Bloggers v The Media?

Jackie Danicki attended a discussion at the LSE last night on the media, including blogs, and came away less than impressed.

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.

Right, this has been bugging me for a while. Just where has this notion that blogs are out to try and compete with or replace mainstream journalism come from?

Perhaps from some of the more zealous right-wing American blogs who constantly rant on about how the MSM (the obligitory abbreviation for mainstream media in such circles) are biased and who celebrate their ‘scalpings’?

Or maybe also from some of those involved in that curious area known as ‘media studies’ that feels the need to invent rules and guidelines and conferences and workshops on what blogging means for the media in the 21st century etc etc?

Political blogging is much more about politics than media. If we must compare it to anything I’d say it most closely ressembles the old pamphleteer tradition. People putting out ideas and looking for like-minded people to join in discussion and activity. Personally I really couldn’t give a hoot about the ‘role of blogs in a pluralist media’ or whatever. To me blogging is my way of being involved in politics and having my say – and I like it.

And from that point of view blogging also works. After all this blog gets more hits in a week than Socialist Worker has readers and we don’t even have to send students out to stand in front of Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning.

This blog is also part of an informal network of like-minded people who share a similar viewpoint on the world, share ideas, information and links with each other regardless of their location. That is something new and exciting that blogging has allowed. But it has nothing to do with journalism or the media.

The only interaction with mainstream media, with journalism, comes when bloggers respond to op-ed pieces in the papers. But fisking a Guardian column doesn’t mean the blogger is trying to set themselves up as a rival. Its simply a response from a reader. And its still politics. Columnists see themselves as setting the agenda for public debate and not without some reason. Blogs allow other people to join in that debate – usually people who don’t get invited on to the radio or the telly or to contribute to newspapers. The punter is having his say and that is all it is.

The concerns of some that bloggers lack credibility or trust and that given the absence of any rules any old tosh can be published on the internet is so much fretting about nothing. Yep, there is plenty of rubbish on the internet and some of it is written by bloggers. But serial bullshitters get pulled up pretty quickly. If you regularly write nonsense or lies (or if you can’t write at all) then people won’t read your blog and few people will take any notice of you. (I’d add that this isn’t always the case in the mainstream media.) If you want to run a blog that people will be interested in then you have to find an audience, build it up, look after it, deliver something interesting and readable.

Sure, if I were a student looking for a break in journalism, I might well consider doing some reporting and writing on a blog as an alternative to building up clips via work experience on a small local paper. That might work as a good career building step. In fact I’m surprised no-one in the UK is doing that.

So yes, you could do journalism on a blog if you wanted. But you could also tell jokes, chat about football, post pictures of pets or try and sell plantpots. And people do.

In the end, while there is huge potential for people in politics, business, education and many other areas, a blog is a piece of software and you can do what you want with it.

People will take it or leave it.

(Jackie’s full report is here)