Ultimately, however, I remain optimistic. For one thing, conservative bloggers still tend to be more tolerant of dissent than their left-wing counterparts, many of whom are about as much fun as superannuated members of the Militant Tendency. More importantly, if American bloggers often take a superficial view of Europe (we all sit on street corners begging, apparently) Europeans must take some of the blame. There simply aren’t enough of us out there working the internet. For some reason, the habit still hasn’t fully taken root on this side of the pond. Which means that, unless we rise to the challenge, the stereotypes will only get worse. Pardon my franglais, but the time has come to say “Aux keyboards, citoyens!”
Just a note on the LA Times wiki boo boo: Rob Barrett, the LA Times GM, deserves praise for wanting to use blogs, wikis, and other emergent technologies to reinvigorate the output of the entire media entity. I’ve talked to him many times about this kind of stuff and to say he’s on the side of the angels is a massive understatement. And far from thinking he knows it all, he’s genuinely eager to learn how to get the most benefit out of these technologies for the LAT and readers alike. He’s a true enthusiast, an incredibly clever guy, and - as this incident shows - isn’t afraid of taking calculated risks.
Well done, Rob. Short-term stumbling often precedes huge success. Those who understand that and keep plugging away are the ones who produce truly great things.
And now for some serious journalism…
Yeah, beware of the ‘consumer-generated media’. Heh.
Virginia Postrel wrote a couple of weeks back in Forbes.com:
Something about blogs makes a lot of respectable journalists hyperventilate. News pros seem terribly threatened by online amateurs.Blogging is a “solipsistic, self-aggrandizing, journalist-wannabe genre,” writes David Shaw in the Los Angeles Times.
And hits the nail on the head by pointing out that blogging is a format, not a genre.
Generalizing about blogs is like generalizing about books. A blog is simply a Web page whose author adds new content, or posts, over time. Blogging is a format, not a genre.
There are blogs devoted to knitting, to the Boston Red Sox, to biochemistry, to Macintosh computers, to art criticism, to movies, to California politics, to space exploration, to dandyism--to any subject, in other words, that someone somewhere has some interest in. About the only thing blogs have in common is that their posts are arranged chronologically.
We have been saying this for some time. Blogs are a tool, versatile because of their format that leads to interconnectedness. The entire argument of blogging vs journalism is a false one and has been had in the US a couple of years back. As the waves of new ‘bloggers’, i.e. people who noticed blogging just now and either jumped on the bandwagon or have an axe to grind, this issue gets revisited ad nauseam. Especially in the UK, where most people whose profession brings them in contact with blogs, seem to have some aversion to googling and finding out what’s going on in the US blogosphere, so far ahead of most countries.
The reason I am dragging this old (in the blogosphere terms) article is that Guardian’s John Naughton wrote a good piece yesterday about the argument (in which he does not link to Virginia’s article anywhere). He has his experience to share:
And it isn’t just professional hacks who editorialise like this. Non-journalists who are dismissive of blogs behave similarly - and in my experience those who are most critical have rarely actually seen any blogs, and certainly have not read any serious ones. But in truth the view that ‘all blogs are x’ (where x = ‘self-indulgent’, ‘vanity publishing’, ‘solipsistic’ or whatever other term of abuse comes to mind) is as absurd as the view that ‘all books are x’ or ‘all newspapers are x’.
It is a pleasure to read such lucid and informed points, cutting straight through the knot of the pseudo-debate:
What’s happening is a small but significant change in our media ecology. All journalists worth their salt have always known that out there are readers, listeners or viewers who know more about a story than they do. But until recently, there was no effective way for this erudition or scepticism to find public expression. Letters to the editor rarely attract public attention - or impinge on the consciousness of journalists.
Blogging changes all that. Ignorant, biased or lazy journalism is instantly exposed, dissected and flayed in a medium that has global reach. (If you doubt that, ask Dan Rather and CBS.)
Conversely, good reporting and intelligent commentary is passed from blog to blog and spreads like wildfire beyond the jurisdiction in which it was originally published. This can only be good for journalism in the long run, if only because, as my mother used to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
More articles on the topic: Don’t fear the blogger (a must read)
Defender of The Wild-Eyed Pamphleteers
Bloggers Need A Shield Law to Protect Us From Legacy Media Inanity
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die
It must be a little daunting to the bloggers — something like what happens when a funky neighborhood with a sleeper reputation becomes gentrified by a parade of new arrivals. The hope is that fresh voices will survive — that the outraged theory-busters and hole-pokers will keep changing the ways that society talks about itself. Like voting, protesting, and debating, blogging can be a key ingredient of democracy. The trick is for the blogging pioneers to take seriously their responsibilities to the town square and resist trashing it with self-indulgent graffiti. That would improve the neighborhood for everyone.
