The Outsider Manoeuvre

Writers and actors are notorious for seeing themselves as outsiders. "Why did you become an actor?" they are asked. "Well, I was always a bit of an outsider…" This morning, take director Terence Davies:

"I felt like an outsider because I was from a large working-class family. And I spoke with this kind of [posh] accent even by the time I was 11," Davies noted in our interview. "I've always felt an outsider. I think I was reasonably intelligent, I largely taught myself because I didn't go to university. And I was Catholic. And I was gay. I mean, in a large, working-class Catholic family, that's very hard."

He may be right, what do I know? But it is a standard manoeuvre and we should not trust it.

Politicians are fond of the same trick, of course. Americans saw this in spades over the last few months with the self-positioning of the Republicans, after eight years in power, as "mavericks".

And the phenomenon reaches into the world of blogs as well. Dan Gilmor at Talking Points Memo writes about "The Media's Role in the Financial Crisis", making it clear that TPM and DG in particular are not part of the media. They are outsiders. 

But they are not.

Dan Gilmor is, according to his Wikipedia entry, Director of a new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He's a long-time journalist. He just doesn't want to appear as one – hence his book title from a few years ago "We the Media".

And TPM is a widely-read collection of writings, many by actual journalists, surrounded by advertisements. It may not have started off as media, but it is now media in most senses we use the word.

I saw a link to the Gilmor piece posted on, introduced like this:

In Talking Points Memo, Dan Gillmor makes some stinging points about the media's complicity in manufacturing the financial crisis by unquestioningly promoting reckless bubble spending while pooh-poohing any idea that the bill would come due some day: 

But boingboing is also advertising-funded, and run by people who write  as a full time job. It is media.

The First Rule of Critical Reading, digital or otherwise, should be "don't believe what people say about themselves".  Particularly if they position themselves as outsiders.

Take it from me. Look around: I have no advertising here and I'm not paid to write this stuff. 

I'm an outsider.
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  1. I dunno Tom, Dan Gilmor’s article seems quite insightful. Cheerleading journalists are the problem and activist journalists are the solution.
    It is all “reasonably obvious to anyone who was paying attention..” don’t you see.
    Besides, with Obama in power we should see an end to cheerleading journalism once and for all. Yeah activists!!!

  2. Dan Gillmor is an interesting A-lister. He’s not a journalist anymore. He left the field years ago, for the data-mines, as there was user-generated gold in them their hills (in particular, he was an “angel investor” in Jimmy Wales’s commercial wiki company Wikia!). He’s had a couple of enlightening experiences in doing those digital plantations, err, I mean start-ups, and written some very intriguing articles.
    The problem is not his status as “outsider” for journalism, but where’s he’s an “insider” 🙁
    TPM is “indy” media. Boingboing is just media.

  3. RAD, Seth – Thanks for the comments on DG. I will see if I can read a little more. Of course, the post was not so much about DG himself, more about the outside/maverick/contrarian posture that many commentators adopt (I’m not immune either).

  4. Hmmmm… insider or outsider. What would you call a recluse that enjoys the outdoors?
    I think my only take-away from the Gillmore article is this:
    One man’s cheerleader is another man’s activist.
    I wish I had Gillmor’s insight into the “obvious” journalistic dereliction of duty. Rather than simply being contrarian, perhaps a list of article headlines that should have been written is in order. I wish I had seen/read this red flag:
    2001 – Majority Shareholder Berkshire Hathaway Dumps Freddie & Fannie Holdings

  5. Understood, but Dan’s not really a good case of the posture (the problem with his piece in specific is that it’s very easy to inveigh against other people to do the high-risk low-reward job).
    Here’s a good place to start reading more about his lessons:
    Though not so much a lesson — we were very clear on this going in — it bears repeating that a business model can’t say, “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.” There must be clear incentives for participation, and genuine incentives require resources.
    [But he’s running with a crowd – or more accurately, an elite – that very much likes that business model]

  6. I’m an outsider.
    Yeah, right. With your debate with whatsisfaceTim O’Reilly and your Technorati rank of um33… (I don’t know, is that low? high? do you count up or down?)
    Me, I’m such an outsider I don’t even update my blog as often as you do! And I’ll tell you what else – when I do write something on my blog, it’s usually not very interesting! Out-outside that!

  7. Phil – I only respond to comments from insiders. Nothing to say.

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