A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Bernie Sanders handled an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, where he managed to force her to deal with serious issues instead of the superficialities that are her forte. After writing it, it struck me that Dowd had not crossed my mind for a long time. I do not subscribe to the New York Times and never seek out their opinion columnists though once in a while I will read an article if a link comes up to their work that looks interesting. It has been ages since I came across any mention of Dowd. But she is not alone in being ignored. There was a time when regular opinion column writers like Dowd, David Brooks, George Will, Thomas Friedman, the late Charles Krauthammer, Richard Cohen, and the like would be referred to by others as sages or barometers of some issue. Now they seem to be largely ignored.
One can understand why. All these people are generalists who opine about pretty much anything that catches their fancy. They do not have any specific area of expertise (Paul Krugman is an exception in that he is an accomplished economist) but presumably are thought to be people whose thoughts on any and all issues are worth listening to. But the reason that were granted that level of credibility is that major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post granted them valuable space in their pages on a regular basis and thus conferred on them the aura of being oracles who could explain to the great unwashed masses the meaning and significance of the news of the day.
But in the days of the internet that provides a platform for pretty much anyone, why read the views of generalists when there are plenty of people with expert knowledge in an area whom one can turn to? What can generalist op-ed writers provide that makes them worth seeking out more than (say) the average blogger? The only thing they have is possibly access to political people, like the way that Dowd scored a lunch with Sanders. But that hardly makes reading them worthwhile since news reporters can do the same. The fact that there are so few references and links to their pieces these days suggests that more and more people are tuning them out.
It may be only a matter of time before the regular newspaper op-ed columnist, who has dedicated space two or three times a week to write about anything that they fancy, disappears, to be replaced by freelancers with expertise in specific areas who get commissioned to write articles about topics of the day about which they actually have deep knowledge.