Sir Harold and Sir Arthur on Citizen Journalism and Blogging

A couple of extracts from Outlook's Tenth Anniversary Issue
Do you think the rise of ‘Citizen Journalism’, with blogging being one element of it, represents a diminishing trust in the established media? How can news organisations go about building credibility in the eyes of readers, viewers and listeners?

Established media has lost some trust, no doubt, but I think the rise of blogging is more to do with the appetite for telling the world where to get off. Very healthy. Most of it is opinion/argument, which is fine, but there is no central organising intelligence to sustain the heart of journalism which is reporting. (And sometimes that reporting is too difficult, too urgent, to leave to one reporter). Indeed, a significant proportion of cyberspace perpetuates myth and falsehood. The absurd lie that Jews blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11 began life on the web and got endlessly recycled by the credulous, the ignorant and the malevolent. One of the tasks I would submit to mainstream media is the regular detection and exposure of cyber propaganda.
From an interview with Sir Harold Evans, Former Editor, the Sunday Times, London, Former Editor-in-Chief, Atlantic Monthly Press, President and Publisher, Random House, Author, of Good Times, Bad Times, voted the Editor of the Century in 2002.
Blogs, wikis and citizen journalism are all signs of things to come.

This has far-reaching implications. For one thing, it allows far higher levels of interactivity and audience engagement than has been possible in newspapers, radio or television. Even more importantly, the web provides a platform for small-time companies, organisations and single individuals to disseminate ideas, analyses and viewpoints to a potentially global audience. And it can be done at a fraction of the cost of launching mainstream media outlets. While the web is not yet a level playing field and has its own limitations, it has already triggered the end of absolute power enjoyed by press barons and gatekeeper editors.

Nowhere is this breach more apparent than in the remarkably swift rise of bloggers. Their publishing of online diaries has shown how passionate individuals can command attention and influence way beyond their professional or social circles. John Naughton, a noted British chronicler of the new media, says the web has again demonstrated its capacity to unleash disruptive innovation on a complacent establishment. As he wrote in 2003, "The response of the ‘professional’ media to this explosion has been interesting. First there was patronising incredulity that people would write without being paid for it. Then there was disdain. ‘Where’, asked the hacks, ‘was the quality control?’ Surely the whole thing was just an epidemic of vanity publishing. Then there was unease, fuelled by the realisation that (a) large numbers of bloggers were talking to one another behind the media’s back, as it were, and (b) some of them knew more about many subjects than most journalists. Badly researched or ideologically skewed reporting was being instantly skewered by bloggers...."

Naughton has documented many instances where poor journalism about highly technical or complicated issues was exposed by bloggers. The Columbia space shuttle disaster was one, where half-baked journalistic theories were effortlessly demolished by bloggers with serious aerospace expertise.

The blogging community has refused to accept the news ‘agenda’ as determined by the mainstream media. As Naughton says, "This has been increasingly evident since 9/11 as the established US media have dumbed down their discussion of the issues surrounding security, civil liberties and Bush’s policy towards Iraq.It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that (with a few honourable exceptions) most of the serious discussion of these issues in the US at the moment is happening in weblogs and not in the ‘official’ mass media."

It’s too soon to tell how much and how far bloggers could act as a countervailing force for the lapses and excesses in the mainstream media not just in the US, but across the world. We can only hope that the bloggers will push the mainstream to embrace long overdue reforms to become more transparent and accountable—the very virtues that editorialists constantly preach to the world’s governments and corporations.
From Arise, Citizen Journalist!, by Sir Arthur C Clarke, SciFi legend, the man who predicted geostationary satellites in one of his stories, and inspired Tim Berners-Lee to invent the World Wide Web with another.

Pete Who???

So it's happened.

The man with the nose, one of the boys who slept under the flag, Pete Townsend himself-- he blogs. Here, in fact.

My first reaction was a jaw-dropped "eek!". The second reaction was to ask myself, Christ why??

