Bloggers v Journalists redux

Mick was speaking at a lively event organised by Westminster Skeptics in the Pub last night, and I tagged along. Dave Cole has given a good detailed account of it here. The question was supposed to be ‘What difference does political blogs really make?’ but because everyone was there for a boozy night rather than a seminar, and because Nick Cohen (surely the most argumentative man in London) was the ringmaster, it rapidly turned into an opposition between diligent paid-for journalism and irresponsible narcissistic blogging. Whatever else, it was an entertaining night.

For me, the bloggers v journalists question is about as relevant as the one about ‘who would win a fight between a tiger and a shark?’ But there’s a couple of assertions that I’d make that I think could cast the whole question in a different light:

Newspapers often have really good articles by knowledgeable writers who are writing for their audience and not themselves. They have to write to a readable length, check their facts, make issues understandable and keep up their reputation for fair dealing. As long as you monitor a few relevant titles, you can keep yourself informed and challenged on most of the issues you need to know about in order to be a good citizen who votes and gets involved in public life.

Some of you are more sceptical than others about how good newspaper journalism is, but I suspect most people would agree with that – up to a point?

Now here’s my second assertion:
Though newspapers cover big issues reasonably well, on almost every subject that they cover (and plenty that they don’t) there is – somewhere – likely to be a better article written by a blogger than anything you can find in a newspaper. The problem is simply how you find it.

There’s not a perfect solution the the question of finding everything that is worth reading. But personally, I find that Google Reader really helps.

We’re thinking of embedding a Google Reader feed in the new site when it goes live shortly. You can already follow Mick (just search for Mick Fealty once you’ve registered and let us know your address in the comments field below so Mick can follow you back). If we can build up a healthy tree of people who are following each other and ‘sharing’ everything any good stuff that they find, we should be able to really improve the recommended links that the site is making and bring Slugger’s readers a better overview of what the blogs and the mainstream media are saying elsewhere.

Also, a quick tip: If you already use Google Reader, and you have a iPhone, the Mobile RSS app makes it really easy to read and share what you read.

Update: Here’s a good post by Mark Reckons.

  • A good job that the question didn’t remain as: ‘What difference does political blogs really make?’

    After all some sub editors might have had a coronary upon reading the singular verb and the plural subject used in such a way!

    If it were an Irish language meeting and such an error occurred, there would have been a riot as the Red Biro Brigade would have insisted on summary trial and execution of the offending party.

    Sounds like an entertaining evening, all the same…..

  • Turgon

    Yes but most importantly who would win in a fight between a tiger and a shark? Also a killer whale would obviously beat either of them: unless it was on land; but it would be clever enough not to be there in the first place.

  • Gael gan Náire

    “but it would be clever enough not to be there in the first place.”

    Surely they were clever enough to leave land in the first place?

  • joeCanuck

    But tigers go to sea. If you haven’t already, have a read of the Life of Pi.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Maybe they were Tiger Sharks.

  • “what difference does political blogging really make”

    The answer is in those who asked the question for what they really mean is what difference will blogging make to the MSM. (thus how can they make money out of it) Given that all of the speakers have their snouts firmly in the MSM trough, we can hardly look to them for advice, if we add three if not four of them supported ‘the war’ you get an idea of the lack of back bone you had there.

    It is blatantly obvious that blogging makes a difference to those of us that blog, as it gives us an outlet which did not exist before. The best bloggers, whatever their subject do not give a shit about the MSM, we may read it, steal from it, whatever. What we certainly do not do is respect it, as when push comes to shove, like the speakers at this event, the media always sides with the State.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    Five hundred odd years ago, the Church had a monopoly on “books”….the pre-printed word. Someone invents the Printing Press and all Hell in a manner of speaking breaks loose. Reformation, Revolution, Enlightenment, Education, Democracy……whatever.
    The World Changed.
    And thats how its been……a new monopoly of “Journalists” still in chapels and revelling in the quasi spiritual delusion of “chapels” and “fathers of chapels”.
    Secure and Smug.
    The problem with Journos is that they all think they are Bernstein and Woodward……in best “hold the front page” tradition. The reality is that most British and Irish “journalists” are actually doorsteppers and stringers.
    On Sunday Tescos newstand featured a story that Orlaith from Big Brother had bedded John Terry……the Irish dimension so to speak.
    Yesterday the same newstand was telling me that “I Didnt Bed John Terry says BB Orlaith”.

