Now for the other half of the picture. For their Landscaping articles About.com has chosen David Beaulieu, who has credentials as a business writer (Wall Street Journal)
and web developer, but no visible expertise in landscaping. Now I’m no
stickler for degrees – hell, I’ll listen to experienced gardeners any
day, or "Master Gardeners" like myself with just 50 hours of classroom
time and completion of a take-home test. In the absence of
credentials, I’m happy to judge writers by what they write.
But there’s the rub. Recently an Internet search directed me to
About’s Landscaping articles and this review of a book by "America’s
Master Gardener [Trademarked]" Jerry Baker:
"Jerry Baker does it again!
- Handy lists abound.
- Information for saving money by using household items/recycling.
- Sample problems/solutions make you feel like you’re talking with Jerry Baker.
- No photos.
- He’s a total quack."
Okay, I made
up that last bullet point – because it’s true and everyone in the world
who knows anything about gardening knows it! (Readers unfamiliar with
Jerry can go here and here
for an overview.) Yet a search for old Jerry on the About Landscaping
home page yields 180 hits! And by this time you’re not surprised to
learn that all the book reviews are favorable. Are all those sponsored
links the problem here, biasing what might otherwise be objective
reporting of information? Or is About.com’s landscaping writer just
clueless and gullible? Bottom line, anyone who recommends Jerry Baker
as an authority covers himself in suspicion and deserves not a second
Does this matter? The About site gets 29 MILLION hits a month, so
yes. The information about the site on its home page doesn’t say a
word about its writers being qualified in their subject matter,
however. That’s a problem. So, readers, how can we get through to the
good folks at About or their parent, the New York Times?