start with a rotten potato (I know, I’ve tried, and you just can’t add enough sour cream to hide that).
    It does seem to me that there is a whole range of doneness in the b-sphere, some people just throwing up provocative raw material, others partially digesting it, and others writing reviews of what everyone else just consumed. It all works together for me.

  • http://www.mallasch.com kpaul

    Andrew – I think you’re talking about ‘raw’ blog posts. I mean, even if you have something ‘fully baked’ people are still gonna put seasonings and stuff on it (parmesan, red pepper, etc. ;) It’s not that you throw the raw materials at your guests, but you offer to let them help finish the dish and make it a meal.
    Also, really loved the further analogy from the caterer above.