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Thread started by Dave Winer on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

Charles Pierce is wrong about Ezra Klein being wrong

A picture named hope.gifI'm a big fan of both Pierce and Klein. I love Pierce's irreverent writing style, and his political opinions match up pretty well with mine. I learn stuff by reading his columns in Esquire. Same with Klein. He's intelligent, and asks good questions, and backs up his thinking with information. It's sad that his way of working is so rare among political analysts these days.

But guys like Pierce (who criticizes Klein in his recent piece, more about that in a minute) only read other news people. The chances of either of them reading what I write are pretty close to nil, so the chances of them passing along a good idea that I might have are therefore also nil. This is embarassing, because the epiphany of Klein's that Pierce mocks happens to be one that I have been writing about for almost 20 years, over and over. Think of all the time everyone could have saved if they deigned to pay attention to people who don't do what they do. It's tragic that it took a smart guy like Klein so long to understand such a basic structural truth about how news, his own profession, has been working for the last 15 years. Gives you some idea about the power of the blinders this community puts on.

Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Now, in the past, any idea that didn't penetrate the haze of guys like Klein and Pierce would have very little chance of being heard by people like myself who might be interested. However, because we live in the times of the Internet and what Klein calls The Revenge of the Sources, I can go ahead and be heard without them listening. I call this Sources Go Direct, which means the same thing, but in a more positive less journalist-centered view. It's not revenge, it's more pragmatic. The old system didn't work. So we use the new one instead.

If you look at the mechanics of how a news story is created and flows, there are sources, a reporter, an editor or two, a production and design group, a printing press or web site, a delivery system and finally readers. In the past I have been a source, and I still am, because reporters can and sometimes do quote my blog. I wish they would do it more. I am also an avid reader. I am not, and never have been, and don't want to be, a reporter or an editor or any of the other things. I do write publishing systems, and have created some of the software that these guys probably use.

Pierce incorrectly thinks that every act of journalism is done by reporters. Look at the list of people in the paragraph above. There are lots of other roles. The sources aren't covering a fatal crash on Sunday night on Route 128 (his example). Instead they're writing, on their blogs, about the things they know about. Perhaps they were involved in the crash. Perhaps they witnessed it.

In software, lots of stuff gets created that isn't on the radar of people like Pierce or Klein. They have very limited focus. They look to big rich companies with lots of employees for technology innovation. Makes sense, because they're employees of big rich companies. Of course that's what they understand. But if you look at the history of software (and very few people do) you'll notice that the big ideas almost never come from those places. If you understand the process of software, you'd understand why that's so.

So while I admire both Klein and Pierce for their work as news people, boy would it be great if they looked outside their close-knit little community. Klein is a pioneer in his field for noticing Sources Go Direct first among his peers. But the idea was available to him long ago. And Pierce, a very flexible thinker when it comes to politics, has no flexibility in thinking about media, no ability to see things from other peoples' point of view, as demonstrated by his piece about Klein. And that's so important, and has been important for a very long time.

I've met Pierce's attitude many times, from all kinds of ink-stained pros, some very accomplished. The arrogance is impressive, but they're still wrong. I don't care how many Pulitzers you have. The news process has been reorganizing for quite some time. You may not choose to see it, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

PS: Do I think either of them will read this piece? Nah. :-)

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