Editorial Choice, Comments

Expertise. An editor making a choice. Having someone who knows their shit put things in front of you, rather than you hacking through the vast swathe of content online to find something that interests you; or having to trawl through customer reviews that look as if they’re written by people with as many IQ points as letters in their name (iTunes, LoveFilm and Amazon – I’m looking at you).

It’s a subject that’s been on my mind recently, as I’ve recently started using the Band of the Day app for the iPad. It’s pretty nifty, built on the simple concept that a bunch of people who know their shit harvest a bio, samples and videos and present them in an appealing way. It’s rekindled my interest in music, which I’ll admit I’ve lost recently. There’s so much nonsense out there, that it’s nice to find some sincere people who clearly love music and have taken the time to present it well.

I guess that it’s the same with book editors, too. Sure they’re there to sell stuff, but book editors have to trawl through lots of submissions to put what they think is decent stuff out there (of course, on ‘decent’ your milage may vary). They think it’s good. They want you to like it too. Editors of review sites, too, also play the same game (though in some quarters I’d like to see more editorial opinion and consistency). The gatekeeper still has a role to play.

I think there’s a danger that editorial opinion online is lost to the subconscious yearning for an apparent choice. Editorial selections are, for me, becoming increasingly important once again. I don’t want to look through hundreds of opinions, which is probably why I find LoveFilm customer reviews to be useless. There was a time where I was all for having essentially crowd-voted suggestions on good music and literature, but I’ve found that my tastes seem to differ from the average ratings far more often than not. This is not at all to dismiss crowd-sourced opinion – it has it’s place, and for some it’s very important – but these days I want experienced people who have good knowledge to put what they think is the best in front of me, so I might discover something new and interesting, and maybe better myself in the process. It’s like trusting the person in a music shop who enthuses about certain bands, or have someone explain a piece of artwork to you. It makes, somehow, for a far richer experience.

Vaguely related to online culture, I noticed an interesting article in the New Statesman about not leaving comments at the bottom of articles:

When I give someone a book as a present, I don’t hand them a marker pen so they can scrawl “DID YOU GET PAID FOR THIS?” on the final page. So when did we get the idea that allowing comments on articles was a Good Thing?

The anti-comment backlash has been gathering pace for a while now. Every so often, a writer puts their head above the parapet to say that, actually, they don’t really enjoy every facet of their life, career and appearance being raked over directly underneath an article they’ve spent time crafting. Or that they feel slightly miffed that a drive-by “YOUR SHIT” or “FIRSSSST” gets almost equal prominence with their original work.

A few places have already taken the step of removing comments: one of them is the satirical Daily Mash website. “One of our well-worn catchphrases is: “I have no interest in your worthless, ill-informed opinion. And we’re not kidding,” the Mash’s editor, Neil Rafferty, told me. “What you don’t want is to write a piece of comedy and immediately below it, have lots of people trying to be funnier than you. It’s a tiresome experience and it detracts from the actual article. It was banned fairly early on; we tried it for two weeks and it was hellish.”

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. I think people who comment on other people’s hard-laboured, writerly gold, are morally bankrupt.

    That’s my first and most autographical response.

    Fortunately you can have an online platform and decide post by post if you wish to allow comments. Sometimes you seek the wisdom of the void, sometimes you just want to dump your inchoate rage into it.

    I think what happened in part, is when we jumped from printed media – where you’d have to either write and mail or print a rebuttal and publish it yourself – to online media where suddenly everyone wanted to be interconnected with instant feedback and a virtual message board onto which every passing electronic vagrant could could smear their hobo-marks, we didn’t anticipate the cascading explosion of comments this would spark, comments on comments of comments now only vaguely connected to the originating remark itself long sheared of its parental subject. No question we over did it a bit.

    We also threw out the baby, or at least the critic or expert, with the bathwater. Not entirely, of course or if we did, now a new crop of experts and critics some paid some entirely amateur have slithered back into their place, mewling and micturating. They’re hard to kill off entirely like neon cockroaches.

    Also, as the amount of both content and opinion grows beyond the ability of our systems to process it, much like the issues search engine technology had with the web back in ’97 and onwards, we have to use new algorithms or reinstall critical, expert opinions in some manner, if we want to make the most of the data that is streaming into many outlets across the globe. But the second choice is always going to fail to a degree. Humans are finite and take finite time to find and experience new content while content and its creation never sleeps. The one will outpace the other and so it’s always a bit of a losing sum trying to keep up.

    Unlikely then that this will revert us to the past model, if for no other reason that even expert opinion setters are faced with a similar problem as the most clueless consumer: how to choose/how not to overlook in a hypermarket of so many competing wares which is increasing constantly, shifting, and pulling up virtual stakes to appear somewhere else, or nowhere.

    Combing AI search technology and expert collectives, radio astronomy, virtual gastric bypass, elder gods, we race for a solution. This may be an exploding area for the future. Once everyone is producing music, books, blogs, reviews, etc.., and much of it free or available for download, who are the experts exactly, anymore?

  2. “Once everyone is producing music, books, blogs, reviews, etc.., and much of it free or available for download, who are the experts exactly, anymore?” 

    My fear for this is, essentially, that people with the most amount of money become experts. Money can buy prestige, advertising, artificial fans, all in an effort to build the impression that a particular (for example) website one of quality. Money can, in theory, buy customer reviews for certain products – again giving that impression something is better than the rest of the field. No doubt certain political figures pay for professional trolling on various websites, too, to create the illusion that one particular ideology is in fact shared by many. 

    That’s perhaps where crowd power can become dangerous – when it can be bought.