Thursday, May 03, 2007 

The blogging counter-revolution.

It's World Press Freedom Day, and the Guardian, being the Guardian, thinks it's a great idea to get an expert to pronounce on how fantastic blogging is and how it's enriching our lives. The expert? Iain Dale.

Being a first class prick, it's not hard to pick some holes in his argument:
Blogs have liberated people who have things to say. There are 70m blogs in the world, and they have become a vital means of communication for people who live in parts of the world where the traditional media cannot remotely be said to be free. It's no coincidence that the highest ratio of bloggers to the population is to be found in Iran.

This is true, but it's also liberated people who have nothing to say, and those who say nothing of any worth. Of those 70m blogs, it's worth wondering just how many of them are devoted to politics, and not your cat, your sex life or your job. Again, millions of those blogs are set-up and then never posted to again, but they still count towards the figures. The amount of blogs that are updated every day with new content and still going after a year is minuscule. Blogging can be liberating, it can be enfranchising, it can be a breath of fresh air, but it's not the greatest thing that's ever happened to the world by a long shot.

Social communities like MySpace and Facebook allow people to interact with likeminded people in a way that the traditional press never can. The challenge for the mainstream media is to catch up with the opportunities to extend press freedom that the internet provides. They ought to be the drivers of opening up democracy on the internet; instead national newspapers and broadcasters seem to have their feet stuck in concrete as they struggle to come to terms with the new media world.

If this seems vaguely familiar, it's because it's much the same point put forward by... David Cameron. He seemed to miss the fact that MurdochSpace and YouTube are not in fact much used for making grand political statements, but by crap unsigned bands, for hosting user-generated videos of idiots being idiots and by the odd ordinary person to showcase their spectacularly exciting life. The politicians attempting to crash the party are the equivalent of the drunk dads and uncles at weddings embarrassing themselves and everyone else by dancing like a spider with no legs to Achy Breaky Heart. Dale has fallen into the same trap.

This is a huge opportunity, but also a threat - a threat to the press. Again, gone are the days when celebrated newspaper columnists would be able to pontificate on the great issues of the days and sit back and think "job well done". These days there are millions of columnists all around the world who can do the same thing - they're called bloggers. Newspaper columnists hate them because they've broken into their monopoly and democratised it. Newspaper journalists only blog because they think they ought to or their editors have told them to. They hate having to podcast, or, even worse, videocast. It's not what they do. They are the modern Luddites. And we all know what happened to them ...

This is rubbish. "Old media" organisations are falling over themselves to catch-up, as evidenced by pretty much every paper except the Independent having numerous blogs and podcasts available. Besides, does anyone really listen to news or politics podcasts? The most popular by far are those produced in order to let people catch up with radio programmes they've missed, and the others are independently produced that have nothing to do with freedom of the press or otherwise.

Some newspaper columnists do hate the interaction that blogging has introduced, but they're mostly the ones that made you want to scream at the newspaper long before they even started having comment sections online.

About the only part of Dale's post that is incontestable is that blogging is and has been a boon to those living under tyranny. The problem is that blogging itself can be used by those who imitate those tyrannies: shutting down debate, re-hashing propaganda and at times, downright lying. You only have to see the very worst offenders to see that this can and will be used at some stage to blacken the name of bloggers as a whole: Little Green Footballs and the like, and EU Referendum's smears and exaggerations of what when on Lebanon during last summer's war instantly come to mind.

Dale himself isn't clean in this area. His response to a mild ribbing from myself was to tell me to "piss off" and that I was a "first-class prick", which by the standards of internet discourse is very mild, but not very impressive from someone who stood for the Conservatives at the last election and who is regularly called upon to inform the wider public of blogging, whether he regards himself as a "blogging expert" or not. The recent blocking of certain blogs that are critical of Dale also doesn't exactly show up Dale to be much of a paragon when it comes to debate, the very thing that blogging thrives on.

In the comments on Dale's piece, Markson probably says it best:
However, it allows for the wildly successful spread of myth parading as fact and objectivity being drowned out by the sheer noise of the blogosphere. People flock to sites that confirm their own beliefs, further entrenching extremism.

There is only so much that other blogs can do to counter this, as there is when it comes to fact-checking the mainstream media as well. Just because blogs are personal and "independent" doesn't mean that they're not open to the exact same abuses and prejudices which the corporate media is. However welcome the rise in citizen journalism and comment is, pretending that all of it is fantastic and empowering is being willfully blind.

Related post:
Ministry of Truth - Freedom? What Freedom?

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