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Never trust a celebrity blogger

May 2, 2009

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.

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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.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2009 11:45 am

    I’m terrified at the prospect of the blogosphere losing its ‘appalling gammer.’ I’d have to go back to working for a living…

    More seriously, I wonder how different, in reality, all this stuff about audience interactivity actually is from old fashioned pop-vox type interviews which have always been splattered across our new channels?

  2. Rab permalink*
    May 5, 2009 7:20 pm

    Hi Charlie
    Is pressing the red button giving you no satisfaction? No, me neither. I suspect that audience interactivity and user generated content has got bugger all to do with democracy and citizenship and everything to do with cheap programming. Let the plebs entertain themselves and sell them to advertisers.

    In any case, interactivity is nothing new. Do you remember the guy who put his foot through his TV screen when he saw the Sex Pistols interviewed by Bill Grundy?

    What about interactivity that allows you to throw heavy objects at the directors of large media corporations? What about bringing back the Golden Shot with live C-list celebrity targets, played from the comfort of your armchair? Green button, left a bit: blue button, right a bit: red button, FIRE!

  3. Dunnagall permalink
    May 8, 2009 11:26 am

    Never trust a celebrity blogger? Never trust any kind of blogger, just like we shouldn’t trust the mainstream news either. I was sitting in the dentist’s waiting room the other day, watching the digital BBC news channel. On the screen was a small square surrounded by labels, branding, news streams and appeals for citizen texts, pics and videos of anything they might suspect as being news. In the small square itself was a reporter standing outside a building where nothing was happening and no new information about the story was available. Alas, that did not stop him blabbing on about absolutely nothing. It went something like this, though bear in mind I was watching under the influence of anaesthetic at the time:

    “Well David, it’s difficult to assess what exactly is going on behind closed doors here so we can only speculate that they’re having full and frank discussion about what happened yesterday….We have no new information so far…sources inside remain tightlipped…[Man leaves building] Oh!..Someone has left the building [Minutes of speculation pass until reporter announces breathlessly that:] We can confirm that the man who left the building just minutes ago, David, is a courier but we have no information about what his name is. Some sources suggest it might be Nigel but there is no way we can independently verify this as yet. What we can say with absolute certainly, however, is that he delivered something and we’ll get an update on that live, I can assure you! [More minutes pass and, just before dental nurse takes me to my death, the reporter brings us dramatic breaking news that:] A pigeon has just flown overhead, David! This is breaking news live from the spot and I’ll bring you news of where it is flying as soon as I get it!”

    At that critical point, I was hauled away and tied to a chair for dental waterboarding but I’m sure I didn’t miss much. When I came out again, a broken man, I looked once more at the screen to see that texts and tweets had since come through in their hundreds to suggest that the courier was Nigel, Norbert, Norman, Harry, Barry and Larry. They even received a very blurred mobile phone video sequence [from Ken from Camden] of the courier entering the building in the first place, which the reporter missed entirely because he was too busy breathlessly delivering news on nothing at all. Meanwhile, the news stream below the small square told us of many, many interesting and serious political developments around the world but these were hard to concentrate on because of the surfeit of useless other information on the screen and a blabbering reporter in a small square!!!

    So worry not, Rab! At least in the blogosphere, we can be active producers of useless information, not just passive consumers of it. 🙂

  4. Rab permalink*
    May 8, 2009 1:16 pm

    ‘Never trust any kind of blogger’. This is just the type of remark that will win you no friends in the blogosphere but perhaps we can put it down to the lingering effects of the dentist’s anaesthetic. That said, and despite your drugged state, you have eloquently highlighted the inanity of 24 hour news.

  5. Dr. Disco permalink
    May 9, 2009 2:38 pm

    I agree with this thread. The idea of the public sphere applies only to intellectuals and certainly not to ordinary individuals or those who possess, or seek to possess, celebrity. Citizens should be discouraged or actively prevented from having their say and all “news” and footage should come only from official government sources or journalists with a recognised qualification.

  6. Dunnagall permalink
    May 9, 2009 3:23 pm

    Rab – a clarification. When I say never trust any kind of blogger, it is not to invalidate content but to advise a sensible caveat that no one source of information or opinion should be taken as transparent truth but should be corroborated against alternative sources. After all, I’m sure you would be the first to admit that your various posts are more first draft evaluations and responses than thoroughly researched, factually-based analyses that serve as authoritative sources of information? So why would I trust your information or opinion more than I would trust that of any other blogger or journalist?

    As for Dr Disco’s recommendation that news and information should “come only from official government sources or journalists with a recognised qualification”, that would just leave the way open for wholesale, political and corporate propaganda of totalitarian proportions. In other words, one step further than what news already is – a very narrowly based agenda of “stories” dependent upon a limited range of sources.

    Rab and Dr Disco come at this debate from different positions but both fall into the trap of legislating on who should or should not have the right to speak or contribute to public debate. If Rab upholds the right to speak in the political ‘blogosphere’ then he should defend the right of anyone else to do so too regardless of who they may be or how inane, banal or offensive he thinks their content to be. After that, it’s a case of take it or leave it, accept it or contest it, trust it or not.

  7. Dr. Disco permalink
    May 9, 2009 4:17 pm

    Dunnagall your allegations just caused me to choke on my coca cola, whereupon I spat it out, ruining today’s edition of the Daily Mail. This greatly alarmed my pitbull/ridgeback cross, who careered into my TV and annoyingly changed my default AV channel from Fox to the BBC. What is this country coming to?

  8. Dunnagall permalink
    May 10, 2009 11:50 am

    Obviously, Dr Disco, your dog may be a thug but one committed to the ideals and principles of public service television. All we need now is for him to shred your Daily Mail and bring you a copy of the Gruniad, stolen from next door. We will make a bleedin heart liberal out of ya yet! 🙂

  9. Rab permalink*
    May 10, 2009 12:43 pm

    Now listen here Disco & Dunnagall, this is a serious blog for serious people. It’s exactly this sort of inane discussion that is bringing the blogosphere into disrepute. So I’m off to read Habermas for the rest of the afternoon and when I get back you’d all better have bucked up your ideas.

    P.S. Starsky & Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Saphire & Steel, Disco & Dunnagall….. Hhmmm

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