political blogger by The Australian newspaper in 2010 served in retrospect as the moment when blogging in Australia gained something of a critical mass.
Until then, the nation's mainstream media had treated blogs as background noise, at best, unrelated to the real business of journalism and political commentary. But when News Ltd's James Massola revealed "Grog's" true identity as a Canberra public servant Greg Jericho, it was clear something had changed.
The unmasking episode is the centrepiece of Jericho's new book 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate - Social Media and Blogging in Australian Politics', a useful modern history of the growing clout and influence of blogging in a rapidly changing media landscape.
It's not a comprehensive analysis of the craft of blogging, if it can be ennobled with such an epithet, but then it's not really supposed to be. This is a very personal account of what is undoubtedly a small world - the interaction between the Australian blogosphere and social media in the context of the overall coverage of domestic policies.
A specific theme is the defensive attitude of some in the media (particularly the tribal and self-glorifying hacks of The Australian) to the rise of the enthusiastic amateur, exemplified here by the irrational and unfocused attack by Massola and his editor Geoff Elliott in unmasking Grog.
"The odd thing about The Australian's response was the changes of tack it took over the course of a week," Jericho writes. "On Monday, it was the partisan writing on my blog that needed to be unmasked; on Tuesday, however....(they) loved my blog and wanted nothing other than for me to keep writing it! By the end of the week, it was being suggested that I were in America I would have had my own talkshow by now."The book also includes a couple of chapters looking at the growth of Twitter as a conversational and newsbreaking tool that brings a new informality and collectivity to political news, with bloggers and other amateurs engaging directly with mainstream media journalists and politicians. What's striking about his detailed account is the blurring of boundaries between craft journalists and amateur tweeters and bloggers in terms of what they do and how they do it.
While stressing that he is not one of those digital evangelists who think the Fifth Estate can replace the Fourth, Jericho nevertheless believes that little now separates the professional journalist and the amateur bloggers - the latter whom often have a level of specialist knowledge, network of contacts and writing skill at least on a par with those who are paid to cover politics.
The difference, of course, is the traditional 'Fourth Estate' denizens ARE paid to do it full-time. It is not something they squeeze in between a day job and cooking dinner. It's how they make their living. And given the carnage being felt in traditional newsrooms right now, it seems understandable that some professionals might seek to put the upstart amateurs back in their places.
It's also true, as Jericho admits, that journalists have something else that bloggers, however proficient, still lack. And that is access to the newsmakers. When Julia Gillard puts Grog on her list of media engagements, along with Alan Jones and Leigh Sales, we might start calling bloggers journalists.
As someone who has made the voyage in precisely the opposite direction to that of Jericho (in my case from professional journalist to amateur blogger), my view is that the debate is pointless. Bloggers are bloggers and journalists are journalists. Neither replaces the other. In fact, the New York journalism professor Jay Rosen has an interesting theory on the supposed "war" between new media and old - in the sense that each camp is the other's ideal.
"The relationship is essentially neurotic, on both sides. Bloggers can’t let go of Big Daddy media— the towering figure of the MSM — and still be bloggers. Pro journalists, meanwhile, project fears about the Internet and loss of authority onto the figure of the pajama-wearing blogger. This is a construction of their own and a key part of a whole architecture of denial that has weakened in recent years, but far too slowly. The only way we can finally kill this meme–bloggers vs. journalists–and proceed into a brighter and pro-am future for interactive journalism is to go right at the psychological element in it: the denial, the projection, the neuroses, the narcissism, the grandiosity, the rage, the fears of annihilation: the monsters of the id in the newsroom, and the fantasy of toppling the MSM in the blogosphere.Put in an Australian context, you can see why an under-siege mainstream media might, be reluctant to give up the cliche of the blogosphere as the home of single-issue fanatics, wannabes and pretenders who could not survive a day in the pressured world of covering live news. Equally, you can see the dangers of bloggers forever defining themselves in opposition to the sausage machine of the corporate media - a place where hapless, overworked and underpaid hacks churn copy out to feed an insatiable machine.
Ironically, Jericho is now a regular face on ABC panel shows and is the go-to guy for harried producers when they need 'new media person' to fill out talkshow rosters. So you might well ask at what point is the cache of being the blogging outsider put at risk by mainstream media appearances? At what point does he stop being a maverick truth teller and become just another insider, another talking head in a machine which needs a constant flow of chatter to fill otherwise empty air time?
Is the Fifth Estate really just the Four and a Half?