One Man and the Cult

Cult of the Amateur

Yes, I have a copy of that book. And here’s the photo evidence to prove it.

Why have I bought it? Why am I reading it? Isn’t Mr Keen‘s book an assault on everything to do with the mass publishing revolution we’re seeing on the internet? Isn’t it just a pean of praise to a declining “command and control” media environment that is being rapidly replaced by mass choice?

Well, here’s the thing. Many people on the leading edge of the Web 2.0 movement think we should ignore Mr Keen and his polemic about the horrific consequences for our culture of participatory web culture. “He’s just a troll,” they cry. “Don’t feed him.”

The problem is that he’s far from alone in his views. I’m part of a team (with ‘im and ‘im) who are trying to translate the workings of the modern internet into terms that working journalists grasp – and many of them come out with the same arguments that Keen does. It’s my job to counter these arguments, to understand the flaws in Keen’s logic and to spot the misleading evidence he produces. And, indeed, to understand where he’s right. Because this revolution is going to change media, and it is going to change the career structure of everyone involved in print journalism.

If you’re a working journalist today, it’s between you, your conscience and your bank manager as to whether you think it’s a bad thing or not.

  • I really should read it but will have to force myself. I saw him speak on Thursday and have seen him a few times online and know I disagree entirely with his baseline premise, but you are right, you have to understand it to argue against it

  • I couldn’t agree more. It is important to understand why so many smart people take Keeen seriously, despite how his book is littered with logical fallacies – such as the appeal to authority and the call to bring back, or stop diminishing the authority of, the arbiters of taste. ‘Know thine enemy’ as the saying goes. The worst thing is that Keen’s book is breeding minature Keens in various parts of the world, like my own. If I do find time this week, I’ll slaughter the one closest to where I’m based, a guy who thinks everything online is bad: online journalism, blogs, citizen journalism – the whole shebang. And I should know better: I might be writing myself out or my career as a media business reporter and back into being a full time commentator, but maybe I’ll just get to busy chaing other stories…

    Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, Weinberger’s effort to interpret Keen’s arguement in the best possible way is useful reading:

  • Not sure I did say to ignore him but he did come across as someone who hadn’t thought through his arguments and was being almost childish in his desire to wind people up.

  • Adam Tinworth

    It’s worth it. At many points it’s a hugely entertaining read for all the wrong reasons.

    The London bombings of “6/7” are an entertaining error in a book that praises the value of editors, for example…

  • Adam Tinworth

    Which is certainly true of him in his live appearances, including that “debate” at the Frontline Club. The problem for me with that sort of argument is that my colleagues will spot that I’m playing the man, not the ball. Not engaging with the issues will lead them to suspect that there must be some truth to it.

    And that’s just going to make my life harder.

  • Hi Adam…I caught Keen at two different conferences, and he was in two different modes at each one. When he was “debating” David Weinberger, the two seemed to almost find common ground. It was the audience that seemed to have its knickers in a bunch far more than either Keen or Weinberger.

    It’s perhaps very important to read Keen’s book to, as you note, understand when you’re hit with those anti-Web arguments. But, it’s also good to read Keen to make many of us think twice about what’s going on Out Here.

    Personally, I have a problem with all those folks who throw the “don’t feed the troll” thing around at Keen. A true troll doesn’t reveal whom he/she is. When a person is showing their face–as in being transparent–and lobbing the grenade, it means they want to break the echo chanber in some way. But, as I have discovered recently, many of the “powers that be” that rail against echo chambers, when criticized, want the safety of the echo chamber. Hence, calling someone you don’t like a “troll” when they really aren’t. Ill-tempered, maybe–but not a traditional troll.