Joho the blog does not mince words:
Once again, the mainstream media feels it must lecture us “blogging pioneers” (when there are more than 10,000,000 of us, do we still count as pioneers?) about “taking seriously” our “responsibilities.” We are told that we have to resist our urge to trash the town square, to spray it with graffiti, to be self-indulgent. We “pioneers” should be more like the newbies who are gentrifying our little village…
Note to Globe: You, Huffington, Walter Cronkite, the NY Times and the Mayor of Reading are all welcome in our blogosphere. But your concern that your high-toned bigness might just drown out our wee voices is misplaced. The blogosphere isn’t a town the professionals can buy up; it’s an infinite landscape that will have towns of every sort. We little, irresponsible bloggers are going to continue to find one another and delight in one another. And now and then we’re also going to drop in on the upscale respectable towns — well, not the gated ones, of course — and, yes, sometimes we’ll be carrying cans of spray paint. But we damn well will not be daunted.
When MTV producer Shane Nickerson was ambushed by tabloid reporters with (what seems to be) a non-story, who showed up at his home on Mother’s Day, he didn’t let a simple “No comment” reported by the tabloids stand as the last word. Instead, he told his side of the story on his blog. And Jessica Stover, the mere acquaintance of Nickerson’s whose family was harassed by the National Enquirer on Mother’s Day? She also published her take on these events on her own blog, including Enquirer reporter Rita Skeeter repeatedly urging her to phone tips into the tabloid for “good money” or revenge.
I’m sure the tabloids would be a lot happier if relatively unknown people like Shane Nickerson and Jessica Stover didn’t have access to their own press machine via blog - another sign, as if one were needed, that things are changing for the better.
These two articles have been blogged extensively but the positive things they say about blogs simply must be recorded on this blog. The Economist goes for blogging in a big way, following from Murdoch’s speech last week:
Blogs, moreover, are but one item on a growing list of new media tools that the internet makes available. Wikis are collaborative web pages that allow readers to edit and contribute. This, to digital immigrants, may sound like a recipe for anarchic chaos, until they visit, for instance, wikipedia.org, an online encyclopaedia that is growing dramatically richer by the day through exactly this spontaneous (and surprisingly orderly) collaboration among strangers. Photoblogs are becoming common; videoblogs are just starting. Podcasting (a conjunction of iPod, Apple’s iconic audio player, and broadcasting) lets both professionals and amateurs produce audio files that people can download and listen to.
The tone in these new media is radically different. For today’s digital natives, says Mr Gillmor, it is anathema to be lectured at. Instead, they expect to be informed as part of an online dialogue. They are at once less likely to write a traditional letter to the editor, and more likely to post a response on the web—and then to carry on the discussion. A letters page pre-selected by an editor makes no sense to them; spotting the best responses using the spontaneous voting systems of the internet does.
And the BusinessWeek has a front cover and a headline made in heaven - Blogs Will Change Your Business. You see, we told you…
Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they’re simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they’re going to shake up just about every business - including yours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite.
The authors of the article also get the full implication of blogs and related technologies, again something that does not come as a surprise to the readers of this blog:
Sure, most blogs are painfully primitive. That’s not the point. They represent power. Look at it this way: In the age of mass media, publications like ours print the news. Sources try to get quoted, but the decision is ours. Ditto with letters to the editor. Now instead of just speaking through us, they can blog. And if they master the ins and outs of this new art—like how to get other bloggers to link to them—they reach a huge audience.
This is just the beginning. Many of the same folks who developed blogs are busy adding features so that bloggers can start up music and video channels and team up on editorial projects. The divide between the publishers and the public is collapsing. This turns mass media upside down. It creates media of the masses.
Picture the blog world as the biggest coffeehouse on Earth. The racket is deafening. But there’s loads of valuable information floating around this cafe. Technorati, PubSub, and others provide the tools to listen. While the traditional Web catalogs what we have learned, the blogs track what’s on our minds.
