Mecom set to expand in Holland
The Changing Role of Journalists in a World Where Everyone Can Publish

Some musings on the nature of blogs

I'm frequently exasperated by the all too common misunderstandings about the nature of blogs, eagerly restated by columnists and editors at regular intervals, like here and here, and recently given an alibi by Andrew Keen's forthcoming book on bloggers as parasites and what have you (sometimes I wonder if he's just link baiting).

Part of me, the commentator/campaigner, wants to go out there and readdress these issues, to say that it's missing the point altogether, that it's about conversation: the day someone stops talking about your newspaper THEN you have a problem - and that, by the way, most bloggers don't want to become journalists, don't see their blogging as journalism and many blog about everything but the media. But then I broach these issues online, and am told something like: actually, why can't bloggers be journalists, why can't they replace that whole archaic MSM-model - cluttered as it is with uncritical, ignorant and incompetent journalists? So for the moment, I just thought I'd leave you with some open-ended musings on the nature of blogs:

Three definitions of blogs from Stephen Tall (via Iain Dale):
Blog (n.): an online journal written by publicity-hungry politicians and self-opinionated journalist manqués, commenting on current political affairs with scant regard to fact or fairness, and accountable to nobody save their small band of obsessive readers.

Blog (n.): an online journal written and/or read by anyone in the democratic world, providing them with a platform to address issues of concern to them, and which is transforming the relationship between modern citizens and the traditional governing and media elites.

Blog (n.): my space to write about whatever’s delighted or annoyed me that day, forcing me to arrange half-formed thoughts into something semi-coherent for public consumption, keeping my thinking fresh and up-to-the-mark.

I'm quite partial to the middle option here, though I would perhaps rephrase it a bit. For one, I think social media, like blogs, is transforming the way we understand, and gain knowledge about the world, as well as our expectations to it. But enough about me - here's a bit about the ups and downs of blogging:

Brian posts this excellent quote from Squander Two about why the latter is blogging less:... I’m going through one of my periodic bored-of-the-news phases. I mean, is there really any point in blogging all this crap? Someone in a position of power has done something inefficient and/or counterproductive? Really? Well I never. Must tell the world.

However, says Brian: Blogging enables you to live a sort of double life, but without having to buy alcohol. In real life, you. In the blogosphere, You With Church Bells, shouting at the world, barking at the moon. The blog-life makes the real life far more livable and more fun. The mundanity of the real life becomes far more bearable, and, when it ever deviates in any way from mundanity, it then counts twice, for itself, and for its blog potential.... (read the full post here)


Reread "The Medium is the Message." Wondering if you would elaborate more on how the audience specifically has changed. Can we track exactly what they're doing differently now than was done before?

(This is a preliminary question to the bigger one of "have we seen social media arise before?")

Hi, I think a lot of what you write is valuble, and it's almost as though it's in vogue now to dismiss blogs! I haven't read Andrew Keen's upcoming book but I did hear an interview last Sunday on BBC Radio 4 and thought he raised some valid points - the way in which the web has contributed to a "flattening" of many aspects of art and culture - ie everything is of worth and value so how do we distinguish? And having freelanced in the past, he certainly struck a cord when he spoke of people in creative fields and arts (writers, photographers, designers etc) not being valued appreciated for their expertise because everyone is a writer, photographer, etc! I haven't really captured what he said very well, but I imagine in coming weeks lots of book reviewers will. Anyway, it's a fascinating debate and discussion.

Ashok: sorry about my late reply here, busy week. I don't think the audience as such has changed, but people's expectations and how they gain knowledge, which you might call their media habits but think that's too limited, have changed.

I think many people have now come to expect interaction, conversation, and the fact that they're no longer dependent on mainstream media (MSM) to publish their views or stories obviously changes the ball game. Another thing is how all the plethoria of information available online, and the use of RSS, newsreaders and social bookmarking sites, change how people obtain their information about the world around them. Just such a simple thing as having feeds from blogs I trust side by side with MSM in my newsreader means for instance on some areas I rely almost entirely on blogs for my information, and for the Virginia Tech massacre the blog accounts from students was what I read first - due to a blogger I trusted linking to it before the MSM feeds I read broke the story.

