How technology won the argument between the Commentariat and the Bloggertariat…

As you can tell from Iain’s account, last night’s Editorial Intelligence (see the vid, if you’re not sure who they are)/Edelman debate in London was something of a ding-dong (Alex thought it was mostly about contending egos). In fact it was a fascinating debate with equal amounts of heat and light. Mark, who got the first question, (podcast here) has a good post up; which grabs some of the big ticket stuff. Some of the questions from the floor, were particularly sharp. Rather than do a report, I’ve laid out the guts of my own argument below the fold:I began by arguing that we bloggers have won, or rather we have won the argument over the ‘irresistible message being carried by the medium’. In the process we have changed the behaviour of commentariat. Many Commentators are rapidly becoming substantial bloggers in their own right: Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard; Clive Crook at the FT; Robert Peston at the BBC; and Dan Hannan at the Telegraph.

And on the other hand, people like Iain Dale and myself write for mainstream papers. It was Google that ripped the revenue from news and cut the amount of money available for big journalism. But bloggers started a party that has proved irresistible to the mainstream. Spread-ability is the new currency, and for that you need both a personal audience and to be ‘pre-connected’ to a larger community.

So what are the main differences? There’s more of us. But, on the whole and pound for pound, they are better writers. Yet, there are many more of us. And wider our networks are a great deal larger than our discrete audiences.

Our sources are not always inside golden circle and are not always the best behaved witnesses. We, the larger of us, tend to be entrepreneurial. And since we are not obliged to fit with someone else’s brand, we are also brand builders.

The ‘Commentariat’ by and large earn a great deal more from their writing. Although Guido says he “couldn’t take the pay cut” of going inhouse to a big media operation, bloggers tend to earn their money in other ways. Iain Dale makes his publishing and other media work. Myself through writing and offering consultancy in strategic counselling and digital mentoring. But there are also Doctors; lawyers, policemen, and any number of men and women in various walks of life, all blogging, and all earning both transient and residual value in the wider conversation.

Bloggers are less bound by the opinion and mores of the metropolitan elites. For instance, Iain Dale and Tim Montgomery and their Tory netroots’ revolution have tapped into a disgruntled feeling that lies way beyond the norms of the metropolitan consensuses’. For the longest time they were the only backers of Project Cameron whilst the Tory leader remained largely unloved (or at least mistrusted by the National press.

Bloggers, counter-intuitively perhaps, are generally more trusted by their audiences. That’s something Iain Dale disagreed with me on; but in this case I think he’s wrong. It’s not because we are more accurate (even at the top of each game, I don’t believe we are) or even reliable (though speaking for myself, I try to be, and I really don’t mind putting my hand up for mistakes).

But it’s because we are perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be outside the power loop. And, on the whole, we converse, and are challengeable. Our readers have the measure of us; much more than the distant and sometimes aloof members of the ‘Commentariat’.

They’re bringing with them a cultural change. Since the range of raw data and opinion available online is vast, readers are becoming their own navigators. We’re moving away from ‘trust me, I’m an expert? (Or I work for the Guardian)… to a ‘show me’ paradigm. That to some degree explains the bluntness of net communication, which often arises simply because Commentators don’t engage directly with their readers (and sometimes it’s because when they do, there is a concerted attempt to wind public figures up and get them to lose their cool).

For a chunk of the debate we got caught up on the erroneous view that bloggers somehow think they are above the law. My own view, (voiced last night) is that anyone who thinks they are is a fool. The more important point though is well made by Chris Applegate on his blog today:

Letting your lawyers, rather than your community managers, be the arbiters of what is considered acceptable behaviour and participation, is just one symptom of this culture; dismissing blogging out of hand or demanding anonymous but lawful bloggers be unmasked.

Afterwards, chatting to an old friend Adriana Lukas who now works almost full time as a consultant and who rarely blogs these days, noted that what’s still missing, despite all the forward movement in UK newspapers’ online offering, is this sense that they must start from the beginning again to earn new capital with their online peers in this hyper-connected world.

In the real world, people want the inside track, and we’re giving it to them sometimes in real time. Our audiences may be smaller, but in aggregate terms, they are also smarter. Smarter, because of who they are: the media and other opinion formers, and, erm, other bloggers who not only read but share their own opinion with the wider world.

Technologies are driving change in the way things are done. So its not a competition as such. But journalism is already “rebooting” (you know, that thing you do when your computers too tired and overwhelmed to start it over again), and the latest news or insight is as likely to come from a Twitterer you don’t know as a tried and tested blogger or mainstream commenter. As Jay Rosen puts it, we are all participants:

“Culling and editing and trying to find to find out what’s going on?

At the heel of the hunt, this is about disruption of traditional distribution channels. “The medium is the message” wrote Marshall McLuhan during the last great technological one, when TV was taking off in the 1950s. This one is bringing pain to traditional trades of all descriptions, journalism being just one amongst many. Bloggers are not required to come up with an alternative to the traditional means of news gathering because it is not, and in most cases never was going to be their day jobs.

That’s not to say that it will not happen. It would be a puzzle to me that given the appetite people online have for politics and I’m thinking of the way we were able, at a moments notice to crowd source incredibly detailed turnout figures from polling stations across Northern Ireland on the day of the election itself, that that willingness could not be put to good (perhaps, non profit making) use.

David Aaronovitch was dead right when he said during the debate that the bloggertariat would look very different in future to the way it looks now. The unmentioned (on the night at least) second clause of that proposition is that the Commentariat will similarly reform itself (not, I hope, disappear) under the relentless economic pressure of technological change.

These and other matters will be the subject of PICamp London when it convenes at Reboot Britain on July 6th… You can follow news of the next PICamp on Twitter at:

Oh, and if you fancy nominating someone in one the categories for the first Comment Awards, go for it! It’s an opportunity to get some strong nominations in there from the Northern Ireland space since they are asking for supporting materials.

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