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Everyone is a Writer, So Embrace it: A Response to Garrison Keillor

By Edited May 26, 2015 0 0

Garrison Keillor penned an interesting column in which he laments the new paradigm of publishing. In this new age, content is virtually free:

We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it's all free, and you read freely, you're not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you're like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

Keillor blames low quality content on the fact that there are basically zero barriers to entry in the writing world. In short, everyone's a writer, which he sees as the problem:

And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you've got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

Keillor's view certainly has some truth to it. But that is no reason to lament the new age of publishing. The benefits of this new era far outweigh the problems.

First, one benefit that Keillor sees of the old era – writing as a guilded profession – is also its main drawback. A traditional "professional writer" is often a jack of all trades but master of none. However, journalists who are not experts in the topics on which they report often lack the ability to critically assess and challenge the information that is presented to them by the people that they interview. In the era of the part-time blogger, readers now have a chance to hear from experts in a particular field of interest. For example, I subscribe to blogs relating to energy, where bloggers who work in that industry offer a critical assessment of industry news and trends in a way that mainstream news articles have rarely ever achieved. These bloggers often earn a little side income from their blogs, as well as indirect benefits, such as greater recognition or esteem within their professional community. This is a huge benefit to readers, which has only been enabled because barriers to publication have been vastly lowered.

Second, as the internet and web publishing evolves, it will still embrace Keillor's notion that all content is not equal. Sure, anyone can start their own blog or publish on shared content platforms. But readers will demand increasing ways to distinguish good quality content. New writers may have to cut their teeth on independent platforms, and work their way up to more esteemed websites. Many websites will build their brands based on consistently delivering quality content, with various levels of review before a writer and/or an article is accepted for publication.

The fact that there are almost zero barriers to publication does not mean that we will all drown in a sea of self-published drivel. To the extent that there is and always will be a demand for good writing, there will always be a spot for the professional writer, in some form. It may not be as Keillor fondly remembers, but I view that as entirely a good thing.

Everyone's a writer. It is time to embrace it.



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