Master Manufacturer: The Death of an Editor?
With the tools in hand to make passable pages and pictures, many of us are prepared to subvert editorial judgment in favor of posting our own blog comments and videos. Getting our snapshots on Flickr is, to many of us, more satisfying than viewing a professional photographer’s photos. Fewer of us use magazines as memberships, where an editor focuses our collective interest, because we prefer to make our own decisions about what’s interesting. And what’s most interesting is what we make and say ourselves.
The impulse to self-publish is an interesting variant on our celebrity culture. Commanding an audience and living life in public is now a measure of self-worth. While we used to build identity through community and shared belief, now we do it by totaling up our page views to test our popularity.
The obituary here is for the paid journalist and editor. It’s not the printed page we reject, but the idea that a third party comes between us and the subject matter, to structure the engagement, direct our attention, scale the subject up or down, and control our impressions. At worst, the mediator is a propagandist who crushes our critical thinking. At best, the mediator helps us apply critical thinking by introducing us to information we never would have uncovered on our own.
Journalists find information, including facts others don’t want us to have, then help us understand the ramifications. The blogger tells us what’s on his mind. If citizen journalism is all that’s left, political discourse sinks to horse-race handicapping and flag pins. Financial insight is the unstructured remarks of people who like to hear themselves talk. And the thoughts and dreams of celebrities are dissected as if a bit of body language were a confession.
There’s a vast difference between seeking information and trusting a third party to suggest what’s worth knowing. Both a custom, online news feed and plain, old Web surfing will reward you with a narrow view of the world—you get what you know to ask for. But in a magazine, an editor tugs at your sleeve, saying, “You might find this interesting.” There may be hits and misses, but the key is trust. In exchange for your time, an editor gives you perspective, depth, surprises and connections. Without a third party to trust, we’re on our own, and we do little more than reinforce our existing prejudices.