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Storming the gatekeepers: Internet users defying journalists’ use of only the most officially credentialed as experts 7/22/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Experts.

Think for a moment of the experts that journalists are most likely to quote — politicians, agency heads, authors, think tank researchers, academics. Typically, they are the most credentialed individuals in the most credentialed institutions for that topic. Since most journalists lack expertise in the topics they cover, they have been relying on credentials to choose experts rather than their own judgment.

Now compare this to how author David Weinberger says web users are choosing experts, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal: “The criteria governing our choice of whom to listen to are expanding from ‘Those are the only channels I get’ and ‘I read it in a book’ to ‘I’ve heard this person respond intelligently when challenged,’ ‘People I respect recommend her,’ and even ‘A mob finds this person amusing.’” In other words, the web is allowing us to choose our own experts based on some very valid criteria beyond official credentials, including our personal experience, depth of knowledge, referrals from friends, ability to engage an audience, and popularity.

In the past, journalists’ gatekeeper function has been justified based on their allegedly superior abilities to find the truth. But, the real truth is that the most officially credentialed are not always the best sources of real truth. (Hat tip: Kristine Lowe)


1. Adam - 7/23/07

This is a subject of some obsession on my part.

My only comment is that above and beyond whether the most credentialed sources are the best sources of truth, there is the question of how journalists are qualified to decide just who the “best credentialed” folks are in the first place.

After all, in order to determine that, one would have to be rather familiar with the literature of a given field. Since a journalist never is, they are essentially amateurs making a best guess. Their best guess is no better than any other amateur’s, to my mind.

2. Steve Boriss - 7/23/07

My sense is that when selecting sources they often think in terms of which credentialed individuals would be most defensible because of their public prominence or visibility in an area. Often it leads to strange choices, such as the National Organization of Women to represent all women, even though they are a very small organization with views that are well outside the mainstream.

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