Do we still need the gatekeepers?
Today I had a letter to the editor run in the Boston Globe. The printed version. For some reason an article about extending “A reporter’s privilege for Twitterers” inspired me to actually send my thoughts to the Globe’s editors who would scrutinize them before deeming them print worthy.
True, only a small percentage of letters to editors actually get published. And yes, as long as we show an iota of civility we can see our reactions appear instantly in the comment section that appears immediately below a story in the digital version of virtually every newspaper.
So why bother to go through the gatekeepers? Good question. Is it because I wanted to know if someone else thought my points were valid? Because there’s still some little rush that you get when your copy appears in a “real” newspaper? Maybe it was simply the challenge. Or knowing that it’s too easy to shoot off an instant reaction to something we read on a blog or in an online newspaper.
But perhaps it’s also because for some reason, I still have respect for the editors, publishers, even creative directors who have earned the privilege to pass judgment. Their accomplishments, their taste, and the respect they warrant from peers all imply there’s real merit in their approval.
On the other hand, perhaps this is a really old way of thinking, inspired by the days when, as Bob Garfield says, “the man had all the power,” and we – reader, audience, consumer – were at the whim of their autocratic decision making.
I guess I’m torn. I want the great gatekeepers to filter out the bad and feed us the good. But of course I only want to subject myself to that scrutiny on my terms.
So what do you think? Do we want gatekeepers? Do we give them more credit than they deserve? Or do we need them as much as always?
Ah, but we all know how Digg works. You could take your argument further and allow or create reader and consumer ratings of gatekeepers (sort of like Amazon ratings of reviewers) so that the support of a higher ranked gatekeeper carries more weight. Agree that the filtering mechanism is key. But even that is likely to be more representative of the community, rather than the opinion of one individual. There will be an iPhone app to do it any day now.
In my opinion, the value of gatekeepers is as a filtering mechanism. Publishing a letter to the editor is generally a sign that the content is worth reading. As a Twitter comparison, think of an article that was retweeted as opposed to one that was just posted to the public timeline. Which is likely to be more valuable?
Another modern incarnation of the gatekeeper could be the +1 system used by digg and some blogs. Theoretically, the more valuable content gets rated higher and is then given more visibility than lower-rated content.
Gatekeepers make good content more accessible, and whether we want them or not, they will inevitably evolve in any new medium.
I read a lot of blogs(political, mostly) and the comments often devolve quickly into name calling and flame wars. So, the idea of a moderator/gatekeeper shaping the conversation toward relevance and revelation is undervalued these days.
As for creative directors, the ones I've admired are not gatekeepers per se. Not people who simply decide in or out, but people who can provide guidance and insight helping propel ideas forward, inspiring new thoughts while ending digressions.
The internet has allowed for the democratization of thought. But then, not all thoughts are created equal.
Good qualification. I presume editors are like CDs and do the same for writers. In the case of the good ones, they're an asset; in other cases, they're simply obstacles to the democratization of comment and the right of the reader/consumer to decide. Granted we could encounter the impotence of abundance (and there's a lot of crap online, on tv and yes, in advertising) but there are other ways to filter. Watch for the soon to appear digital creative director: someone will write the code that lets a consumer's voice decide. A new form of crowdsourcing.
Yes. Although the actual persona and visage of the gatekeeper has changed tremendously.
Today's gatekeeper is usually automated (as opposed to the editors of years past). Google news, Yahoo news and a variety of other aggregators pull in content and give it back to you in a method approved by you.
You can now customize the locks on your gate. Theoretically this should be better? I'm not sold though.
.-= Stuart Fosteru00c2u00b4s last blog ..Are you Earning Trust in your Message, or Expecting it? =-.
Those are sort of filters more than gatekeepers, no? Gatekeepers are like the admissions committee that decides whether or not you belong in the club, whether you're allowed, good enough, etc. Question is, are the gatekeepers qualified to be gatekeepers? Some yes. Others, maybe not.
With the average American reading at an 8th grade level (and a trend to shortening words and abbreviate as much as possible - think: tweets and texts) I believe that gatekeepers are still necessary. They keep the comments and responses on-topic (even if it is from the opposite POV) and usually the correspondence from the reader is at the reading level of the article.
Could you imagine reading comments from people who use smiley faces, foul language, repeat letters in a word to make more emphasis, or whose comments are negative without offering constructive criticism of why they think so? How annoying would that be? I think that if they published responses like that, the publication would lose credibility. After all, we've all seen those type of responses on message/comment boards, YouTube, and twitter. The standards for print are higher than online.
