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.