Comment on weblogging, journalism and public forum
In the public conversation about the significance of weblogging in Australia it is generally taken for granted that the internet can, and should be, seen as a commons that is 'owned' by the public so they can express what matters to them. See the recent Ken Parish post, Hippies in cyperspace
. The academic authority in this field of intellectual property and the public domain is Lawrence Lessig
. Good academic commentary in Australia on this tension is provided by Kim Weatherall
This virtual public commons enhances the democratic forum because it overcomes a key limitation of the way the mass print and electronic media have traditionally used it. This corporate media had an elite view of freedom of expression, it has generally talked to, or rather at, the public, and it provided the public with little public space to respond to its messages. So we citizens listen to what is being said, and we converse amongst ourselves about the events of the day, but our opinions do not become public ones. They remain private. This one-way flow limits the public conversation about public things to journalists and politicians, and it means that a public conversation on the things that matter to the public is limited to one between elites.
Blogging changes all that. Whilst owning a printing press is a rather expensive outlay blogging is very cheap. This enables us citizens to have a public voice on important issues----a classic example is the OZ weblogging on the significance of the Bali bombings to Australians and are views/opinions are quickly assessed and knocked around.
The recent conference on weblogging at the Yale Law School
--was called the Revenge of the Blogs
. (indirect link). The conference is mentioned by Kim Weatherall in her post Blogging on Blogging on Blogging.....and
.The Keynote address is given by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit
fame whilst the featured speaker was Mickey Kaus from Slate
. Both speeches are listed.
The conference provides us with an opportunity consider what is now happening in the public forum after the arrival of blogging. What we have to work with are the notes on the conference taken by Jeff Jarvis buzzmachine
. We can also pick up the material from the 'blog and journalism' panel.
John Hiler of the online magazine Microcontent News
argues blogging as a good addiction. And blogging cuts into your consumption of other kinds of media. You watch less TV, read fewer books . . . but you read more on the Web. it is good addiction as it is a way to tap addictive powers to do good things.
But blogging is different: it's the first form of media that truly closes the loop. It's not just bloggers addicted to blogging; it's also readers addicted to blogs. Addicted writers feeding addicted readers' habits. Addicted readers providing the feedback the addicted writers crave. It's a fully-closed media ecosystem. An "engine of addiction."
This is certainly my experience. I rarely watch TV any more; I read more on the web; and I am concerned about the feedback. How does weblogging impact in the world of public affairs? Jeff Jarvis from Buzzmachine asked: 'Does weblog replace journalism?' Buzzmachine.com said no. The reasoning by Jeff Jarvis is interesting:
'Webloggers are, all in all, pundits; they are commentators and columnists and occasionally philosophers and even editors. But with very rare exceptions, webloggers do not gather original facts, real news. They point to it. They comment on it.' In contrast, 'journalists – real journalists, not just human press conference tape recorders – gather real facts. They are vital to a democracy.'
Certainly, weblogging is commentary and interpretation that bounces off what journalists write. But so is journalism: is it mostly commentary and interpretation with this interpretation enframing the reality of our everyday life eg., the war on terrorism that we now live. We still recall living an everyday life prior to the Bali bombings and September 11 2001 in the US, but it is getting harder with the risks, threats and being on the lookout for anything offhand and strange.
Admittedly, journalists also report. They would mention or report an event that has happened---eg., the new key issues paper that has just been released by the Economic Development Board
about higher education in South Australia. Greg Kelton, a senior journalist at The Advertiser
, reports to the readers by summarizing the main findings of the key issues paper-higher education
. So Kelton mentions the need for stronger state government leadership, incentives to encourage cross-linkages, stronger collaboration and effective resource sharing between the three universities. The key idea is that the 3 universities retain their differences but become part of a more cohesive system. The interpretation is buried in Kelton's reporting. It tacitly says that there is something wrong with our universities and that reform is good.
But the journalist, even a senior state political one, does not critically comment on the report. That is the job of the Editorial, and The Advertiser's
basically says that The Report into Higher Education is a tentative look at reform and that we need a debate on amalgation to create a super university to faciltate economic growth and get the state moving in the right direction.
example indicates that the media are less interested in reporting the facts and gathering the "hard news" and more interested in backgrounds, political analysis and layers of commentary about current events. In many ways the commentary stuff is also being done by the OZ bloggers and a lot of it is much better than those of journalists who recycle media releases and publicity material.