You are right other than for a publication called AdWeek, which allows anonymous and absurdly critical rants in its comments. So, true, that perspective is interesting. The idea that the credibility of a publication is in part influenced by the letters to the editor that it publishes. Which says it's about *them* not about the reader and the possible conversation. Perhaps yet another reason by consumers have tired of gatekeepers and have decided to become content creators themselves. Thanks for this. Hadn't looked at it that way.
interesting that you question gatekeepers yet you ARE yourself a gatekeeper on this blog. Fair enough. It's your sandbox, you decide who has to wait their turn on the monkey bars. But the whole premise behind social media -- and the Globe doesnt get this as well as others -- is the notion that's it open, available to the masses and transparent, warts and all, as long as you're not vulgar or threatening mass hysteria. And that's why gatekeepers have a damned-if-they do-damned-if-they-dont gig. Anyway, congrats on getting in El Globo. I didnt see it. I canceled when it became $50 a month!
I may be, but I approve everyone. Though I do fix their grammatical errors and typos. Usually. Interestingly, I thought the Globe did a pretty good job in social space. Blogging, using Twitter, encouraging online comments. Hence the Q about the role of gatekeeper in the old fashioned way.
Gatekeepers -- who, I think, can more accurately be called curators -- still provide a ton of value in lots of contexts: as critics, as specialists, as synthesizers of information drawing connections from loose threads and deep experience, as popularizers.
But the overall cultural context they operate in has changed.
Now we can see stories bubble up online days before they appear in a column. We can check our own facts. We can use our own aggregation and distribution tools to become our own gatekeepers.
Is something lost in this cultural shift? Yes.
Is much gained? Yes.
Is there any going back? No.
So what is the new role of gatekeepers?
I think we're seeing it form and adapt and build around a transparency and collaboration culture. The gatekeepers are now more people and less institutions. They're more open to contribution.
So I'd say that it's the organizations that assemble gatekeepers and their tools and processes that are the most threatened. I think the talented people will be fine.
.-= Jamesu00c2u00b4s last blog ..u00e2u0080u009cBaked Inu00e2u0080u009d Live Video Chat: AdHack Live Episode 3 =-.
Great thought. I believe that John A Byrnes and other editors actually encourage their writers and even evaluate them based on the conversations they inspire. What remains to be seen is whether or not the consumer/reader can exercise a level of taste and filtering that mirrors that of qualified gatekeepers, or whether it even matters. If the consumer/reader is to decide, then what matters to them may be the most important filter. Sort of the good enough revolution idea reported in a recent edition of Wired, taken to the world of journalism.
I still respect the editors at NPR, NY Times and LA Times to give me my news. I still explore other sources, but they have earned my respect. I would welcome them passing judgement on my submission to their reporting. I I have my own outlets.
.-= Mark Harmelu00c2u00b4s last blog ..how twitter led me to Lemonade =-.
Those guys, along with the Remnicks and Byrneses are essential as far as I'm concerned. Part of raising this question is, in fact, to hear comments like that and also the opposite. At least in cases where the keepers aren't quite that accomplished. The ramifications of this change are huge, from financial, to quality of content, to the freedom of the citizen journalist, to the fractured sources we turn to and rely on, to the accuracy we all need to make informed decisions.
We have an interesting dilemma on the other side of the coin: We're about to launch a news and community site for Coral Gables (http://gableshomepage.com). It's geared at a slightly older audience that's not very well versed in social media.
There's a link to submit Letters to the Editor through a web form. We *also* allow you to add comments directly on the article.
Our rationale was that the audience still appreciated the art and effort that goes into a well-crafted letter, even if a more convenient alternative is right there.
We're also allowing users to flag comments as offensive, or rate them up and down. In essence, the crowd is the gatekeeper (if this works correctly).
We're slowly nudging this site out of beta and into the community. I'll keep you posted as to whether the Letters to the Editor link catches on.
.-= Claudio Luu00c3u00ads Vera (@modulist)u00c2u00b4s last blog ..The coming @font-face storm =-.
Clearly the letter to editor is an older generation thing. In some ways, it's odd that it still exists given the conversation, often quite rich, that takes place in the comments. However, it's also a statement from the editors that the content contributes to the story from their perspective, not just that of the reader. As all of this stuff progresses, however, as with UGC, crowdsourcing, etc. it may become a moot point. We shall see. In your case it makes sense. Be interested to see if there is perceived value in the "gatekeeper" concept or not.
I think we still do this sort of thing because, as you said, it's cool to see your name and your opinion in print on real paper, and it's somehow more "important" than appearing on a Web page.
As far as passing the Gatekeepers is concerned, I would want to know whether you signed the letter simply as "Edward Boches" with your home address, or as "Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer, Mullen Advertising", on agency letterhead. Gatekeepers are as impressed by credentials as anyone else....