Also, in the world of RSS I think readers mostly skim rather than read - headlines, blogs etc. So all of these shifts must sureley influence our epistemology in the same way as the shift from a print-based to TV culture did.

Sheelag: I personally think that blogs are best understood as conversation, not as journalism. It can be a way to showcase your writing or to establish your authority in a certain field, but the majority of blogs I've read most resemble a conversation about something the blogger did or is passionate about.

As a journalist who blogs I don't see my blogging in this space as journalism, though I still fact-check and all of that and sometimes post original reporting here.

I do however think blogging can transform journalism in many useful ways and that MSM should be using blogs more: for covering events live, for breaking news quickly and for taking part in the conversations that, with the event of Internet, has fled the editorial pages.

Hence I think those who diss blogs because they don't do original reporting or don't live up to journalistic standards are completely missing the point. And yes, there's a lot of crap, abusive or uninteresting stuff (for me) in the blogosphere, but, you know what, I don't read it: as with offline conversations, I don't spend time with bullshitters. But the internet enables me to listen in to conversations I find interesting from all over the world, that's valuable. How do we improve the noise to signal ratio in the blogosphere, well new (free)methods of filtering keeps being developed, some useful perspectives on Keen's book here:

As for your concern about how everyone now being a writer, photographer diminishes the already poor standing of freelancers, I can relate to that sentiment being freelance myself. It does appear that some media companies see this 'citizen journalism revolution' as a quick way to get free labour. It's a tricky one that, but at the moment I'm more optimistic than pessimistic about the media future. Again, I think citizen journalism will supplement and transform MSM, but I also think journalistic skills, like filtering, aggregation etc, will always be in demand. But I don't have a clear cut answer to this latter point - maybe it's that I think talent will always stand out, and all these technology-driven developments have just levelled the playing field. Maybe...

Hi, sure, I agree, and I haven't so far heard Andrew Keen touch on the conversational element and the sheer joy people can feel from expressing and sharing.
I don't wear my journalist's hat when blogging - it's about writing, discussing, and exploring and the freedom feels great!
What I'm trying to say is that I think Keen raises some important and valid points and they're worth considering. You can't help but feel that there's a lot of talking going on and more listening would be cool. I wrote about this recently:
Regarding citizen journalism, journalists need to step back and take a long, hard look at it. It's very much in its infancy and so far many news organisations look at it in the way you describe - free content. I'd like to ask: do journalists and editors value their own skill and experience enough? It's good that people can produce images, video, or decription, but knowing what to ask, where to look, how to dig, what's relevant (or not) usually comes with experience. Would we accept citizen medicine, citizen bricklaying, citizen nursing, citizen electronics? The answer is obvious.
~ Sheelagh

I agree that more listening would be good, but I actually find myself listening more and more the longer I blog - to the point that I have periods I'd rather just read and ponder other people's blog posts than blog myself (unfortunately I work so much I rarely have the opportunity to do as much of this as I'd like to). And I marvel at all the good stuff out there. My big argument with Keen is exactly this: that he only sees bad stuff in the blogosphere, he certainly does not seem to be listening in to it very much, or if he's done so I wonder how he's able to see the trolls only. Besides, there's plenty of bad and speculative stuff being printed or televised as well - that doesn't mean print or tv per see are at fault.

As for citizen journalism, I do think the craft of journalism still has very important roles to play in this brave new world of ours, but I also think citizen journalism can supplement journalism in many ways - Suw Charman offers an interesting analysis here, check out the post entitled "The Changing Role of Journalists..."

Wow, listening and pondering - that's cool. Bit of a rarity though - most people are skimming more and more these days when they read online. It's too bad if that is the case re. Keen's view, although he is blogging so he must see some benefit. Yeah, it's true re. print and TV - not good at all to generalise.

The comments to this entry are closed.