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punditry

Modes of Punditry, Modes of Influence

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As the global system endures another round of crisis, leaders and policy makers in many countries are under pressure. The tip of the spear ---barring riots and protests -- tends to take the form of inflamed punditry: on air, on line, and on newspaper op-ed pages. Since we live in an age of volubility, or what someone calls the paradox of plenty in the global media, punditry is everywhere these days and yet most of it is of dubious quality. The outlets for punditry grow exponentially every week. The question, though, is this: how do we assess the quality of the massed punditry that we are being bombarded with these days?

I see at least two categories of influential pundits:

Why the Pundit Deserves your Sympathy

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Newspaper opinion writers perform an important function. If they didn't, there wouldn't be so many of them because nobody would be reading them. And as a group ---often known as the commentariat --- opinion columnists can be powerful. (See generally a short but important study concerning British opinion writers published in 2008 by Julia Hobsbawn and John Lloyd: The Power of the Commentariat). But writing a weekly or twice-weekly newspaper column is hard, very hard. You have to have something other-than-trite to say; at least you hope so.  You have to write as elegantly as you can. And you have to hope that enough people read you or else the Editor will end your column.  Now, I know this from personal experience because for a good many years I supported myself as a columnist, once writing three columns a week for different newspapers on different subjects, all while trying to earn a degree in law.

The Public and Its Pundits

Antonio Lambino's picture

The public needs its pundits.  Those with expertise on various topics, ranging from financial derivates to pop psychology, serve as “opinion leaders” on the important and not-so-important issues of the day.  From personal experience -- talking to family, friends, and colleagues -- I notice that we tend to repeat what we hear from them on various topics, whether consciously or not. 

We know from applied communication research that, over time, people tend to retain bits and pieces of information while forgetting their sources.  How many times have we made authoritative statements and when asked where we got the information, say something like “I don’t remember from where exactly but I’m pretty sure that… “  This is normal because we can’t be expected to keep track of each and every information source.  And we can’t be expected to come up with our own erudite analysis of each and every public issue either.  Hence, we need pundits.  But we should also keep in mind that not all of these experts on all things public are created equal.  We could very well be mouthing off as hard fact something a pundit shared as her or his own misinformed opinion.