Monday, June 13, 2011

Journos in Jarmies

 Over at Club Troppo, Don Arthur has run a  post titled 'The Blogosphere's Delusions of Grandeur',  regurgitating the now ritual meme that pits the apocryphal self-aggrandising blogger in pyjamas (usually venting about the meeja) against the hard-working professional investigative journalist risking everything for his readers.

Using as an example of the latter a Fairfax inquiry into Securency, the RBA subsidiary caught laundering bribe money through the Seychelles, Don argues for the value of old-fashioned hard-digging journalism and takes a swipe at those who (apparently) are saying that amateur blogging can replace this craftsmanship:
"There’s some great stuff on Australian blogs, but it’s hardly a replacement for the work of professional journalists. Writing in your pajamas after work might keep you out of reach of the truth-throttling tentacles of teh evil Rupert Murdoch, but it doesn’t leave much time to phone your sources, search public records or crunch numbers."
Well quite, Don. But just who is saying that blogging is intended to replace professional investigative journalism? And who says it is 'either/or'? Can't we have both? One would have thought we had got past this tired "pro" versus "am" debate and got to discussing what makes good journalism irrespective of how the writer is employed. The truth is journalism is changing for good and for THE good, regardless of what some diehards in the mainstream old media might hope.

The change does not pit the amateur against the professional. It pits those writers for whom "the audience" or online community is a source of collaboration in authorship versus those who prefer a passive, unseen and largely unheard audience at the end of a chain.  But it clearly suits some elements in the mainstream media to turn this into an us-versus-them debate, as US journalism professor Jay Rosen picked up in an editorial from The Townsville Bulletin (part of the News Ltd empire, of course):
"The great thing about newspapers is that, love us or hate us, we're the voice of the people. We represent the community, their views, their aspirations and their hopes. We champion North Queensland's wins and we commiserate during our losses. Bloggers, on the other hand, represent nothing. They whinge, carp and whine about our role in society, and yet they contribute nothing to it, other than satisfying their juvenile egos."
This gets to the heart of the insecurity in mainstream media about the influence of bloggers - that these supposedly perpetually pyjama-clad obsessives are out to replace the media. I'm not aware of anyone who seriously thinks that's the case. In fact the reason blogs like this exist is to point to the often large gap between the  principles of public-spirited journalism and how it is currently practised. Ultimately it is about supporting and championing good journalism and calling out bad journalism, regardless of where it appears or whether it is of the professional or amateur variety. The notion that it's either-or is a false dichotomy put out there by an often insecure mainstream media perceiving a threat to its existence, as Jay Rosen says:
"Blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people. Journalists know that, but somehow the American (or Australian) people don’t. Replacement-by-bloggers talk is displaced anger toward a public that doesn’t appreciate what journalists do, a public that would somehow permit the press to wither away without asking what would be lost. "
In a second post on the subject at Club Troppo, Don reframes his question. Putting aside his original proposition that bloggers are presuming to replace investigative journalism (which no-one is actually saying as far as I am aware), he asks whose opinion writing is better - bloggers or journalists. I'm not sure that makes much sense or advances the cause much either. There are clearly good and bad in both. And like much discussion on this issue it gets unnecessarily hung up on delivery mechanisms and skirts around the more interesting and more fruitful questions - Like what IS the future of 'news' as a business? What is the role of journalists in a digital and interactive age where anyone can break news?  Is there still a role for an intermediary whose role is to decide what's news and frame it according to their commercial imperatives? How can expert bloggers complement the more general news and analysis of MSM journalists? How might the future look if bloggers and professional journalists collaborated, both with each other and with their audiences?  How might accelerated and universally available broadband change the landscape for journalists? If the MSM business model is broken and distribution is free, why tether yourself to a News Corp or Fairfax?

The reason we are having these debates is because, on the one hand, standards in the mainstream media are in rapid decline as struggling media companies, their business model broken, embark on a race to the bottom; while on the other, amateur bloggers - like Possum Pollytics or Matt Cowgill or Grog's Gamut - are doing serious and publicly useful  journalism on their blogs that shame 90 per cent of the output of supposedly professional journalism in the mainstream media. These are pieces that provide context, that refuse to accept the pre-ordained narrative as gospel and which use facts as their premise, not lazy spin spoon-fed to them by former journalists turned media relations operatives. In any case, true investigative journalism in the mainstream media is noticeable mainly for its relative absence.

So instead of starting the discussion from the point of which is best - blogging or journalism - the question needs to be asked how can we deliver good journalism in whatever medium and how we might fund it.


  1. On you mate, beautiful. Will savour and enjoy, when I come back for another read in another hour or two, I always recognise small essays like this for value, through the sense or not of the" come back for a second read" pull. It's like a good roast dinner, savour, enjoy slowly, put it back in the oven for a bit then come back enjoy some more..
    Paul W.

  2. Journos have the time, resources and access to report and investigate in a way that a blogger cannot. I always think back to @Grogsgamut jokingly complaining that they didn't let bloggers into the budget lock-up.

    Journos will sometimes take sides (say, when investigating a corrupt politician) but for me a journo has no business venting their opinion or pushing a barrow except on the opinion page of their publication.

    Journalism in Australia would be vastly improved if certain members could remember that.

    Bloggers, on the other hand, do very little (if any) reporting. What they can and should do is analyze, comment, dissect and discuss.

    Journalism and blogging are different, and provide a different forum fr communication, will plusses and minuses attached to each.

  3. Bloggers do whatever we like. We are their own publishers and editors. There seems to be a very limited view, by some, of what reporting/journalism covers.