    Now run that by me again. How did that happen.
    Lets be hypothetical.
    A famous……oh soap star……has a reputation so tarnished that he dare not sue on the most unlikely story because too much would come to light in court. Journalists get onto an agent of a celebrity reality show person who needs another 15 minutes badly….say a blonde from Wife Swap….and the story is concocted that the Soapstar bedded the Wife Swap person.
    Next day as part of the quid quo quo….the Wife Swap blonde gets a very welcome front page spread in a tabloid where for say £20K she gets to deny bedding the soapstar.

    Thats REAL Journalism. Well as much as Bernard Falk spending three days in jail in Crumlin Road in the 1970s and as much as any of our local jounos NOT doing any jail time in the 21st century.

    Enter the Internet. We all..we kid ourselves….”journalists”. And the journos kid themselves “oh no you arent”.
    The Citizen Journalist…..actually emboldened by the “real media”. David Dimbleby on Question Time unconvincingly tells us that we can keep up with the debate on “Twitter”.
    “Text your comments” oh sheesh gimme a break. If I wanted to read comments from a bunch of losers like myself then I would text a comment myself (if I was young enuff to know how to text).
    In the 15th century the Church bemoaned the loss of monopoly…standards dropped…..English and German replaced Latin
    In the 21st century Journalists agonise that they are losing control. The new Fathers of Chapels bemoan that there is a fall in standards (no fact checking on blogs etc……partisan commentary) and of course a fall in standards.
    Er dont mention John Terry or Orlaith.
    Bad spelling. Bad syntax. Text speak.
    Yes I AM aware that “enough” is not spelt “enuff”.

    So the Journalists seek to limit the power of blogging……by er Blogging.
    A line in the sand.
    But consider this…some blogs are mindless drivel.
    Half baked ramblings of an immature mind…..but enough about me.
    A look around “Slugger” shows that many bloggers here are actually very very good. They know their subject and frankly some run rings around the professional journalists. I am inclined to think that Slugger is more about “bloggers v journalists” than rival political partisans slugging (so to speak) with each other while the professional journalists rise above it.

    Consider also the quality of NEW JOURNALISTS. Yes REAL journalists. Last month about a dozen wannabes handed over their portfolios in the Metroploitan Campus at Millfield.
    I am led to believe that previous years the standard of student has been appalling. That occasional “general knowledge” tests reveal a truly awful grasp of current affairs, politics etc.
    Sluggerites would do much better.
    Ironically this course is part funded by the print media here.
    In an economic downturn? Yes
    And how many of these budding journos will actually get a newspaper job.
    Or a job in journalism?
    Hardly any.

    Meanwhile the intake for September 2010 is already being interviewed.
    If the printing press changed the world, the internet will change it as much and more. Notions of Journalism, Freedom, Democracy, Accountability are radically changed.

  • Here’s a list of blogs that I think regularly carry good quality posts with an interesting perspective that isn’t found in the MSM. I’m not listing them for any other reason than *I* like them and I think they add something that we didn’t have beforehand, but I suspect a lot of the readers here could come up with a similar list of their own:

    http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/
    http://ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere.com/
    http://randomreality.blogware.com/blog
    http://davidosler.com/
    http://labourandcapital.blogspot.com/
    http://freethinkingeconomist.com/
    http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/
    http://fatmanonakeyboard.blogspot.com/
    http://www.bobpiper.co.uk/
    http://viva-freemania.blogspot.com/

    I’ve picked this lot because they’re mostly English based (only because Irish blogs get linked to here a lot and for me to do it would be to point to sites that this one points to a lot) and because most of them are leftie-ish – I’m sure someone with a different perspective to me would have a list of sites that reflect their views that are of comparable quality.

  • “So the Journalists seek to limit the power of blogging……by er Blogging.”

    Fitzjameshorse,

    For some reason you have really irritated me since you have been posting here, nothing wrong with that, as it does an old fart like me good to have his chain pulled. having said that your comment above is about the best I have read anywhere about the MSM/Blogging kerfuffle, a real peach, thanks.

