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Expert Opinion

A complex world where we have just about any information we want at our fingertips isn’t a world that’s limited by the answers.  It’s limited by our ability to ask the right questions.  That may sound like more sophistry from a wannabe mystic, in case you’re getting tired of my schtick.  But if journalism is about connecting people to their world it seems that the ways it is changing are directly related to the size of the world that people have the ability to connect to.  That might best be handled by changing the entire approach to news.

For me, this all started with an innocent question.  I asked the twtterverse what it takes for someone to get onto teevee.  It started as a curiosity, but I had a purpose.  There are, after all, bobbing heads who seem to make a living dispensing bits of wisdom like so much Pez in the various forms of media.  Could I possibly join that class?

In no time at all, I was tweeted by extremely nice person who is a producer at a TV station.  In a flurry of messages, he was able to give me some great advice.  Twitter can be a wonderful place to meet people if you ask the right questions, and this was no exception.  This was a great conversation where a very kind person answered every question I had.  I was very glad to meet someone so warm and “into” in his craft.

Then, he concluded with something that told me I didn’t ask the right question.  I was told that I have to pitch myself as an “expert” on a topic, explaining why and how I was qualified.  Ug.

I thought about what I could possibly say I was an expert in.  I have a degree in Chemical Engineering, so those sorts of topics would be an easy sell.  I have a lot of experience as a community organizer and as a writer, too, so I could push something together on some of those topics.  Things like this rattled around in my head for a few hours until the obvious hit me squarely over the head:

I don’t believe that “experts” are what is needed in the world
.  I can’t pitch myself as an “expert” on anything without feeling I’ve done something morally wrong.

That may sound extreme, but … Hell, it is extreme.  I admit it, my Taoism is getting the better of me here.  But isn’t the role of news media to provide us with context, not a series of expert opinions?  Isn’t it more valuable to give people the background that allows them to ask the right questions and the sense of wonder and curiosity that drives them to find the answers for themselves?

If you look at political commentators who “make it” in this field, they are rarely telling you just how things are – they are providing frames for how they want people to see things given their own bent.  The same goes for experts in technical fields, who are most successful when they can provide analogies that stick in the viewers’ heads long after the program is over.  The topic at hand is always one thing but the context of it, or why people need to care, is another.

My expertise, if I have one, is all about context.  What I write about here is how things are connected in this world, person to person and person to idea.  Ultimately, it’s all about people and how they can have the information and control that they need to be good citizens of a Democratic Republic with an active free market.  I happen to think that this is not only extremely valuable, but it’s often terribly missing.

It would be presumptuous and rude for me to tell someone how to do their job, especially someone as kind as my twitter acquaintance.  I haven’t re-joined the conversation with him partly for that reason, but also because I had to think it through for a while.  My bringing it up here in anonymous and cowardly way is my rejoinder, partly because I’d like to know what you think about it.

It seems to me that this is at the heart of how journalism, particularly on television, is changing.  It’s only relevant to the extent that it empowers people to ask the right questions by giving them the perspectives that allow them to see their world a little bit differently, not tell them “The way it is” any longer.  That may be a bigger change than it appears on the surface.

22 thoughts on “Expert Opinion

  1. I would have to agree with you about so called “Expert Opinion” on news items. The Journalists wheel out the experts in the field of their report to voice their “Un-Biased” opinion on whatever subject they are covering. Unfortunately they are choosing to talk to the most biased sources they could hope for.

  2. The media has to stop trying to tell us what to think. If it wants to be useful it has to give us all the tools to be better informed. Asking the right questions might be a start, but there is more to it than that. They have so incredibly far to go before they are relevant in the age of new media. It is about way more than just putting video clips up on a website.

    Kudos to you for resisting being a part of the problem!

  3. You’re right on here. All these experts that ran our nation into the ground used the media to deliver the message that they wanted us to hear. It goes right along with the commercials that tell us what to buy right after they tell us what to think. It’s not that we don’t have to do that anymore, its that we should never have done it in the first place.

  4. Thanks, everyone.

    It seems to me that the standards of “objectivity” always wind up being the central issue. The old idea was that you line up two (usually exactly two) “experts” and let them battle it out. But the choice of “experts” is, inherently, the place where journalism inserts itself into the situation – whether it’s honest about that or not.

    I guess I agree that this wasn’t always the best way to do things, but in the old daze perhaps it was all that could be done. We don’t have to worry about that anymore. People can, and do, find their own sources of information all the time. The problem is, as Scott Adams explained, that the stream of information coming at us is like a firehose aimed at a teacup.

    That brings it back to context. Ditching “objectivity” doesn’t mean we should have no standards – it means we replace it with something better. It seems to me that “experts” are one of the first things to go.

  5. You should be on TV. There’s a lot about of things that need to be explained whether you have an expert opinion or not.

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  7. Youze a smart man charlie erik brown. Evev twittering one area I will never go cuz it could be like heroin. It still boils down to concision pun intended.

  8. I once wrote movie teasers for a small local film society if you read the film festival teasers they tend to have some kind of mystery/question.

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  11. I think that the best thing that the media can do for us right now is ask good questions and let us figure out what the answers are. If they want to be ‘objective’ maybe they should balance those two sides of the news.

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