Why does this matter? Think of the implications for businesses of getting an up-to-the-minute read on what the world is thinking. Already, studios are using blogs to see which movies are generating buzz. Advertisers are tracking responses to their campaigns. “I’m amazed people don’t get it yet,” says Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice-president who heads up search. “Never in the history of market research has there been a tool like this.”
Exactly. And yet there are those who say that there is too much information and how that causes distress to the marketing industry…
A must read blog post by Jeff Jarvis about Rupert Murdoch’s important speech and warning to the American Society of Newspaper Editors telling them that papers are whistling in their own graveyard and recommending some solutions, including even blogs:
...these new [digital] natives want news on demand, they want news to be relevant, they want a point of view (hello, FoxNews), they want news that affects their lives, they want the option to get more information and points of view, and they want to join in the debate.
He also mentions Merrill Brown’s report for Carnegie whose conclusions were quoted by Murdoch.
What is happening right before us is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.
Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle.
Most importantly, Murdoch gets to the heart of the matter when he says that technology isn’t the problem - attitude is.
What I worry about much more is our ability to make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands of the digital native. I said earlier, what is required is a complete transformation of the way we think about our product and the Internet itself. Unfortunately, however, I believe too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is “Do we have the story?” rather than “Does anyone want the story?”
And the data support this unpleasant truth. Studies show we’re in an odd position: We’re more trusted by the people who aren’t reading us. And when you ask journalists what they think about their readers, the picture grows darker. According to one recent study, the percentage of national journalists who have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American public to make good decisions has declined by more than 20 points since 1999. Perhaps this reflects their personal politics and personal prejudices more than anything else, but it is disturbing.
This is a polite way of saying that reporters and editors think their readers are stupid. ...
Newspapers whose employees look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.
Lately, a number of newsmagazine and newspaper sites have started blogs. The results, especially in bigger publications, are often dreadful. Many mainstream-media blogs serve as repositories for the journalistic detritus that wasn’t good enough for the print edition. They manage to combine the worst of both worlds: Hemmed in by tradition, they lack the candor and point of view that distinguishes good blogs. Bereft of good material, they lack the depth and quality of print journalism.
Bill Grueskin, managing editor of WSJ.com in interview by Jay Rosen on MSM (mainstream media) blogs.
In LA last week, Perry and I had lunch with the Drudge Report‘s Andrew Breitbart, who is in the hot seat now as the press clamours to find out if he is the mastermind behind Arianna Huffington’s new celebrity group blog. (Andrew and Arianna both attended our party the week before. Don’t come near us, or you’ll end up with reporters on your doorstep, too.)
This New York Observer piece about the matter, entitled “Blogorrhea” (yawn), has been much-linked in the blogosphere. It is well worth a read, if only to delight in Matt Drudge’s paranoid distaste for bloggers. Quite ironic, when you consider that he started out as the self-styled lone internet journalist attempting to challenge and usurp the mainstream media. Drudge has a history with this kind of denial, but the Observer piece is still fun reading.
Mr. Drudge said he doubted the market for news links would support more players.
“I don’t think that need is there,” he said. “I think I fill that need.”
...Mr. Drudge said Mr. Breitbart’s influence was a moot point, because “I’m the final edit. I have control on the Web site. I always have the final edit. My name is on the page.”
If anyone is handy with PhotoShop and would like to graft Matt Drudge’s face onto Norma Desmond‘s body, feel free.
Howard came to our LA blogger/media party last week, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at length. So it was quite buoying to hear him, as a mainstream media guy, saying quite smart and correct things about how blogging does and can relate to established media. Sometimes, just connecting with someone who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this subject can set me on a high for the rest of the day. “Yay, a total lack of BS and a whole lot of intelligence!” Don’t worry, I don’t embarrass myself or Perry by exclaiming this aloud. Not usually, anyway.
Yep, Perry and I are still in LA. One of the nice things about being here is that - with the torrential downpours and landslides (hopefully) over for the time being - we get to have meetings outside in the sunshine.
And so it was on Tuesday, when we worked on our tans (yeah, as if pasty white London dwellers ever get tan) while talking to stellar film journalist David Poland of Movie City News and Hot Blog. David’s been blogging at the latter since the autumn of last year, and in that time has broken a fair number of stories on his blog. And he told me and Perry that when big media outlets pick up on his scoops, they will never cite his blog as a source - it’s always “an online report” with no actual credit given. Amazing, especially coming from people who see fit to lecture bloggers about how they need to sharpen their journalism skills.
