Perils of Punditry

No doubt most of my readers have columns in the New York Times, and so they are in need of a list of rules to follow to help assure their columns are highly impact.  I’ve taken a stab and distilling out actionable rule of thumb implied by this old and interesting critique of Bob Herbert’s columns in the New York Times.  It has a nice subtitle “The perils of punditry for the powerless

  • Good: Stories about the rich and powerful
  • Bad: Advocate for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised
  • Good: Emotionally evocative stories about individuals
  • Bad: Emotionally neutral arguments, particularly those involving math or statistics
  • Good: Confirm conventional opinion.  (Inside the echo chamber.)
  • Bad: Inform: particularly things your ought to know but don’t
  • Good: Humor, Surprise, Conflict – activate those emotions
  • Bad: Rationality – distance from emotions
  • Good: Draw your legitimacy from association with those who are famous. Name drop.
  • Bad: Draw your legitimacy from data, facts, research.
  • Good: Balance the good and bad
  • Bad: Emphasis the bad
Amusingly that essay suffers from what I think is the one difficulty he doesn’t mention.  When you finish reading a pedant’s column you want to have a clear next step.  That might be the expected pleasure of relating what you just learned over the water cooler.  It might be a moment of high emotion coupled with shaking that off.  It might be an action to take.  If all you get is the chore of reframing your world view, making an incremental edit to one of your models on this or that topic – well that’s not entertainment, that’s work.

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