Towards Experienced Experts

Thanks Dad for entrusting me with this space. A quick post today on a recent New York Times op-ed that had nothing to do with sustainability, and yet, to me, had a lot to do with sustainability. In this terrific article lamenting the end of Gourment magazine, Cook’s Illustrated founder/editor Christopher Kimball worked his way up to the following conclusion about the role of media and opinion-leaders in our all-too-cluttered world:
The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades. To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

What’s relevant here? Kimball’s call for discernment in all things, for the voice of experience, for the process of creating not more and more but better—for finding the true and wise product in a loud and cluttered cacophony of consumption.

This reminds of a great phrase from the poet Tom Wayman’s What Good Poems Are For:

Over the noise

of the jukebox and the bar’s TV,

past the silence of the lake,

a person is speaking

in a world full of people talking.

Gourmet’s business model was based on an expensive, top-down, critical mass approach, where the magazine had to spend a lot of money to create a critical mass of readers so that it could in turn charge its advertisers premium rates. So much wasted money and effort to produce a product that could be so good when done right. Here’s hoping that the age of quality magazines are not gone, and that a new (and sustainable) model will emerge that enables experienced experts to delight a loyal community.

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