My third reaction was to ask myself why I asked, at all. I realized its because part of me wondered why a famous, balding ex-rockstar would want to be part of the blogosphere. No more just ordinary people typing their weekend laundry plans. A paradigm shift, to boot!

But this made me curiouser and curiouser, because to claim there is a paradigm shift, one must assume there is a working paradigm in place.

Sure, blogs began with the unnamed mole people-- those whose names were only remembered by their mothers and their social security file. Those who communicated in C++ about gene therapy, a sovereign Iraqi state, hybrid SUV's and broadband: all things we thought would never happen.

But now-- Now everybody and their aunt blogs. Fathers recount nostalgic horror stories of initiation at hostel. 15 year olds enthusiastically type their Counter Strike captain's log. Mother's put up recipes. Goths in pink underwear describe the latest OD trip. Educators blog lesson plans. Principals post their after-hour fantasies, under sparkling nom de plumes-- things like DaRk $oR©ÉRer and Fallen_Angel.


And yes, there are even those old-school fogeys who honestly believe that their ideas, reflections, reactions, lyric choices [yes, we all love Led Zeppelin] and other such paltry scribblage are read-worthy, ergo blog worthy. Yes, I am one of them. The mob. The crowd. The mass.

A gentle mass, with some underlying system intricately woven: A & B will visit C's blog every wednesday. C returns the favour. Word verification jokes are exchanged [wtfru?? Really?? Tee hee] and then A,B & C will visit D's blog. D being something of a Blogga Daddy, F,G,H,I and P have already made it over. The alphabets in the middle haven't made it over yet, as they are all part of a group blog that's busy covering something important:
relief measures in Sudan, or the next American Idol.

Yes there are millions and gazillions and frupter-bupter-zadrillion blogs out there.
A blogger's born every 2 seconds.

But the one underlying feature of this entire burgeoning ant-hill has been the paring down of the blogger's identity to-- No, not anonymity. Unless self-chosen. Not anonymity, but a certain equality: parole officer and convict, judge and pimp, unheard priest and unpublished poet, we are all together subject to this system of online writing, this responding to comments. We are all bloggers. Together.

Enter rockstar bloggers. Royalty, Nobel Laureates, the Pope and Noam Chomsky. Larger than life already, in the blogosphere they are Gods. We tremble. We ring up their comments counter to 341 per post. And that's just the little leaguers, the station chai-wallahs.

The all stars, the cricket commentators, the Divine Cow Syndicate (DCS)-- we bow. We do not lift our eyes. And we cannot begin to scroll down the comments section. Our puny mortal pentiums pass out with the strain of it.

But why this need for thumbprintless one-with-the-worldness? Why blog, when you have the limo and the website and the book and the jet and the E! news interview waiting?

With all these thoughts buzzing through my brain, thus-- I consulted d.i about the matter. Threw it at his head, in fact, considering it was his ill-starred luck to be online at the precise moment I came across Townsend's blog.

Now, back story: I must explain that d.i is an ebullient Yoda, one who is perfect suited company for the above discussion. Balanced calmly between MSN and labelling post-production dvds, he stated the following [paraphrased below]:

1. Rockstars are people too.

2. Blogging is the celebration of individuality and the freedom of making that individuality apparent to the world.

[Ok so the ending on the last line was an embellishment. Mea Culpa.]

And he has a point. The core truth of the blogging paradigm is that there is no paradigm. There is no system of entry or exit: one either chooses to blog or doesn't. There is no hierarchy. Really. There are popular blogs, like there are only 2 favourite ways the world over to order your coffee.

All is Om. Prince William should start up a blog-- tales from the polo field, and rants against the paparazzi. Oh, and Pete aint the only one out there: the celebs are doing it for themselves. Moby, for one. Dave Barry for another.

Okay OKAY alright, so Pete is waaaaaayy cooler. Geez.

For the record: He blogs the chapters of the book he's working on. At least it aint a memoir. Here's chapter one. And he's making it all available for free.

Go, Pete. You'll always be my pinball wizard.


pj, 18 Oct 2005. Originally posted here.
Independent, Individual, Indian.

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