Never trust a celebrity blogger
While some fret about the nefarious influence of blogging on journalism’s codes of conduct, I’m more inclined to worry about the colonisation of the blogosphere by professional journalists and celebrity bloggers.
Ivor Gabor in this month’s British Journalism Review (2009; 20; 41) notes the convergence of journalism and blogging:
the traditional media is converging so that a great deal of text (online) is produced by the broadcasters, and much audio and video is to be found on the websites of national and local papers. Secondly, all the traditional media, some kicking and screaming and some racing forward with enthusiasm, have had to embrace the notion of “interactivity”, or “audience involvement”, or whatever name is given to the new relationship with the audience. In the old days journalists found out what was happening and then told the story. Today journalists receive as much as they give – whether in the form of email responses to stories, participation in blogs, message boards, social networking sites, citizen journalism, etc. The material is coming in all directions, the audience is no longer “them”; the journalists are no longer “us”.
Neither are audiences dependent anymore upon the mainstream media for news and analysis when one new blog is being created somewhere in the world every 1.4 seconds of every hour of every day. At their last count, (August 2008) there were up to 200 million active blogs on the internet. This may not amount to a ‘republic of letters’ (it is possible that it is closer to a Tower of Babel) but it has impacted upon journalism’s assumption that it is the principal relayer of news and current affairs, although as Gabor highlights many bloggers claim to be ‘freelance journalists’ and many journalists have blogs.
Gabor offers a brief comparison of Guido Fawke’s Order Order site, Boulton & Co, Sky News’s political blogspot, and, lastly, from blogger Iain Dale’s Diary and concludes that their respective commentary is not dissimilar. And this worries Gabor, so much so that he reasserts the importance of objectivity and codes of conduct to distinguish journalism from ‘an anarchic tsunami of information’ on the internet.
But what possible motive could a BBC or Sky correspondent have for slumming it on the net? Well, comment is always cheaper than investigation. Blogs generate ‘content’ and give the appearance of democratic interactivity at very little expense. And then there’s the phenomenon of celebrity bloggers whose opinions are regularly sought by the mainstream media and whose musings often make the news. Their sites often come bejewelled with notices of their long-listings, short-listings, awards and prizes, none of which strikes me as being in the ‘alternative’ spirit of blogosphere.
It would be tragic if the convergence of mainstream news and the internet lead to an abandonment or corrosion of objectivity. Indeed, journalists would be better off trying to be better journalists, seeking out stories, speaking truth to power, instead of loafing around on blogs. But it’s not just journalism that has something to lose in its convergence with blogging. The blogosphere too could lose something of its independence, radical potential, appalling gammar and mad ideas.