Friday, 16 April 2010

Orwell Prize Shortlist - and why blogging is *not* the new journalism

This blog has now been shortlisted for the George Orwell Prize for blogging.

However, this is merely one of many blogs which are promoting critical thinking and a source-based approach on matters of public interest.

So, if you are visiting this blog for the first time, I would strongly recommend The Heresiarch, who addresses brilliantly a range of political, cultural, and religious matters, the provocative and sharp Richard Wilson of Don't Get Fooled Again on politics and censorship, and the incomparable Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads on the political use (and misuse) of the internet.

On "Bad Science" and public health matters (where there has been an overlap with my libel interests because of the misconceived and now failed case brought by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh), the best blogs are the simply amazing Gimpy, the wise and incisive Quackometer, and of course David Colquhoun, a distinguished professor and Fellow of the Royal Society who has taken to blogging about bullshit with the fire and deftness of a pharmacological George Orwell.

Other blogs I greatly admire for their promotion of critical thinking and a source-based approach include Vagina Dentata, on science from a feminist perspective, Dr Petra Boynton (my personal favourite) on sex and relationship issues and media reporting, the erudite and charming Jourdemayne covering religion and superstition, and - a useful corrective to my hostility to current English libel law - the legal blogger Lucifee.

And there are many more.

Blogging is the perfect medium for promoting critical thought and a source-based approach on any matter of public interest, from science to Scientology.

Bloggers can write what they want, when they want. They are freed from the relentless editorial and advertising cycles which reduce many hard-working and talented reporters to mere churnalists.

Bloggers can often add value - either as analysts, explainers, or providers of fresh information - just because they are able and willing to do so as volunteers.

Bloggers can help inform emerging debates or undermine conventional wisdom. But they do this not because they are aping journalists; it is that they are being active citizens.

And bloggers can link without reservation.

A blogger can link to a number of competing media outlets in a way which a reporter will never be able to do.

A blogger can link to the source of his or her contentions, allowing the reader to ascertain the veracity of what is being claimed.

And a blogger can happily link to other bloggers who may have different views on the same subject, so that the reader is not reliant on one perhaps fallible source.

For these reasons, I would suggest blogging is not the new journalism.

The occasional, voluntary, generally selfless, and transparent nature of blogging means that it is more about public participation.

Insofar as blogging exposes any deficiencies in journalism - by adopting a more informed, critical, and source-based approach to a given topic - it does so in a way which may not be feasible or commercial for reporters and media organisations to do.

I do not think blogging can ever replace journalism. There is neither the inclination nor the capacity for bloggers to become a network of primary news providers.

It may be that blogging could have an effect on internet-based "opinion pieces" and columns: I always tend to go a respected blogger on any given topic before a weekly columnist.

But even then, blogging can be sporadic, and op-ed pages in the hard-copy editions do need to be filled on a regular basis.

Blogging is not, in my view, a fundamental threat to news reporting.

(Indeed, one point of this particular blog is to make it easier for national and local journalists, as well as other writers, to do their job without needless worry of libel threats.)

Blogging may well be a threat to poor journalism and a welcome gloss on good journalism; but I do not think that is its main focus.

As I have previously noted, Dr Johnson would regard bloggers as blockheads (or, I suppose, bloggerheads).

However, I think George Orwell's own motivation is more akin to why good bloggers do what they do:

"My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing."

So, for me, blogging is not the new journalism; but it is perhaps an emerging form of active citizenship.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Congrats on the nomination. Your point about blogging and active citizenship feels so fundamentally obvious that I am surprised that it hasn't occurred to me to phrase it that way - an indication, perhaps as to why you are nominated and not me :)

noodlemaz said...

It's simply "look, here's my opinion!/Here's what I found out!"

People want to feel like they're making a difference. Doing some research and imparting some knowledge can help towards achieving that feeling. I don't see how it can be a bad thing - it's just like stopping and having a chat in the street except you can find out the credentials of the person whose views you're musing on and compare it to as many other views as you want almost instantaneously.