    I suggest that they spend an hour or two digging around in Global Voices to expand their horizon.

  4. Excellent article.

    However I think quality bloggers have demonstrated that 95% of the media could be replaced by amateurs simply using information that is available freely on the internet.

  5. A very interesting article making a very valid point or two. However, the author does seem to suggest three categories of newshounds.

    Professional Journos

    Professional Bloggers

    Amateur Bloggers

    A great photographer once told me "I don't mind being called an amateur, but I'd be horrorfied if my work was regarded as amateurish".

  6. Given a usual lack of commercial constraints, I'd wish blogger-journalists would be able to break away from the article factories that professional journalists need to be.

    Instead of constantly moving on, I'd love to see a blogger create definitive resources on certain topics by editing a wiki rather than by writing more articles, guided in their edits not only by ongoing research and thinking, but by reader comments, as well as by making it possible for readers to edit a rebuttal text that's displayed alongside their article texts.

    Here's one way this could work.

  7. Your argument, that "no blogger thinks blogging will replace professional investigative journalism" is not borne out by actual blogs, which rarely show respect or give kudos to professional journalists. Instead the majority piggyback on their hard work only to nitpick and carp on their (perceived) shortcomings.

  8. This blog is one of the finest examples of what a blog can do. Love this talk about all the big stories journalists break. Yeah? When? How often? Watergate was a long time ago, and an aberration. All major newspapers have disbanded their so-called investigative journalism units and, as Wendy Bacon's students at UTS showed last year, the bulk of reporters are too lazy to do anything other than run some press release or PR spin. For me, the biggest story on politics in the past 12 months has been the declared intention of the media group that controls 70% of Australian metrop newspapers to remove the elected government of Australia. Yet it is never reported as such, infuriatingly, on Howard's ABC or puzzlingly, by the Fairfax papers. Instead of reporting "News Ltd continued its campaign against the Gillard government today ..." which would be accurate, whatever appears in these papers is treated as if it isn't coming from a tainted source. Similarly with its treatment of the Greens. News Ltd pilloried Cate Blanchett for having a public position in favour of a carbon tax, but don't expect any front-page assault on the boss's mother for taking the same stance. In fact, don't expect to read anything negative about a particular very rich and influential family in those newspapers. This in itself disqualifies them from being taken seriously ... don't forget, Der Sturm was a beautifully produced, best-selling newspaper, staffed by some of Germany's finest journalists. Shame they didn't notice those cattle trucks on their way to Poland ... Journalism failed the Germans in the 1930s and it's failing us now ... Pravda also had a crack staff of journalists, none of whom noticed the gulags ... journalism failed Russia too ... in fact, if we're relying in the raddled fourth estate we've got _ which apparently has constituents now, not readers _ to be a watchdog for democracy, we're doomed ...

  9. "In any case, true investigative journalism in the mainstream media is noticeable mainly for its relative absence."

    In federal politics - or, more accurately - Canberra coverage, sure.

    But in case you hadn't noticed, most journalists aren't in Canberra.

    That's because it's a backwater, not a prestige gig as, apparently, some outside the business still seem to think it is.

    Why is it a backwater? Because it's all handouts and chasing set pieces, hoping for a few crumbs to fall off the table of the big-name correspondents.

    If you're looking for scoops coming out of Canberra you are (with some noble exceptions) looking in the wrong place.

  10. I love that next to this thread in which the phrase "professional journalist" is bandied about there's an extract from a Salon story in the Media News Elsewhere column that starts 'We don't know how it's going to end for the Times, for "old media," for the so-called profession of journalism (a recent and amorphous invention)...'

    The distinction between "professional journalists" and others is illusory. There is nothing learnt about reporting (i.e. saying what happened) in journalism school that normal people don't already know (though I suppose they might teach journalism-specific skills like Burying the Lede and Internalising Your Media Magnate's Values) and being employed by a giant corporation, whether or not it's advertiser funded, doesn't make you professional in even the weak sense, and certainly not in the sense that doctors, lawyers, master builders, architects &c are professions, which is the sense people using the description sometimes seem to be trying to imply. Neither should journos be professional in the "medical profession" sense - it should not be some closed shop. Thomas Paine didn't have a diploma in Communications from Bathurst Tech, and neither did Benjamin Franklin or Jean-Paul Marat. They wrote their stuff and published it and that's what made them journalists, for better or worse.

    It's interesting to me that the concept of "professional journalist" has grown paradigmatic at the same time as the media business model of selling audiences to advertisers became standard. A more cynical chap might regard this bleating about "professionals" as a smokescreen to obscure how much business priorities have stuffed journalistic professionalism, in the more widespread but misleading sense of "doing a good job".

  11. Another great post. Effective synthesis of the issues & effective exposure of the stupidity of some persistent mainstream commentary on blogging.

  12. Professional sport doesn't feel threatened by amateur sport - it uses it as a feeder.

    Maybe the 'professional' media (whoever they are) need to consider a similar strategy...

  13. It might help if the so-called professionals were actually being journalists. Anyone can plagiarise a press release which seems to be what most 'journalists' are doing these days (apart from overloading on opinion which has even less intrinsic worth).

    In any field you care to think of blogs exist which are written by people with more subject-area expertise than a general reporter could ever hope to achieve. They are rightly replacing the general media in these fields - which doesn't leave much left to pick over.

    Also, this whole nonsense that papers are somehow representing the people is so laughable it's simply offensive. Papers aren't even really about making money.

    They are only about egos and wielding power (which is why murdoch wont ever lock the australian newspaper behind a solid pay-wall).