Pro-am news

Georgina Henry, editor of Comment is Free, asked commenters for help with a panel on rising amateurism and one said this:

We ‘Ams’ are on here for intelligent discourse,to be informed, and a good argument. Pure intellectualism. The ‘Pros’ are here, on the other hand, to promote some agenda or other, or for filthy lucre, or personal gripes with colleagues. That isn’t intellectualism, it’s dubious.

Here there is a mixture of both. That is pretty radical, look at the plaudits such a brave move has garnered. A pro-am newspaper must be more intellectual and less dubious than a crusty old professional one surely?

I like that: the pro-am newspaper. That’s what they all should be.

The next commenter responded:

The comments here in many ways form your answer to the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs often have more heart, but professionals have more head (no jokes). True artistry combines both- professionals get stale or bored, or rest on their laurels, but their knowledge and skill is not easily replaced; amateurs may have edge and hunger, but often little judgement and experience. Some professions (e.g. journalism, politics) are much the better for a steady injection of amateurs’ passion (hence the success of cif), but if you lose a critical mass of people with experience and judgement things will fall apart pretty quickly.

It’s the job of amateurs to think they’d do the job much better than the professionals, and occasionally it’s true- but only occasionally. It’s the job of professionals not to believe them for a minute, but to protect the craft (i.e. the professionalism) of the guild.

To which one commenter notes:

I just wonder how many amateurs here, if the Guardian said “We’d like to pay you for your words of wisdomw,” would say no.

That kind of blurs the lines.

And another replies:

Let’s start a poll here. I’d say no.

: LATER: Tim Worstall adds:

My own take on it is that the difference is quite simply those who get paid to pontificate and those who don’t. Yes, glaringly obvious, but that leads to a further point, that those who are getting paid aren’t necessarily the experts on the specific subject under discussion.

It’s pretty much a truism (well, it is if I’m allowed to mention Hayek here) that the 60 odd million people of the UK know more on any and every specific subject than the 500 or so who work for The Guardian. That within those 60 million there are experts on each and every subject who have more and deeper knowledge than the staff reporters.

It used to be that the job of a reporter was to go and find those people, extract a view or a quote and then write it up. What all this participatory media allows is that those experts can write it up directly themselves: no longer is there a need for a 100 million investment in a set of printing presses.

This doesn’t, I think, mean the death of the editorial team. Prose can still be polished, facts checked perhaps, choices made about what is important to present and so on. But in the longer term I think that the “winners” (in the sense of the brands like The Guardian, NY Times and so on) will be those who realise that the value of the brand lies in those editorial functions, not so much in the actual production of the material. Whoever works out how to tap into that expertise out there in the general population and use it (as freelancers perhaps) is going to beat those who try to produce everything in house.

Just saw this, too:

* Georgina Henry: In the event you return to read this, I wonder if I might make a suggestion: There are a number of exceedingly articulate and well-informed contributors to CIF. Why not elevate them from the fray, blurring the am/pro divisision further, and let them have their own columns. The initial selections could be made by professional columnists and then the top bloggers could compete in an online “hack idol” and get voted into a full-time position at the Guardian by other bloggers….

  • rjh

    I am reminded of an aphorism I learned in the context of sports:

    “An amateur can do a great job whenever they want to; a professional will do a good job when they do not want to.”

  • Andy Freeman

    But, what do professional journalists do a good job of?

    While they may know more about “their topic” than the typical reader member, they’re no-where near being domain experts.

    They usually write better than the typical domain expert. Does that trump expertise?

  • Glad you saw that Jeff. We’re in the process of setting up a system that’ll try to address exactly this, how to get those expert views into a form that can be used by editorial teams. Very much an alpha (not even beta) version at Aiming at first at the market for reviews: so many of those are syndicated now already across mutliple newspapers that it seems a logical target.

    The genesis? Really from my own experience. Started blogging two years ago (and a bit) and from doing so have been able to develop a freelance career of sorts. Various pieces for think tanks, TCS Daily….OK, that’s simply more online writing, new rather than old media, but also book reviews for The Telegraph and Comment page pieces for The Times (both London). If I can do that then given that there are many writers currently blogging who are vastly more capable than I then why not offer a helping hand?
    Another way of looking at it would be that there could be two ways for the “war” between new and old media to end. It might be between the two models of business….or we could simply infiltrate the old media. If many of the writers for them are in fact bloggers, fitting into those editorial teams, then haven’t we actually got what we want anyway?