When it comes to the internet and the disaggregation of knowledge and power, I’m a believer. But, AC Grayling notes, it can also be an obscurantist’s charter:
The downside is the volume of rubbish, the anonymous viciousness and sneering, the ad hominem attacks, the paragraph-long pretensions to authoritativeness, the degrading of debate it freely permits, making it what I’ve before now called the biggest toilet wall in history.
He goes on to note more benignly that:
Well: it takes a lot of compost to grow flowers, so we have to put up with this; and anyway, some things deserve trouncing with the gloves off, even if not everyone can tell the difference between justified and irresponsible versions of that process.
Even the redoubtable Guido is suffering ‘info overload’… Grayling relates this to a weakening of the press in general. Now whether internet interactivity/bloggers caused this weakness to open up, or whether the weakeness has simply lain there unnoticed heretofore is moot point, but he argues that this dimunition of the political power of the papers is, in fact, an opportunity to do better what the media actually does best:
which in addition to reporting are to inform, challenge, explore and debate – to emerge more strongly, for the reason that the cacophonic Babel of voices created by the web makes the need for “expert filters” all the greater – as forums where a degree of responsibility, reliability and accountability places positive constraints on the quality of content.
Yet one can see the promise, and in fact already the presence, of a mutually positive relationship between the media and the blogosphere, chiefly in the latter’s hawkeyed challenge to the former. Columnists and leader writers once pontificated and enjoyed the luxury of hearing no raspberries blowing back; individuals who disagreed might write a letter to the newspaper or the individual journalist, a practically silent protest with little effect.
Now the entire world can know what responses a piece of journalism has evoked, and when it has got things wrong or been egregious in view or stupidity, it can be publicly castigated. This drastically diminishes the standing of the press, but can and should have the effect of making it ever more careful. And that enhances its function, described above, of serving as a more reliable, better informed, clearer voice than most in the overall tumult of noise.
Indeed. We’re hoping to lauch a number of initiatives this year, which are in effects to build upon that insight. Watch this space!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty