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Tuesday, Sep 2, 2008

To follow-up on my post last month about the shrinking ranks of publication/newspapers writers….


One of the most trotted-out arguments about the decline and fall of the professional critic is that they’re not needed anymore since anyone can do their job online now.  The argument that anyone can write is only partially true, which is to say that knowledge of a certain skill doesn’t automatically make you an expert in the field. 


Think of these comparisons:


- If I have a driver’s license, should I clear out a place in my trophy case because I’ll automatically win the Indianapolis 500?
- If I can jog, does that alone mean that I have a good chance on winning the New York Marathon?
- If I learn how to swim, does that mean I’ll probably kick Michael Phelps’ butt in a race?


You might say that some of these set-up’s aren’t exact because they involve measurable skills- someone who is great in their field will win a race.  For writing, just like in any artistic profession, the results aren’t as tangible but you can set up other comparisons: if I’m able to draw a line on a piece of paper, should I then have gallery and museum exhibits devoted to me? You might snicker that if you sleep with enough gallery owners then the answer is yes, but you get the point.  If you want to go back to writing, try this out for a comparison- who would you want to work on your resume, a guidance counselor or Jessica Simpson?  Jess might be able to hire a counselor (if she figures out what it means) but again, you get the point.


Take McDonald’s as another example- you probably wouldn’t be too shocked to learn that the kid who’s flipping your burgers didn’t go to the Institute of Culinary Education.  You wouldn’t expect such a thing, partially because the staff there aren’t cooks per se but part of an assembly line.  If you go to a sit-down restaurant, you don’t know that the cook’s been to ICE either but the end result will speak for itself- whether you have a good meal or not.  Maybe the important distinction isn’t just having a degree or award but a show of expertise even if in the end, it’s still an aesthetic, subjective call which you make as the consumer or reader. 


A great piece of writing might not look the same to you as it does to me but even for a writer who doesn’t have a journalist’s degree, you can see the care, effort and thought that goes into a great piece of writing and appreciate the craft behind it.  That’s not to say that a blogger without a professional background can’t be a great writer but that everyone like ain’t necessarily gonna be a post-millennium Lester Bangs (which isn’t something to always aspire to anyway).


If you’d like to see a much more elegant way to say all of this, there’s a fine article on the decline of photo journalism, Alissa Quart’s “Flickring Out,” which expresses the same sentiment: “Anyone can take a decent photo, as the bromide goes, through talent or luck, but few can extend it into masterful narratives.”

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