Gladwell, Receiver Dependency and Journalism

Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating Open Secrets piece on puzzles, mysteries and Enron carries lessons for how we will be managing information in the future. Gladwell’s “inspiration for the piece” was Jonathan Macey’s law review article(pdf) A POX ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES: ENRON, SARBANES-OXLEY AND THE DEBATE CONCERNING THE RELATIVE EFFICACY OF MANDATORY VERSUS ENABLING RULES. Macey agrees that value is migrating to curators, aggregators and trusted arbiters:

it is vital that there be a set of financial intermediaries, who are at least as competent and sophisticated at receiving, processing, and interpreting financial information . . . as the companies are at delivering it.

In a blog post this week, Gladwell extends the conversation to include the ongoing newspaper implosion (heartbreakingly manifested in the collapse of the Philadelphia Inquirer).

we should also recognize what the Enron case tells us about the value of newspaper journalism. Maybe, in other words, we have underestimated the value of impartial, professionally-motivated, under-paid and overworked generalists in tackling the kind of information-rich, analysis-dependent “mysteries” that the modern world throws at us.

All of which, of course, points out the irony of what’s happening in the newspaper business right now. We are dismantling the institution of newspaper journalism precisely at the moment when it seems to be of greatest social value.

Gladwell also recently squeezed out a post on stereotyping he did on a recent visit to Texas and Oklahoma:

when I was talking to white, male businessmen and needed to come up something to say, I generally chose the subject of college football…As it turns out, my assumption was largely correct. I had lot of really great conversations about college football.

Gladwell’s observation leads to his working definition of racism: “the irrational elevation of race-based considerations over other, equally or more relevant factors.”


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