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Chefs and Editors

Chefs and Editors

    There’s no intellectual property protection for food recipes. And everyone has access to the same ingredients as their local restaurants, at least for the most part. You might think that the gap between great cooking and merely competent cooking would shrink over time, as the recipes and methods of the greatest chefs leak into the mainstream.  But that doesn’t seem to be happening. There is enough art in cooking that you either have that skill or you don’t. At the highest level, you’re part psychologist, part visual artist, part explorer, and your sense of smell is freakish. Collectively, call it an x-factor.

    A few years ago I went to an oddly named restaurant called The French Laundry. It’s billed as one of the greatest restaurants in the world, and you need reservations months in advance. I’m no foodie, so I didn’t expect much, frankly, beyond high prices. Instead, I experienced a euphoria that transcends words. There was something about the order and proximity of tastes that lit up my brain’s pleasure centers in the most unexpected way. Calling whatever happened there “eating” would truly miss the point. The place is a mood enhancer masquerading as a restaurant. It borders on pharmacology.

    I was thinking about this as an analogy to where the Internet is heading. Consider a web site like www.Newser.com that summarizes content from all over the Internet. They get away with it by quoting or rewording only the most interesting points from larger bodies of work, and providing a link if you’d like to see the rest. Apparently their business model conforms to copyright laws because they are still in business. Newser has borrowed from my blog, and that’s okay with me because it drives traffic this way.

    Consider that Newser has access to the same raw ingredients as anyone else. Newser’s website design is little more than a grid of boxes. The photos – and this fascinates me – are nothing but stock photos that have at best a casual relationship to the story they are summarizing. I mention this site because I am psychologically addicted to it. I feel a need to check it twenty times a day. WTF?

    Newser’s business reminds me of cooking in the sense that there is no barrier to entry. Everyone has access to the same ingredients, which in this case is content from the Internet. Anyone can summarize that content and put it in little boxes on a website. Anyone can buy stock photos. But there’s something else going on.

    Editors are the chefs of the Internet. Newser works, I believe, because somewhere in their back kitchen is an editor who has an uncommon feel for what stories to highlight, how to summarize them in a folksy voice, and in what order and combination they should appear. There’s some genius happening there. When I read news from other places, I often come away feeling deflated. When I read Newser, I always leave in a good mood. That’s why I return so often. It’s a mood enhancer masquerading as some sort of news site.

    And that’s your future of the Internet. The cost of content, such as this blog, and my comic strip, will continue to approach zero. The art will happen with the editing. Others have made the obvious point that editing will be important for the future of the Internet. All I’m adding is the notion that most editors have skill, but few are artists. The world of print publishing is driven by editors who are exceptionally skilled. But they aren’t artists. Newser is edited by an artist. He or she isn’t giving me information; he’s adjusting my mood. That’s art. That’s the future.

    I know my readers, and you’re going to piss all over poor Newser for being simplistic in design, having annoying ads, dumbing down the news, and stretching the limits of copyright. We can agree on all of those points. I’m just saying the editor is an artist.

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