So bloggers are not reporters nor should they try to compete in gathering news. Weblogging represents a different kind of writing, and the extensive diversity of its writing should be celebrated. As Josh Marshall observed: 'Weblogs are permanently going to be a churn medium. Journalists aren't experts. They get up to speed. Weblogs have a role to play in letting people who know something on a topic jump in.' So there is a space for the weblogger to dig deeper than the Big Media by engaging with the assumptions behind public discourse. In terms of the Economic Development Board's Report the weblog would address what the reporter slides over: eg., education as a market commodity; university education orientated to job training; acceptance of ongoing the decline of the humanities due to lack of consumer, linking university research to business; or an education for democracy.
None of the columists at The Advertiser
have yet to comment on the various Reports of the Economic Development Board, nor are they likely to. So we have a vacuum in public discourse that has been called the death of public discourse. Yet public policy issues are too important to be left to a small group within our political parties.
Another question raised by Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine was: 'Do weblogs affect journalism?' The answer given by buzzmachine was:
'Yes. But not yet. First, editors, publishers, and producers have to wake up and listen. For this is a medium that is all about listening....you will find the buzz here; that is why I call my site buzzmachine.com now. The Internet takes the pulse of the audience, the consumer base, the democracy faster than anything and webloggers sniff out and edit that buzz. That is of real value to news and to the democracy.'
Another answer to the above question given by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo was in terms of blog triumphalism
.He gave a bit of a talk which summarises what he means.
I've really wanted to write about for some time: blog triumphalism. What do I mean by that? I guess I mean the many folks who write blogs and live in a world in which there is a place called The New York Times populated by several dozen basically feckless and cocooned reporters, constantly outdone and corrected and outwitted and generally ground into the dirt by a few bloggers up at odd hours jabbing away at a laptop keyboard.'
Those on the journalism/blog panel of the Revenge of the Blog conference were primarily journalists who also weblogged and did it well. This is not the norm for journalists in Australia. Blog triumphalism has yet to happen in Australia. Bloggers are still overshadowed by jthe ournalists in public commentary. It is unclear whether journalists in Australia ever read the weblogs apart from Crikey.com. The politicians do not. And the Big (print and electronic) Media have ignored blogging in Australia.
What is so notable about the comments on the journalism/blogging panel at the conference is that no speaker linked either kind of writing (journalism or blogging ) to democracy in a global world. Democracy disappeared into the background to be replaced by the relationship between 'the job' (journalism) and 'the sideline activity or hobby' (blogging). Even when community was introduced by Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine, democracy, let alone democratic citizenship, failed to make an appearance. Jarvis says:
"When I lost my faith in the people, when my populism flags, I regain it through my weblog. I started after surviving September 11 at the World Trade Center. I could not let the story go. I knew and loved weblogs; my company invested in Blogger/Pyra and Plastic.com. But I didn’t create a weblog because I had nothing to say. Now I did. As I revealed more and more of what happened that day, the reaction from people, the support is sometimes startling. I made friends through weblogs. The truth is that weblogs vary from journalism and media in this way, too: They are a community, a true community in an online world where that word is overused. Weblogs make media personal.'
This is a communitarian/populism with a patriotic sense of belonging that is rooted in American-style natonalism. It is deeply at odds with US cosmopolitianism and a new global world order. Yet the relationship of trust is to 'the audience' not to citizens. There seems to be no desire to exercise democratic control or increase democratic participation to ensure the flourishing of democracy.
This is a remarkable ommission because the "Revenge of the Blog" conference was under the wing of the Information Society Project (ISP)
at Yale University. The project's goals are to create vibrant public and civic spaces in cyberspace, promote democratic values in the digital age, to study how new media alter culture and society and to investigate how law and technology interact. The emphasis is on blogging as creating a vibrant public sphere in cyberspace,a the expense of promoting democratic values in a digital age. The absence of any exploration of a vibrant public sphere and democracy (eg., a deliberative democracy) indicates that the watchdog connection between democracy and media (as a fourth estate) has been severed.