Blogging and Journalism: friends or enemies?

The Fall and Fall of Journalism, a seminar on journalism and blogging at the London School of Economics last night, quickly evolved into a two sided argument contrasting the legitimacy of the former with the activism of the latter. FT Magazine editor John Lloyd ruffled some feathers by suggesting “if blogging is to go mainstream, bloggers will have to sharpen their act up considerably”.In a wider context he noted a shift in newspapers from analysis and news towards entertainment, arguing that information is better provided elsewhere: “Google can provide more information in a few seconds than one can hope to read in a weekend”.

According Lloyd, blogging has paralleled the huge rise in views driven news. He cited the English Independent’s transformation from a news focused paper to one whose tabloid front page comprises a single message designed for maximum polemical impact. Thus he argues that so far, “blogging has been ideologically rather than technologically driven. And in that respect it is of a piece with wider trends”.

Many of blogging’s big public coups in the US (like Rathergate or the Jeff Gannon/James Guckert affair), have arisen out of ideological ire. He argued that although this can perform considerable public good, but it can’t displace journalism.

Good journalism requires a careful sifting of fact, the discipline of verification, and the building of a viable public narrative. Above all, it takes time and resources: something that’s in short supply for most bloggers. He doesn’t see how bloggers can displace the journalist’s function.

Blogger Suw Chaman believes that blogs are more than fact checking agents, and the impression that blogging is an all-amateur business is wrong. The networks, in which most bloggers conduct work, provide a kind of ongoing informal peer review. Indeed the speed at which inaccuracy can be found out in such networks actually intensifies the pressure on the blogger to get it right first time. Serial unreliability usually leads to rapid falls in readership.

However she went on the argue that the either/or premise of the debate overlooked the growing (and largely un-talked-about) symbiotic relationship between mainstream journalists and the blogs they read. She believed there is an opportunity for bloggers and journalists to work together and circumvent the widespread mistrust and misunderstanding amongst the mainstream media.

One member of the audience voiced concern over the provenance of the websites they encounter on the web. In other words, who is behind any given website and how do you know if can you trust them? This seems to go to the heart of the apparent discomfiture of both mainstream media and academia when confronted with what is still a fringe activity. It may also explain the apparent reluctance of some of the other speakers to go into detail in their arguments, or even why they did not offer one at all!

Professor Robin Mansell quoted the latest research from the Oxford Internet Institute which noted that bloggers are a small minority of individuals online. In the UK there are currently only 168,000 bloggers out of an estimated world population of well over 6 million. She also noted that on the whole, these tend to be wealthier and have higher levels of education.

This points to something that went unmentioned in the debate. That news bloggers are ‘early movers’ in the vanguard of an experiment that will in time go mainstream.

I remember local satirist and commentator Newton Emerson remarking on Slugger well over two years ago that perhaps one day, good blogging will be recognised for what it is, good writing. Clearly this is still some way from recognition in the UK.

The challenge is twofold. For bloggers it will mean making the shift from exposé to exposition. It will need to demonstrate an interactive form of reliable journalism, which rises to the challenge of what Lloyd describes as readers’ newfound “vigorous selection of opinion”.

For its part, the mainstream media cannot remain aloof from a medium that speaks directly to their online readerships and possesses the capacity to expand and multiply them. Blogging has accrued a considerable power to disrupt and destroy big media reputations.

The question is will we see the two sides of this argument meet somewhere in the middle and accommodate each other in convergence? Or, as Leslie Bunder, editor of Journalistic.co.uk, argues, will we witness the rise of powerful independent journalist blogging brands as advertising spending disperses and shifts towards the Internet?

PS: There’s also an account from Leslie Bunder, and watch the Big Blog Company where Jackie takes on John Lloyd directly on the question of who can control/contribute to the greater news narrative.