People are just scared of change and they will always find something new (to them) on teh internets to whine about.

Penny Red said...

Really interesting post. And I think you're right about blogging being not the new journalism, but something separate, with a different role to play.

What do you think, in that context, of people who do both - especially people like me and Sunny who are equally bloggers and journalists? I started blogging when I was doing my journalism training, so blogging came slightly before, but not much before. And they're both important, although blogging sometimes has to take second place to paid writing work. I don't know if that sort of crossover is helpful, but I do think bloggers vs. columnists is an interesting one.

Anyway, congratulations, fellow nominee. Shall we agree to stop shouting at each other when there's booze around now?

Jack of Kent said...

@Penny Red

Agreed :-) And congratulations also to you!

Good question re crossover.

I do freelance journalism and it does feel strange - especially being commissioned, subbed, and lawyered - to someone from a blogging background.

trickygirl said...

Good post. I agree that bloggers can approach a subject from a different perspective to that of journalists and the mainstream media, and I think that this is very important in filling out a story from all angles. For example, your take (and that of other bloggers) on the Singh/BCA case filled a number of gaps in my knowledge which I could not have remedied from just reading the mainstream press coverage.

Congratulations on your well-deserved nomination for the Orwell Prize and good luck!

Alice said...

Very many congratulations, Jack! I hope you win :)

I actually started blogging because I was encouraged to do so for practice before getting into science journalism. With a bit of luck, that bit is working. But it's turned out to be a great deal more than that. As you say, it's active citizenship, wanting to expose wrongs, wanting to encourage people to come together to write them. And, for me, it's about encouraging people to get into science together - to do it, to contribute, not to be intimidated by it - and of course hopefully some education about what it actually is. And of course I've discovered so many fantastic people and movements through blogging - it's one of the best decisions I ever made.

Not journalism.

But then journalism is information sent from one source, to another. Blogging is far more interactive. It may not be as accurate or accountable as journalism, and it couldn't replace it. But bring on this social movement. It's a wonderful thing!

The Heresiarch said...

I looked in the mirror yesterday morning and found I'd turned a strange and lurid shade of green. But thank you for those kind words, which make me feel much better.

It has to be you, really. No disrespect to the others, all of whom are fine writers (though at least one - no names - can be jaw-droppingly self-indulgent at times) - but over the past twelve months you haven't just written interesting blogposts, you have made a real and substantial impact on the real world. That's a rare achievement in any mode of writing. I am convinced you're going to win this, and you thoroughly deserve to do so.

Enough crawling. Here's a suggestion, though not a terribly original one, perhaps. You and Simon should write the book-of-the-case together.

Old Holborn said...

thorougly deserved

Nile said...

Journalism? Not the daily newspaper, but I'd say that the better class of blog can be compared to articles in The Economist, or Newsweek.

Madam Miaow said...

Congrats, fellow shortlister.

Definitely not a substitute for journalism, but possibly better than star columns that get lazy and boring. It's the perfect medium for those of us without the stamina to write those long authoritative, properly researched (paid for) pieces that are the stock in trade of the grown-up journalist. (This is one of Laurie's admirable strengths.)

I blog (therefore I am?) because it saves me chucking heavy objects at the telly. I'd explode otherwise. I post things that either enrage me with little chance of the truth busting through the smug mogul-led consensus, or because it makes me laugh.

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that's my motto.

OK, back to watching The Prisoner US remake. I'll be so annoyed if this turns out to be good — but I doubt it. Be seeing you.

The Justice of the Peace said...

"Bloggers can write what they want, when they want. They are freed from the relentless editorial and advertising cycles which reduce many hard-working and talented reporters to mere churnalists."

One factor that you and others have ommitted is that like Justices of the Peace bloggers being voluntary workers enables financial independence from the consequences of what is being produced; justice for one and information for the other. Thus re blogging, notwithstanding the law of libel, bloggers can sail close to the wind without being blown over by an over cautious employer or editor.