I had a similar problem with the Guardian newspaper here in Britain, when they picked up two different scoops from one of my blogs and refused to cite the source. Instead, they attributed the items to “an internet website” (as opposed to those websites you get in places other than the internet...I guess). I got an apology from an editor, but never any sort of clarification - and it happened not once, but twice. This was more than a year ago, and the Guardian has some clever sticks on board now who actually do understand a lot about blogging - Simon Waldman, Neil McIntosh, and Bobbie Johnson amongst them - so one would hope that they now understand that scoops grabbed from blogs do actually count.
I think that the only news publishers who will be able to charge are those with extremely narrow and unique content niches. For everyone else, the benefits of being reachable in a Google-driven world outweigh what can be gained from subscription revenues. That’s because the network makes it so easy to find similar or the same information elsewhere for free.
Further testament to the fact that the mass market is dead, to be replaced by a mass of niches. If that’s not news that’s fit to print, I don’t know what is.
Dissemination of information is great, but how much of it is trustworthy? [Blogs] are an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think they will be as talked about in a year’s time.
-Mike Smartt, (now former, but not before getting an OBE from the Queen) editor of BBC News Online, 25 March, 2003
First, big media denied that blogs existed or mattered. Then we saw anger...We are starting to see bargaining as blogs are incorporated in, gingerly, by some big media. I’ve seen depression; some people I know in this business say it will never be the same (and I try to supress my grins). Acceptance isn’t far off.
Last night, Adriana and I attended The Fall and Fall of Journalism, an event at the London School of Economics which aimed to debate whether the traditional role of journalists is being usurped by simply anyone who has access to a digital camera, camcorder and the internet and explore the new phenomena of citizen reporting, blogging and other new technology/new media-enabled reporting. (Details of the panellists can be found behind the hyperlink.)
It can be quite a drama, in Britain, to be very straightforward about the quality of debate on blogging in this country. If you take issue with a particular argument that someone has made, people seem to feel that you are insulting the person who made the argument. The alternative is to nod and smile and pretend that a splendid bunch of people have inevitably produced a splendid event, full of splendid insights and imparted knowledge for the audience.
That alternative is, quite frankly, dishonest - and it is not the sort of thing any self-respecting, truth-seeking person (blogger, journalist, or otherwise) can do without compromising his or her integrity. I preface my comments on the LSE event if only to prepare people who may be very unfamiliar with blogging for something that is one of the universal truths about those who operate in blogosphere: Our BS detectors are very sharp, and we do not hesitate to use them.
FT Magazine editor John Lloyd, who knows of what he speaks when it comes to old media and particularly newspapers, made some very good points about the ‘tabloidization’ of the media. In his book, What the Media are Doing to Our Politics, Lloyd explains that the expense of producing well-researched, in-depth journalism is what has turned so much of the media towards the infotainment model of ‘journalism’. I especially loved his comment - sure to wind up two very different, sensitive groups - that Britain’s Independent “viewspaper” is the Fox News of the UK media, using strong front page headlines that appeal to emotion to shift copies.
Lloyd also feels that this same expense of producing good journalism is what makes it difficult for bloggers to do so. His thinking is that bloggers don’t have the time or resources to devote to getting to the heart of a story, discerning fact from spin, and understanding complex subjects. What I think Lloyd would be pleased to know is that some of the most significant features of blogging are what make those issues less of a problem. Most notably, the network-building that is inherent to the blogosphere and the fact that blogging gives people who are already experts in certain fields and situations the ability to quickly and easily make their expertise tangible, accessible, permanent, and searchable to a network of hundreds of millions - the latter of which obviously helps other truth-seekers out there ("proper journalists” among them) in their quest for a grip on reality.
What I found somewhat disturbing about Lloyd’s comments later in the panel was his contention that traditional journalism is something of a civic service, and one that we should be very careful to preserve. This sentiment smacks of the current, hysterical cries coming from old media types who are far less aware than John Lloyd - the idea that journalists are the guardians of truth and that, to some extent, we should take a kid glove approach to this most holy of disciplines. The message is that those armed only with their own expertise and journalistic skills learned outside conventional bounds, never blessed with a sanctifying paycheck from an authorized credentials broker, should really not believe their own hype. Lloyd said - and I will give him the benefit of assuming he was joking - that traditional journalism is such a precious thing that we almost need a government-funded National Journalism Service, as Britain ‘needs’ (debatable) a National Health Service, to safeguard it.
