Tunku Varadarajan on the Backlash Against Winner-Take-All in Online Journalism

In his Daily Beast article “Schadenfareed,” Tunku Varadarajan has something interesting to say about a side-effect of the winner-take-all tendencies of online journalism:

It’s lonely at the top. As the traditional news media shrivel and other platforms proliferate, celebrity public intellectuals like Zakaria (think, also, of Tom Friedman and David Brooks) become the only bankable resource left. Recognizable across all the mediums, the branded few become mini-industries unto themselves. Simultaneously, a huge cloud of excluded people, regular civilians and workaday journalists alike, can now respond on the Internet, many of them resentful that their voices go unheard while the Zakarias loom ever larger. So they pick over every word.

Tunku is explicit about the envy of the many against the few big winners in the tournament as a motivating force for the heat Fareed got for his bit of plagiarism:

What one has seen in the past few days can only be described as a hideous manifestation of envy—Fareed Envy.

It occurs to me that, while college teaching has only recently had the technological potential for such dynamics of winner-take-all, coupled with envy, academic research has long has exactly these dynamics of winner-take-all plus envy. Although often unpleasant, those dynamics are part of what keep science honest, as those on their way up make their bones by finding flaws in the work of those who are already big guns.