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Amateurish Pro Journalism Promotes Dishonest Book

It’s disappointing to see the new book, “Cult of the Amateur,” getting so much attention from media organizations — but sadly not surprising.

As noted here and elsewhere, the book is rife with falsehoods and misrepresentations, but journalists aren’t bothering to do any homework. As they do so often, they just conduct interviews, giving a megaphone to an author who lacks integrity, and give this travesty even more legs.

I’ve been asked by PBS and BBC if I might appear as a counterpoint in a semi-debate format. Sorry, I won’t help sell such a sleazy book. Regrettably, they do.

10 Comments on “Amateurish Pro Journalism Promotes Dishonest Book”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Jun 17th, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Dan, I think you are wrong on this one… giving good counter arguments wouldn’t be “selling the book” (if done right, it could plummet sales). Your REFUSAL to formally counter what he is saying, may well give the impression that you just don’t have serious valid counter arguments… and thus *help* sales…


    P.S. yes, you have “spoken” against it (here and elsewhere) but, as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been a real critique (and that’s disappointing): these people (PBS and BBC, both of them decent entities) want to give you the chance to do it right: you should take it! D.

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 6:22 am

    It’s not a “real” critique to point out that it’s full of lies and misrepresentations? What would you call a real critique? And you need to understand how publicity works — he and his publisher don’t care whether rebuttals make sense; they’re just happy the book is being talked about.

  3. #3 Delia
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 7:54 am


    Here is what you said: “It is a shabby and dishonest treatment of an important topic.” Pretty strong negative statement — nothing wrong with that of course, as long as you back up your claim. I just don’t find that you (or Lessig, your reference) did a good job at this — I’m thinking you could probably do much better… And you do end your post by saying “Let’s definitely have that debate. But let’s base it on facts…” So… why NOT have it, then? (and by all means, base it on facts!) when PBS and BBC are offering?


    P.S. As to Andrew’ publicist just being happy the book is talked about, if you are thinking if you showed Andrew’s book was terrible (and I mean *really* show), that would make the book into a “cult book” (just like you have cult movies following really bad movies), I guess I can see your point… but this seems to be a minor concern when compared with getting the real counter arguments out… if you have them…

    P.P.S. will be away for the day (will check your blog in the evening)

  4. #4 Bill Smith
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 8:28 am


    Strolling the bookstacks while on vacation, Cult of the Amateur was on the new non-fiction table. Turned around and saw another new offering from another very hot author and his most recent adaptation of his best seller (this time into a kid’s book).

    Perhaps this is the counterpoint to “Cult” — “amateurs” commenting on fields they are not professionally trained in is bad; it’s bringing down the level of general intelligence; it’s hurting our public discourse; only the highly trained and well vetted should be offering serious commentary.

    If we follow that thinking to its logical conclusion, explain Al Gore. This gives an ironic twist to An Inconvenient Truth.

  5. #5 Dan Gillmor
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 9:52 am

    Delia, so pointing out flagrant errors and misrepresentations — which I also pointed out to him prior to publication and which he essentially did not dispute — doesn’t qualify as shabby or dishonest?

    It is impossible in a short TV segment to address this stuff properly. All it does is create “opposing” viewpoints that play into the hands of the person taking the extreme position.

  6. #6 Delia
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 8:46 pm


    The whole tone of your and Lessig’s arguments sounds wrong. It seems to me that you are both going after the wrong things … Why not focus on the real issues (you acknowledged) Andrew raises? Why not just have the debate that you say is worth having… (with or without Andrew… on PBS/BBC or not…)?


    P.S. But if you are not going to have Andrew, I think you still need to have *somebody* to represent radically different views. D.

  7. #7 Joel Norvell
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    David Byrne’s in your corner on this: “Say something once, why say it again?”

  8. #8 Dan Gillmor
    on Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Delia, I did focus on many of those issues in my own book three years ago. Have you read it?

    Some of us are working on a new project, by the way, that will seriously address these topics in a forum where civility and facts are the currency.

  9. #9 Delia
    on Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:31 pm


    “focusing” on things (especially in your *own* book) is NOT a debate… well, good luck with your new project, then! but unless you bring in people with very different points of view (such as Andrew — of course, it doesn’t *have to* be Andrew, but he definitely fits the bill in that respect, maybe not in others), I don’t see how you are going to have much of a debate… the whole reason of commenting on this post (and the prior one one the same topic) was because you plainly said you wanted to have that debate… maybe you didn’t *really*… I don’t know… but in any case I’ve said as much as I’m going to say on the topic…


    P.S. and no, I haven’t read your book nor is it one my reading list any time soon (I could easily wonder if you brought it up for the same reason you accuse Andrew — to help sales — but I’m going to give you the benefit of a doubt); I have previously read a couple of Lessig’s books (with whom you say you are in agreement) and I must confess I was far from impressed…

  10. #10 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jun 19th, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    I probably shouldn’t do this, but … Delia, the problem is that the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid cannot stand up to dispassionate skepticism. Its evangelism thus must in the main be either one-sided marketing snow-jobs or ideology-reinforcing ranting (of the sort: He’s an enemy – GET HIM! GET HIM!). This is very evident every time the topic goes around.

    Andrew Keen is not right himself – he’s just got an agenda which is contrary to Web 2.0’s wrong, and that’s not the same thing at all.

    Note this doesn’t mean nobody can ever have a chat with one of the nicer A-listers. But it’s very easy to get to the point where there’s no reply except some fluff about “I’m an optimist” or “It’s early days” or “We’re still figuring this out” (nasty A-listers would then launch into personal attack, their main weapon when cornered).

    Words to ponder: “In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.” -Carl Sagan
    [or marketing!]