Why my writing mistakes give me confidence in the internet by mattsteinglass
October 4, 2009, 10:57 am
Filed under: Economics, Internet

Noting that Tyler Cowen had mentioned the post below on Marginal Revolutions, I had a sudden shock of regret at the way I wrote the last two sentences. Those two sentences expressed my skepticism of Arnold Kling’s post with a confidence and dismissiveness that I shouldn’t have pretended to. Obviously, Tyler Cowen is a really smart economist, and I’m a layman who doesn’t really have the authority to be dismissive in that fashion. I really am skeptical of the view Arnold Kling expressed in that post, and of Tyler Cowen’s embrace of it, but I shouldn’t be dismissively skeptical of it.

But this kind of experience is a good example of the aspects of internet-based discourse that I think are much more positive and responsible than older broadcast media. And that’s why I remain dismissive when people like Michael Gerson write posts attacking the incivility and irresponsibility of some internet discourse without, as Thomas Friedman does, acknowledging the other kinds of internet discourse that are far more civil and responsible than, say, the writing of op-eds tends to be. When I see my post cited or countered by someone with access to greater specialized knowledge than myself in the area I’m talking about, i.e. in this case Tyler Cowen, I feel a sudden sting of conscience: did I have good grounds for saying what I said? Did I express my response in a fashion which I would be comfortable with, if I had said it directly to his face? Because, in the blogosphere, you are always potentially speaking to someone’s face. And if your name is attached to what you said, that omnidirectional regard is a powerful force disciplining people towards civility and making sure they can back up their claims.

Frankly, I make mistakes of tone all the time, and I say things I don’t have adequate support for. And I’m not going to claim that I will try to eliminate all of them; sometimes a mistake of tone is the price you pay for trying to say something sharp and original, and enough of those bets pay off that it would be unwise to forswear all stylistic adventurism. And on the factual-support count, I think if I really made a commitment to only make claims I had adequate footnoted evidentiary support for, it would be a form of dishonesty. Part of the function of a blog is to air our snap reactions and our generalized rough convictions about the universe, and a lot of that is stuff we couldn’t produce solid support for on the spur of the moment even though it’s clearly true. All of this is partly to say that I wish I had acknowledged in the previous post that, if you’re talking about government support to industries that are on their last legs for structural reasons, like most of the US auto industry, then Arnold Kling’s description of the situation does make sense.


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Bravo, Matt. I loved the old newsroom culture, but there were built-in inequities. Journalists threw stones from houses that were not made of glass. When a newspaper was caught in the wrong, it might print a correction on the bottom of page two, or maybe a letter to the editor, or maybe it would decide a complaint had no merit, but usually, it controlled the remedies for its own mistakes.

For greater offenses, a complaint might go to the public editor, but some ombudsmen were more dedicated to quieting dissent or avoiding lawsuits than they were to representing readers.

Now everyone with a computer can publish.

We write with greater haste, which can’t be good.
A loss of accuracy is lamented, yet there is a million-fold increase in accountability, which can’t be bad.

Comment by Jeff McMahon

We’re accountable to more people but with what consequences? No journo ever wanted to lose face/job/income/reputation by getting it wrong in a newsroom. I wonder how many bloggers care as deeply about getting it right as getting it first/cute/amusingly, and letting the chips fall.
It seems the cost of screwing up as a blogger is losing your audience….which, other than ego or influence (and maybe that is the ultimate prize?)…not income AND your reputation, without which old-schoolers can’t earn an income elsewhere writing.

Comment by Caitlin Kelly

I think this is true with regard to hard news, but that opinion, commentary, and analysis were often ruled more by a non-explicit adherence to a conventional wisdom generated within the journalistic community, partly by reading each others’ work and partly through conversation. But that conversation wasn’t explicitly available to the reader, the way it is nowadays. To some extent the blogosphere is the effect of taking everyone’s water-cooler conversations and putting them online, which makes the CW visible and opens it up to counterarguments.

But I’m also talking about one section of the blogosphere, where Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias read each other and offer responsible counter-arguments. There is of course the vast wasteland of NewsMax and RedState, too.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Steinglass. Matt Steinglass said: Why my writing mistakes give me confidence in the internet @trueslant […]

Pingback by Tweets that mention Matt Steinglass - Accumulating Peripherals – Why my writing mistakes give me confidence in the internet - True/Slant --

[…] 1. A wise man. […]

Pingback by Etl World News | Assorted links

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: