Here we go again...not that bloggers vs journalists debate

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 21 May 2008

Yesterday I asked the question whether you could trust a media blogger, looking at my own account of Adrian Monck's recent book launch. The answer, that I hoped people did trust my account, and that I expect I have a much stronger relationship with my limited band of readers than many mainstream broadcasters or journalists can have, revived the age-old journalists vs. bloggers debate.

At Adrian Monck's "Can you trust the media" event, Andrew Gilligan said that 'even if everybody on the Internet wanted to be a journalist, they couldn't be". There still seems to be an assumption amongst 'proper' journalists that anyone who blogs is doing so because they want to be a journalist. This is demonstrably untrue.

Not every blogger wants to be a journalist

As I said yesterday, one of the problems with new media we have as a culture at the moment is that we have a new model of communication that we are unused to. We are familiar with the one-to-one model, and if you end up listening to one side of a mobile phone call on a train you don't expect it to be anything other than innane. And we are used to the one-to-many model, which traditional publishers and broadcasters have been based on for centuries. But we are not terribly familiar with the one-to-some or 'famous for fifteen people' model.

The growth of online 'fanfic' is a classic example of a niche activity that used to be confined to bedroom diaries or fanzines with limited distribution. Now it flourishes because the network effect amplifies and connects the number of people doing it. It is just one example of many types of content that the Internet has enabled, which has little or nothing to do with journalism.

Journalists don't have a monopoly on 'journalistic' skills

Listening to some journalists talking about the unique and sacred tools of their profession, you'd think you needed a degree in events management in order to attempt to get together the proverbial pi$$-up in the brewery.

Of course journalists bring a set of skills to their work, but bloggers bring a diverse and over-lapping range as well. Students of English will be aware of 'tone' and 'register' when writing, whilst profession copy writers will bring a keenly honed directness of expression.

My academic background is in studying history, and I've spent years assessing and comparing different sources and accounts of the same event in order to synthesize stories. I do much the same now when writing about distant sporting or technology events - collecting an array of accounts, finding pictures, trying to draw parallels or contrasts with current events, all packaged in a way that I hope is interesting to someone who lands on the page.

Journalists are not domain 'experts'

More often than not journalists are writing outside their area of expertise. I've never read, for example, a story about the development of search engines in the mainstream media that comes anywhere close to the reporting and analysis of the industry that you get on SearchEngineLand or amongst the community at Sphinn.

Which is fine - because the purpose of the mainstream media is to get a range of informative content before a generalist audience. However, it also means that journalists are completely wrong when they argue, as Gilligan did last week, that the audience cannot pluck their own news out of the 'cloud of news' available on the web. He said that argument was 'bo||o%k$'. Actually, for the search engine industry, it is regularly the mainstream media that publishes misleading and factually incorrect article after article after article. Now, that is bo||o%k$.

Charles Arthur recently made the point that:

"When I write [a blog] post, I know more about that particular topic than the average person who’s going to read it. But I don’t know more about the particular topic than some of the people reading it - so if I can get them to contribute then everyone (me and the other readers) will have benefited. (And of course if I don’t know more, or suspect I don’t know more, than the average reader, I should go away and find out some more until I do.)"

New media doesn't 'end' journalism - but it certainly changes the game

Is new media a 'threat' or an 'opportunity' for media organisations?

Well, it is certainly a threat to their business model, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. Robin Hamman's work trying to automatically extract eyewitness account and pictures of explosions and bombs from across the Internet is just one example of the potential for mainstream media to get amazing footage and first-hand accounts fast and for free. You don't need to despatch a three-man crew to cover the space where an event happened, because the chances are someone will have captured it on their mobile phone.

Meanwhile, initiatives like MY Sun cost money to set up, but enrich the media's online output with a truer reflection of the audience's voice, and provide some free content along the way. It is also true that new media provides a tremendous opportunity to waste money and fail. The BBC's Action Network has apparently cost £1.3m, and has been totally out-flanked by grass roots use of freely available tools that were niche or difficult to use when iCan was conceived. The Telegraph's new innovation hothouse will no doubt also produce some misses as well as hits.

The cherry-picking examples syndrome

When journalists talk about the nobility and immense social value of their profession, they always point to incisive investigative journalism over things like Watergate or WMD. They never point to the Meerkats or Giant Sharks or miracle-growing fingers. They judge their profession by the highest standards it can reach.

Conversely, people looking to say that new media and citizen contributions to news-gathering are of little value point to some ramblings on 'Have Your Say', blogs about kittens, crackpot conspiracy theorists and angry gun freaks.

Of course the 'quality' of blogging is variable, but I compare the situation with that of the development of recorded music. If you wanted to be a musician before the advent of recorded sound, you had to find someone to teach you. You had to rigorously learn written notation in order to understand whether you had played something 'correctly' or not.

The advent of recorded sound changed that. You could, without needing a teacher, repeatedly listen to a performance and try and copy it. That meant that you got lots of people, me included, playing the guitar really badly in their bedrooms. But, as a result, you also got The Sex Pistols and Joy Division.

Just because some blogs are inarticulate, splogs, are about pet cats, or are simply boring, doesn't mean the format itself is without value. Or that it is exclusively populated by wannabe journalists.

Next...

Tomorrow I'm going to start articulating why I think the development of the newspaper industry has a lot in common with the development of the movie industry, but how their reactions to new media have differed - putting movies in a better position to survive than newspapers.

16 Comments

Martin Belam said: "Conversely, people looking to say that new media and citizen contributions to news-gathering are of little value point to some ramblings on .... angry gun freaks."

Excuse me, but upon what basis do you assert that WoG represents "little value" in the realm of news-gathering? Is this based upon your own knowledge or any specific, articulable facts that demonstrate that WoG has "little" news-gathering value? If so, please provide them. Any writer or journalist knows that it improper to make inflammatory assertions without providing logical and factual analysis to back up the assertions. Please clarify. Perhaps, your assertion was an editorializing value judgment, reflecting your own biases, that was not so carefully wrapped up to look like valid research, analysis, and reporting. Given the content of your article, is the irony lost on you?

In your presumably non-exhaustive list of allegedly low-value blogs, I noticed that your blog was prominently missing (although further down in your blog you did refer to those which "...are simply boring" - a freudian slip, perhaps?), is that to infer in a not-so subtle way that by virtue of its exclusion from the "bad" list that your blog must represent the "good" type of blog, worthy of being classified as "journalistic?" Note: please refer back to the prior paragraph to more carefully consider this proposition.

Also, excuse me, but upon what basis do you label WoG as "angry gun freaks." Clearly the word "gun" is self-explanatory. However, there appears to be some issue with the other two words you used.

Let's look at the word "angry." Anger is a normal human emotion. It is a protective instinct designed to protect against danger. So, do you have a problem with anger? I'm not talking about misplaced or unjustified anger. Do you get angry when you see people in the third world denied of their human rights? I do, and so should you. Anyone who does not get angry at the denial of anyone's human rights is, well, not human. Well, I've got news for you. There is very credible academic literature by researchers with highly specialized knowledge (whom you would assuredly label as "domain 'experts'") that clearly demonstrates that the right of self-defense is a human right possessed by ALL humans. The concept of guns is a logical extension of this human right. Remember, when any human right is infringed, a decent human gets angry. (Oh, by the way, since you mentioned The Sex Pistols, I hope you know that one of their former members famously claimed in a 1980's song that "Anger is an energy." It really is true! He also said in that same song that "The written word is a lie." You might want to ponder the meaning of this.)

Now, let's look at the word "freak." Why the name calling? Upon what basis do you label WoG and its participants as "freaks?" Is this another one of your value judgments? Why are you so judgmental? You failed to define or clarify your usage of the term and how relates to WoG. This is what is known as "name calling" and stereotyping. This is hardly an attribute of one who is possessed of intellectual rigor and well-reasoned analysis. Please explain your position.

In conclusion, I am not an angry person, but one thing that does make me angry is the presence of ignorant dolts, lacking in intellectual rigor and logical reasoning, who replace research and logic with value judgments and who confuse name-calling and stereotyping as journalistic skill. Finally, if you are going to prominently list on your CV that you are "...an excellent communicator," one might recommend that you live up to the claim.

I read David Codrea's "war on guns" blogspot first thing everyday.

Its funny but the "angry gun freaks" often have much more intelligent things to say than many people do, including the MSM and "non-angry" bloggers.

I too read David Codrea's WOGs every day.

David is a featured columnist in a national magazine that has been in continuous circulation for more than 50 years.

Moreover David is a patriot and involved and concerned citizen.

Our Republic is better off for having people such as him.

There would not have to be any "angry gun freak" blogs if people like you didn't want to infringe on our civil liberties and avocations.

I read David Codrea every day, too. He's cool. Smart, good-looking--what's not to like?

And he's hardly ever even angry! Not even with you, Martin.

I read David Codrea's blog second every day, as soon as I first clear my email inbox.

I don't always agree with either David or his regular posters, even to the point of vitriolic argument. But I still read him daily, and your backhanded swipe of him as 'angry' is both off-point and gratuitous, if for no other reason than there are many much 'angrier' bloggers out there.

Since the American gun issue is something I know about, and you've misstated it, I can only look dubiously on the rest of your missive. And considering two facts, 1) the UK has banned all guns, and 2) you don't live there anymore, I would have to conclude that you agree with David's ongoing position, that free people have the right to be secure in their persons.
'Frustrated' or 'outraged' would have been both more accurate and more honest. Not that that matters to you, being merely a blogger.
And claiming better training in the Mother Tongue falls flat when you pull nonsense such as this.

Finally, since an earlier comment wasn't published, I'll cross-post this over at War on Guns so that it does see the light of day, just as that poster did.

PS: A smart man chooses his battles. This is not one you want. Take a look at the Huffington Post for their gun-control postings and more importantly the comments. You haven't a chance on this one. I steer clear of the gun issue in the UK, and unless you plan on moving here, I suggest you apply the same discretion to the Great American Gun Debate.

Finally, since an earlier comment wasn't published, I'll cross-post this over at War on Guns so that it does see the light of day, just as that poster did.

Just to be clear here, I have published every comment left so far on this post. However, all comments are pre-moderated, as explained on the 'Thank you' page you (should) get when you leave a comment. Up to this point all the comments left on this article in the last 8 hours have been published.

As it turns out I should probably have done my research better before leaving that last comment. The anonymous person who cross-posted their comment to both sites didn't do it, as I assumed, because I was slow to moderate and publish the comments here because I was out and about and watching the Champions League Final on Wednesday, but because:

"Well, I had to deconstruct his writings with a rather long article that I posted in his comments. I have a funny feeling that he may block it"

Funnily enough, it turns out you don't have to be pro-guns to be pro-free speech. I'm always happy to put my name to what I write, and to publish any comments left here - including those by David Codrea himself, complete with 'dofollow' links back to his various responses to my blog posts.

In fact, in the past I've even posted comments suggesting I deserve to be 'shot in the head' for my bullshit article - not by the War on Guns crowd I hasten to add.

I guess the point I was making kind of got lost in translation - I was arguing that it was wrong for mainstream journalists to sneer at blogs like David's, which clearly has a loyal audience that trusts him much more than they would trust any mainstream media outlet. It is obvious that he has made a definitive name for himself in a niche market with content that you are unlikely to read in the mass media. Sadly, I figure that the immediate rush for that audience to come trolling over here tends to bolster Andrew Keen's arguments about 'teh evil of da internetz' rather than my own.

One other thing about David Codrea, though, he has a highly efficient Internet reputation management system in place. It doesn't matter whether he gets a mention by name, or just a link to his site, he always spots it and passes comment. Whether he is using data from an analytics package, a service like Technorati or Google alerts, or just his http referrer headers, it is a great example of the way that companies could (and should) be using the Internet to monitor the conversations people are having about their products. If David ever gets tired of running 'War on Guns', maybe there is an alternative career as an online reputation manager already waiting for him.

Wow - how did that happen Mr Belam? Do you have a long running dispute with these people?
I found your blog very interesting, and I think that your viewpoint corresponds with what most "thinking" journalists already know – we are most definitely not experts in most of the subjects we write about; not even Andrew Gilligan, as was demonstrated at considerable length and expense during the Hutton Report. This is not to have a go at him because, on the whole, he was spot on. Just one tiny detail or even choice of word.
Anyway, I am glad my aggregator found your blog – thanks for the effort.

Thanks for responding. Here is my response to your response.

"The anonymous person who cross-posted their comment to both sites..."

I am truly happy that you published my post, and I am glad you felt moved to explain the delay in posting comments.


"I'm always happy to put my name to what I write..."

That comment came out of nowhere and could be taken as a swipe at anonymous posters - almost like you are trying to create the implication that an anonymous poster (that being me) is somehow less than a poster with a name. Is it really appropriate to judge others based on your standards? Some people are naturally more private, just as some people are naturally more public and open. It is important to accept people as they are even if they operate differently from you. It would also be rather hypocritical to operate a site that allows guests to post anonymously and to then criticize those who availed themselves of your offer.

Some of the most important writings of the American revolution were published anonymously. Plenty of great authors (and journalists) around the world have and still do publish under pseudonyms (e.g.; "Samuel Blythe" and "Spengler" of the Asia Times). Sometimes people find themselves in life circumstances that prevent them from speaking as freely as they would prefer, and they can't use their own name. Welcome to reality. Instead of harping on this non-issue, please feel free to engage in debate over the issues that were raised in my original anonymous posting. Some people might think that you are raising non-issues in order to distract from answering the real issues. (For a generalized discourse on the importance of anonymity in democratic society and the internet from an American perspective, please see "http://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity".)

Don't get me wrong, when people engage in threats, intimidation, etc. and hide behind the mask of anonymity, that can be a major problem. WoG participants are very familiar with these types of people because they periodically appear on WoG and try to start trouble. But, that is not at issue here. In the pursuit of truth, the only things that matter are reason, logic, and facts. Name, race, color, culture, or country are irrelevant.


"I guess the point I was making kind of got lost in translation - I was arguing that it was wrong for mainstream journalists to sneer at blogs like David's..."

Yes, it is wrong for mainstream journalists to sneer at blogs, but that is not the way it came across at all with regard to WoG! You referenced WoG specifically to make the opposite point - that WoG represents the type of blog that is viewed as being "of little value," and your own use of name-calling bolstered this as a position that you held when you labeled us as "angry gun freaks." Not surprisingly, this generated a vigorous response from WoG.


"Sadly, I figure that the immediate rush for that audience to come trolling over here tends to bolster Andrew Keen's arguments about 'teh evil of da internetz' rather than my own."

WoG fans did not come over to, as you suggest, "troll." There's that name-calling, again. We made well-reasoned and on-topic responses to what appeared to be a backhanded swipe at us. When you made that swipe, you gave us grounds to come over to your blog and respond to the attack. Engaging in vigorous, rational debate and defending WoG's reputation is *not* trolling. If you do not want us posting to your blog then do not give us grounds to do so. Live and let live.


(I am going to cross post this back to the original thread on WoG. Don't take it the wrong way. I just want to make it easily available for WoG readers for as long as Mr. Codrea chooses to keep it on his site.)

"Wow - how did that happen Mr Belam? Do you have a long running dispute with these people?"


Well, not to my knowledge Tim, but I can see how you got that impression. I linked to War on Guns once earlier this year when it had a piece that mentioned Walthamstow, and David wrote a post disagreeing with the point I'd made with my link. Apart from that, this post is the only other time I've mentioned the blog.

At the risk of getting circular Anonymous/Protector, thanks for the response to my response to your response - I'm glad I got it up on the site faster this time.

I can't really add much to what I wrote previously about the meaning of the paragraph in question. The entire article is about how many mainstream journalists don't understand the value of new media and niche blogging, and dismiss it in a derogatory way. You seem determined to take offence with the messenger here, for observing that some people would view 'War on Guns' as a blog written by and for 'angry gun freaks'.


"That comment came out of nowhere and could be taken as a swipe at anonymous posters - almost like you are trying to create the implication that an anonymous poster (that being me) is somehow less than a poster with a name."