This angle, with its stasist attitude to how journalism must be produced, is at odds with the dynamism that our circumstances demand. And it echoes quite loudly the attempts of the trade unions of 1980s Britain to dictate how newspapers ‘had’ to be produced - actions correctly ridiculed by Lloyd in his opening remarks.
If everyone’s main concern was the truth and how we get to it, the focus of last night’s discussion would not have been so squarely on old media versus bloggers. What seemed to be missing was a basic understanding of exactly how and why blogs really are fundamentally different from traditional journalism - a shocking oversight on a panel that included the LSE’s resident new media and internet professor, Robin Mansell, whom one would expect to be aware of such elementary facts.
What no one on the panel seemed willing to point out, if they did indeed know it, was that the aim of bloggers is not to replace traditional journalists. While definitely not a collective, as some panel members seemed to believe, the blogosphere is made up of individuals whose motivations for revealing truth and correcting untruth are not borne of a desire to bring down the media. To be quite blunt, I don’t think “the media” looms as large in the minds of people as perhaps certain elements of “the media” would wish. What really gets to people is sloppy reporting, spin presented as fact, and audiences being misled.
These people sometimes become bloggers. Most of them do not become bloggers in order to police journalism, but to share their knowledge and opinions with whoever is interested in reading them. But that same disdain for reporting in the traditional media that lacks credibility also fuels the ongoing peer review to which bloggers naturally subject themseves and which keeps everyone in check. An audience member at the event, Professor Ivor Gaber, seemed quite angry that - as he sees it - blogs whose reporting is informed by a particular worldview may be mistaken as ‘objective’ news reporting by dim internet users. He cited Spiked (which is, it should be noted, not a blog) as an example of this danger. (I can’t help but wonder if Gaber eschews email and warns others against using it, lest they be taken in by spam scams.)
When people start wringing their hands over provenance and how to protect the unsuspecting man in the street from his own stupidity, for the common good, in the public interest, etc, etc, things are going down a frightening path.
What no one on the panel pointed out was that the self-regulating, peer review aspect of blogs goes beyond pulling people up on their shoddy reporting, and that many bloggers are recognised experts in their fields, not (as often with traditional media) generalists who move from one subject to another and whose reports are often received with assumed authority. For example, Brad Delong is a noted economist who served in the Clinton administration and who - fancy that - today corrects a statement from a group blog produced by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. Blogs are not, as Gaber and Mansell seemed to think, message board-like stomping grounds of the illiterate and uninformed. What we see much more of in the US - and France and Japan and Iran and Poland, for that matter - than we do in the UK currently is noted experts blogging about their discipline and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of fellow experts and others. The blogosphere is not a world where traditional journalism is regarded as a group of scum to be scalped - no matter what some scared journalists seem to think - and other bloggers are treated gently and go uncriticised. And guess what? Those who read blogs have brains, too, and can work out for themselves that Instapundit is a law professor who isn’t a news reporter and comes to the table with a worldview that informs his writing, just as those who read the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph know that those publications are not - like the BBC is - operating under the pretence of complete objectivity.
Believe it or not, I could go on cataloguing the errors touted as truth and misguided thinking presented as expertise that was on display at the LSE event. Mick Fealty, journalist and editor of the superb Slugger O’Toole blog on Northern Irish politics, covers some of the bases I have ignored in the interest of time (mine and yours).
Look around at this blog: It’s my job to know all this stuff. So I find it depressing that we are still at the stage in the UK where many or all of the panellists at an event like this - even the LSE’s own new media and internet professor - will come to the table without a basic grasp of the fact that the internet is not a broadcast channel, but a two-way conversation whose one-to-many information distribution differs significantly and inherently from that of traditional media.
So consider this post a demonstration of the “narrative of fact” that John Lloyd spoke of as being sacred to society. And if the fact that I’m doing it on a blog, instead of in a newspaper or on TV, makes you uncomfortable, just wait till blogging actually breaks in the UK. Some people - in media, academia, and other fields, and often calling themselves experts - are in for a very rude awakening.Go back on the hippo's back...