Monday, August 5, 2013


Paul Krugman on the emerging “superstar” dynamic in journalism:
"It’s true that information technology makes it increasingly easy to carve out your own brand; I’ve done some of that myself. But it also makes monetizing information harder; I believe that Arcade Fire makes a lot of its money from live performances rather than record sales, and in any case they have not become wealthy. This is OK for music — great music can be made without super-profitable record companies — but not so OK for journalism, which relies on a substantial infrastructure of non-superstar reporters. …
"Somehow the economics of this new world have to be worked out; but they are definitely problematic. Someone like Nate [Silver] can become a celebrity and cut free of the middleman; but the people reporting on City Hall can’t, and we need those people too."
We do indeed. With all due respect to Matt Yglesias’ notion that we live in a golden age of journalism, the daily-grind, non-literary, nuts-and-bolts sector of the profession is really struggling.

More broadly, few things in American culture drive me crazier than the widespread notion that everyone needs to turn free agent, develop a personal brand and become a superstar, and that anyone who falters, or who declines to play the game, deserves whatever calamity the winds of economic change might blow his or her way.

Didn't it use to be a problem that every high school kid in the country thought he was going to be the next LeBron James,  or Bill Gates? Whether in journalism, or business, or any other activity, a few people are going to be terrific, but most are going to be mediocre. That’s what the word “mediocre” means. Only in Lake Wobegon can all the children be above average.

I have no problem with the best and brightest rising to the top – that’s where they should be. But there’s a strain of chest-thumping rhetoric in America that seems to reject the notion that hardworking average people deserve a chance at a decent life, or really any sort of respect at all. This kind of rhetoric drives me nuts:
"Wanna ensnare a superstar? Offer him exposure in all venues. Cut him a great deal. And know that he’s boss. If you’re not kissing the ass of talent, if you’re not giving it all it wants and deserves, you’re destined for the scrapheap."
Um, no. Kissing ass is a recipe for enabling assholes, for inflating the egos of arrogant, entitled jerks. And that is something that healthy societies try to avoid.  

When talented people think their shit doesn’t stink (to continue with Lefsetz’s piquant imagery), that’s when they begin running roughshod over everyone else, serene in the knowledge that their self-aggrandizement is for our own good. (This is not to say that Nate Silver is an arrogant, entitled prick; on the contrary, from his articles and TV interviews, he seems like a pretty good guy.)

Healthy societies admire humility as well as ego, and maintain some concern for the interests of everyone, and the common good. I think we’ve been pathological in this regard for some time now. 

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