I’d like to thank Bernard Keane for his thoughtful criticism in Crikey. It provided fresh contrast to the sub-literate and humourless bleats of conspiracists, et. al that I heard last Thursday. Amen.
First, I’m not sure why Keane insists that critics of bloggers see them in pyjamas. I’ve never imagined bloggers in anything but an old pair of brown corduroys and a faded Morrissey t-shirt.
Second, those pesky strawmen. Fair call. Because of economy, laziness or an enlarged assumption of the knowledge of my notional reader, I may rely too heavily on rhetoric. Keane’s dead right to draw attention to this. But I certainly had certain people, tribes and theories in mind while I wrote yesterday’s piece. So allow me to provide them here:
Regarding the sunny optimists, who see a future of bloggers and citizen journalists creating a benevolent web, a few come to mind. Prominent “social media influencer” (please excuse the nauseating title here) Laurel Papworth, aka @silkcharm, is a particularly ebullient champion of this brave, Panglossian vision of our future. For starters, see here.
It was only a few weeks ago that Margaret Simons, head of the Advanced School of Journalism at Melbourne University, gave a thoughtful public lecture on the future of journalism. In her survey of competing ideas and theories about the future, she cited Papworth’s ideas (Simons wasn’t rejecting or endorsing Papworth, merely introducing her ideas). Having worked in government media, I know Papworth’s ideas have spread much further than the lecture halls of Melbourne University.
Similar arguments are advanced in the United States. Take David Cohn, founder of the community-funded journalism website spot.us. A few years back he said something very interesting: “Journalism will survive the death of its institutions”. That line resonates. Cohn, Papworth, et al, appear comfortable that the form of journalism will organically, happily transmute—shaking off the yoke of its traditional institutions and handed back to the people who can then democratically practice journalism with their phones, their laptops, their goodwill. It also speaks to the line in my article about some gleefully anticipating the death of newspapers.
This anticipation comes in different forms. It could be the sunny optimism of Cohn who might view the collapse of newspapers as some kind of Hegelian hiccup, to be historically corrected ultimately by the good intentions of “citizens”. Or the darker suspicions of the anarchist trolls I’m subject to on Twitter, but perhaps this is where straw starts appearing…
As for “Nor does the piece address another key problem faced by the MSM. It’s not just its business model that is under threat, but its credibility and authority.” Absolutely. It’s a vital point, and one I wished I had addressed in more detail yesterday. Here’s my two cents: remember the 2010 election when Labor, to boost their popularity, slavishly devoted themselves to polls? Scepticism of them increased. The very instrument designed to increase their popularity was damaging it. My feeling with newspapers is that if we see more and more cuts in order to preserve the current forms of newspapers, it will perversely damage the goodwill of the reader by diminishing the quality of the masthead. Liquidation versus reinvention is an important area to look at.
I’m not interested in cordoning off areas, or confecting stupid turf wars. It would be a shame if my piece was read as some boorish attack on bloggers. There’s superb independent writing out there, and a good media diet is a balanced one. I both blog and write for a major daily, as I read blogs and major mastheads. It’s asinine to even mention that.
I don’t think I’ve answered all your points, but think I’ve indulged myself long enough. Thanks again for the thoughtful response—it’s an important discussion.