Some poorly-constructed thoughts on blogging and journalism

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have realised that I was invited down to Bristol on Friday night to sit on the secondary panel of an event titled ‘What’s the blogging story?’ which was designed to be a debate on the relationship between bloggers and the media. The debate itself was reasonably interesting, albeit at times the debate seemed too wide and not a great deal was resolved or looked at in depth. This leads me to the collection of thoughts that make up this blog post.

My first thought is that the two terms – ‘bloggers’ and ‘journalists’ – are not fit for purpose and only lead to natural conflict whenever people try to grapple with the difference between the two. In order to remove this barrier we need to accept that all journalists and bloggers are writers and we should attempt to judge them purely in terms of how accomplished they are as writers – the label they write under is irrelevant.

Andrew Marr’s comments are designed to ridicule the kind of person presumed to be a blogger, rather than aiming any criticism of the actual writing that is published on blogs. Likewise, the label of journalist is no more inclusive, given the lofty connotations that the word inspires. Journalists are sometimes little more than copy-and-paste merchants regurgitating press releases or writing copy to accompany banal celebrity stories.

There are good bloggers and rubbish bloggers, just as there are good journalists and rubbish journalists. To try and pit such broad groups against each other is pointless; the only comparison that can be made is on an individual basis and the only criteria should be the quality of the writing.

It seems to me that if we consider someone a ‘blogger’ or ‘journalist’ first and a writer second we set up the debate to fail because the bloggers will always be written-off as socially inadequate ‘amateurs’ or failed journalists; whilst the journalists will either be automatically given the label of talented professional or someone who has no qualities as a writer but is happy to copy and paste MigrationWatch press releases or write several articles a day discussing the increased / decreased weight of celebrities.

My second point is that the quality of writing is always going to be impacted by the integrity of the person or organisation producing it. Good journalism is supposed to be neutral, factual and clear. Yet most journalists work for a newspaper that has a clear agenda, good journalism will not make it into print if it does not suit the editorial expectations of the newspaper.

As I tried to argue when I as given the chance to speak: it is not just a question of accuracy, it is far more important to recognise why an article is not accurate. Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News argued that newspapers produced bad journalism because of time constraints, lack of resources and staff; essentially bad journalism was an accident. I do not find this argument convincing, given that so much of the bad journalism in recent times comes not from journalistic mistakes but are driven instead by the ideology of the editor.

When the Daily Star reports the completely false story that Muslims are getting their own, exclusive toilets and that the taxpayer is picking up the tab it is not the result of journalistic incompetence, but is the product of a newspaper that seeks to whip up hatred against Muslims. Likewise, just before the event on Friday the Daily Mail deliberately took a complaint out of context to imply that an extractor fan was being blocked simply because the smell of bacon had ‘offended’ some Muslims.

This is not misinformation (accidentally giving someone false information or a false impression) but disinformation (purposefully giving someone false information or a false impression). Journalists are only required to gather the information necessary to print a story that supports the media narrative, this has little to do with time constraints or lack of journalistic skills.

I think the main point that was not made on Friday night was that whilst journalists might traditionally be trained to write objectively and to ensure their articles are clear and balanced, this seems to me to be impossible when most media outlets have such clear political bias and a range of distorted media narratives that journalists must adhere to. Whilst the independent blogger might suffer from internal false narratives and bias they at least have more chance to be objective.

That seemed to me to be one of the more interesting discussion points, which perhaps bloggers might want to take further. Who knows, perhaps bloggers might want to put on an event like this without the distraction of ‘proper journalists’?

I will write a separate post addressing Roy Greenslade’s comments on ‘media policing’ because otherwise this blog post will turn into an essay.

You can watch and listen to the full event online here (if you just want to hear the sound of my voice, skip to 54 minutes).

For a proper review / overview of Friday’s event read Jamie Thunder’s article on the EJC website.
Anton Vowl has also blogged about it here.
Roy Greenslade has also mentioned it here.
The Bristol Editor covers it here.

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