I am surprised you feel that this was a swipe that came out of leftfield - I should have thought the reason for making the distinction was clear. You are right, there is a long tradition of noble anonymous figures, King Ludd springs to mind from this side of the Atlantic, and some of the mainstream journalists I've been writing about certainly have Luddite tendencies towards the Internet. However, arriving on here, researching and quoting my CV back to me as part of an attack on my credentials to comment, whilst not extending the same courtesy to me, doesn't strike me as being in the same 'noble' tradition of anonymity.

And we can certainly quibble about the accurate definition of 'trolling'. Obviously, I don't know anything about you beyond the comments that you've left here, and your initial incorrect assumption that I wouldn't publish them. Because of the three words I used to link to War On Guns, you have now written more words in response than I wrote in my entire original article. I think our respective audiences can decide for themselves whether they think that makes you look more like an 'angry gun freak' or less like one...

You still keep diverting the issue. You have not responded to any of the contentions that have been raised. At a certain level, this whole debate really has nothing to do with guns. It is all about the correct proof of arguments and the use of name-calling, implied insults, and ad hominem attacks that masquerade as proper proof of arguments.

My verbosity does not, as you imply, reflect a proof that my arguments are wrong or that I am angry. My verbosity is a reflection of two things. First, you keep making unsupported implications and assertions that I then need to disprove before I can make my points. This paragraph is a perfect example of this. (Do you appreciate the recursive nature of this paragraph?) Also, I have taken great pains to leave no avenue of escape in a logical sense. Your evasive responses show that I have been at least partially successful.


"...quoting my CV back to me as part of an attack on my credentials to comment..."

You seem to be taking this way too personally. I did not know that a blogger would be so sensitive. It was not an attack on your credentials. I was using a literary form known as irony to highlight the fact that you claimed expertise in communications, but yet, you were making errors of reasoning and logic in the above article. Everyone makes mistakes. It should not be a big deal. Most people appreciate it when someone points out an error that is in need of correction. There is an additional irony in that these types of miscommunications are typically the causes of conflict - which is exactly where we are right now. I guess I was just surprised that you moved so quickly to escalate the situation with your response when I left so many doors open for deescalation. There are many, well-known conflict resolution techniques, and I am surprised that you have not deployed them. I had also hoped that my literary devices would be more obvious. Oh, well....


"I think our respective audiences can decide for themselves whether they think that makes you look more like an 'angry gun freak' or less like one..."

You seem frustrated and upset today. Well, I don't want to rub salt in your wounds, but if you can prove your assertion, please do so. That is how this whole issue began. You made unproven and unprovoked accusations against WoG. All you had to do was say, "I should not have labeled them as 'angry gun freaks'", and this issue would have gone away. No one likes slurs, epithets, or labels applied to themselves. That was the whole point of my original posting, and I used a multiplicity of logical techniques and literary devices to make that point.


Hey, at least you saw the humor in the circular "...the response to my response to your response..." and to my backhanded implication that you needed to get the comments moderated more quickly. (See, I can use implied meanings and backhanded comments for humorous effect, too. I also have lots of English blood in me, and so, I have retained at least some of the ability to be quite dry when needed. Of course, that's a cultural stereotype, but that's a different story.)

Anyhow, I hope this day finds you in a good mood.

The reason we are going around in circles here is not because I won't apologise, but because for all your verbosity, logic and irony, you still seem to be unable to read the context of the original link - that it is in a paragraph saying that I think it is wrong for mainstream media to dismiss blogging and Internet media because they don't like the content of niche sites, and use derogatory labels for them. I'm sure the audience at War on Guns are very pleased that you have defended the site's honour so lyrically. And I'm happy that my audience here will think something very different.

Belam, You suck. You are the lame blogger that authorized journalists so often lament.
I wish you a long and uninspired carrer.

Angry gun freak commented on May 29, 2008:

Belam, You suck. You are the lame blogger that authorized journalists so often lament.

I wish you a long and uninspired carrer.

Oh, God. Would that all angry gun freaks, such as David Codrea and myself (in my own small way) were not to be lumped in with the bad speller gun freaks.

"Career", you ignoramus. Not "carrer", whatever word that might be. Spellchecker is your friend!

We now return you to your regulary-scheduled British-blogger-bashing.

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