    Paul Evans
    What mainly separates a blog from what is in reality nothing more than a powder puff for a politico or MSM journo, is the latter use their own name for their ‘so called blog’. Seeing it as little more than another weapon on their career path. For these folk name recognition is all.

  • I dunno Mick. For a lefty, you seem to be a bit light on materialism here.

    People want to get on in life and they want to do what they’re interested in. I understand the charge of ‘careerism’ in bureaucratic circles, but I can’t see that there’s anything wrong with people trying to consistently come up with something that other people want to read in order to establish that there’s some value in what they have to say.

    The same goes for politicians. We all have politicians that we rate more than others – they got where they got to my establishing name recognition in one way or the other.

  • “but I can’t see that there’s anything wrong with people trying to consistently come up with something that other people want to read in order to establish that there’s some value in what they have to say.”

    Paul

    I never said there was anything wrong with people who want to ‘get on in life’ whatever that may mean, the only objection I have is if they wish to stand on other peoples shoulders to get ‘on’ 😉

    I just do not believe that is the main reason people blog. A well know blogger used to have an old trick in which he used to tell bloggers he thought they should have been given a column, I am not critiquing him, simply pointing out he new what motivated many bloggers whom he came into contact with.

    I am not making a charge of careerism like some old stalinist bureaucrat might have done to worry the competition, simply pointing out a fact.

    Your absolutely right about modern politicians and name recognition, you prove my point for me, in return I would ask you in whose interest does such a politician serve, I would suggest their own.

    Surely one of the main reason we are where we are economically is because of what you call name recognition, better if a politician stands for something, beyond his own image and the advancement of his own career etc.

    Bush, Blair; and now Cameron; who slugger cheer leads, are so typical of such people, tell me this, would the world be a better place if the first two had never held high office.

    I would suggest so, yet you and Mick put image before all else. I tell you bluntly if Cameron is elected we will all come to regret it. He is a hollow shell politically, I believe it would.

    I notice you have failed to answer my main charge which is people who have web sits under their own names are not bloggers but simply using the WWW as a means to advertise their wares. Again nothing wrong with that, but it is hardly blogging. Or is it?

    By the way, this is not about my left wing politics but about your own and Mick’s empty vessel MSM politics.

    You may be wondering why I posted the above quote, I will tell you, [we are talking about political blogging here] It is not what people say or even who they are which is the most important, it is what they do.

    You might think this is self evident, but we live in a world today when what people say and who they are has become more important than what they actually do. I oppose this, others bolster it.

    I wish you well Paul.

  • Mick,

    A blog is a content management system – that’s all. It allows people to do what they used to do if they had access to a printer. Because it’s cheaper, more of us ‘print’. ‘Blogging’ is using a weblog application to publish. That’s all. You seem to have an arcane definition of the word that you imagine to be universal.

    You say “…I would ask you in whose interest does such a politician serve, I would suggest their own.”

    That to me sounds more like the ‘methodological individualism’ of the political right rather than anything that is consistent with ‘optimism of the will’.

    “I would suggest so, yet you and Mick put image before all else….”

    An ounce of evidence for this can be found …. where?

    “your own and Mick’s empty vessel MSM politics”

    Can’t speak for Mick here, but go to google and search my blog for the word kremlinology (this link will do it http://tinyurl.com/ykocexz ) and see what I think about the relevance of court politics.

    “Bush, Blair; and now Cameron; who slugger cheer leads…”

    Seeing as you’re chucking insults around now, here’s mine: No it doesn’t you twat. As far as I can see, it’s a pluralist political blog that encompasses lots of different perspectives.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I would not have thought that accusing someone of “cheerleading for Cameron” was an insult……but a considered opinion which might be right or wrong.
    On the other hand the second “insult” appears to be rather juvenile and offensive potty mouthing.

    Not big. Not clever.

  • “I would not have thought that accusing someone of “cheerleading for Cameron” was an insult…”
    Lie …. insult … take your pick.

    “…your own and Mick’s empty vessel MSM politics”
    That is just an insult really, innit?

  • Henry94

    Thanks for the list Paul but I have to say that I almost dread finding new and good blogs now. There is only so much time in the day and one simply can’t read everything.

    An advantage of newspapers used to be that they found the good writers and presented them to us. Much like the record companies did for music. In both cases there was the strong suspicion that good people were being excluded because they were too radical or something.

    Well, now we know. A lot of very average people didn’t make it. Now they blog or put their music online. That’s great of course but it’s no substitute for the papers.

  • Mick / FitzjamesHorse

    Apologies for the use of the T-word. I thought it would come across as flippant but reading it back, the intended ironic tone doesn’t translate into print and it’s a bit vulgar instead.

  • Paul

    Apology accepted, my claim about your own and Mick’s empty vessel MSM politics was not as an insult but a provocation to get you to respond.

    However your attempt at class arrogance, if that is what it was worries me. (That is just an insult really, innit?) Or perhaps it is just the chip which has been bearing down on my left shoulder?

    Do you really believe a blog is nothing more than a content management system? If so why try to differentiate between a web page that has a blog on it, and say the front page of the Guardian/whatever. According to your analysis both will be blogs or vessels for content management.

    You wrote on your blog, “There’s an entire profession that draws a salary because they claim to hold those who abuse their power to account.”

    This is a clear example of the point I made about the importance of what people do not what they say. I can only think of only one or two columnist’s who fall into the aforementioned category. Only a tiny, tiny, number of the gliterati columnists write from an anti state position, when push comes to shove they always, and I mean always, line up behind the governments of the day.

    To fail to understand this is to misunderstand how the MSM works, I will give you a recent example, the Ali Dizaei conviction. One would have expected it to generate at least a few column inches from anyone who sees it as their job to hold those who abuse power to account.

    The Guardian was so short of a columnist it had to ship old Herman in to regurgitate one of his old articles about the Met.

    I stand by my charge that Slugger like the MSM has become a cheer leader for Cameron, whilst it correctly post critical blogs of Brown, and other political leaders, unless I have missed them I am yet to read anyone at slugger holding Cameron to account, in spite of late there being plenty of Tory gaffs for Slugger to get its teeth into.

    In many ways the same goes for Peter Robinson and his mockney six week vacation. For christ sake even the SDLP has got off its arse over the shit which is undoubtedly in this nasty little crooks cupboard.

    If you fail to attempt to hold to account the first minister and a possible future PM, what is the difference between slugger and those columnists you rightly condemned on your blog.

    Finally I would say this as it worried me over night, you would be wrong to believe I implied there was something wrong with an individual like yourself, who tries consistently to come up with something that other people want to read in order to establish that there’s some value in what they have to say.

    Just to be clear I admire people who work towards achieving this. The problem is no writer imo can achieve this on a daily bases, it is asking to much, in the MSM I can think of only one UK columnist who rises to such heights more than once a week.

    Thus for political blogging to succeed, blogs will have to be consolidated, say with seven bloggers providing a column on a different day/whatever. The problem is ego plays such a large part in blogging few wish to give up their own independence.

    The most glaring omission which has restricted even the best of blogs is a lack of sub editor, there are plenty of people who have interesting things to say, but without a good sub, many of them are denied that right.

    Of course it is no accident the first thing of importance MSM journalist/columnist claim about blogging is not content, but fine writing. Never mind the majority of them have been carried for years by the sub who edits their work.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Evans…I thank you for your apology. That IS big of you.
    But I think curiously that you made the point I was trying to make in message #7.
    I made the point that the monasteries with hand written books agonised about Latin becoming French, English German etc in printed form.
    The lowering of standards…a vernacular …..street language……new spellings etc.

    This is of course a classic “blog” or internet thing. I am I expect decades older than you and without wishing to appear patronising ( I say this as much as a commentary on my own squeamishness about certain words), this T word is not one I would have heard on TV say 10 years ago. Now of course common place.
    Old fogies like me might say “standards” Others might say Reality.
    Equally valid views.
    I make the point as someone who heard Kenneth Tynan say THAT word.
    But I suspect that the words that I now use and would not have dreamed of saying in 1998 is perhaps related to their appearnace on Internet.