I recently reread James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds” which, despite its name, spends as much time contemplating the shortcomings of such wisdom as it does celebrating its successes. Surowiecki argues5 that crowds usually make good predictions when they satisfy these four conditions:
Diversity of opinion. “Each person should have private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.”
Independence. “People’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them.”
Decentralization. “People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.”
Aggregation. “Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.”
Political journalism scores highly on the fourth condition, aggregation. While Surowiecki usually has something like a financial or betting market in mind when he refers to “aggregation,” the broader idea is that there’s some way for individuals to exchange their opinions instead of keeping them to themselves. And my gosh, do political journalists have a lot of ways to share their opinions with one another, whether through their columns, at major events such as the political conventions or, especially, through Twitter.
But those other three conditions? Political journalism fails miserably along those dimensions.