Thursday, April 16, 2009

Now I have your attention

I can't reply personally to all the responses to my stuff this week. Thanks to everyone who contacted me making very valid points - and in doing so provided the best answer to my blogophobic posts. I'm going to make a few general points.

I agree that the old media for which I work, has failed to come to terms properly with the new. The dead tree press is in a bad way, and we can't yet see the wood for the trees. This is because the architecture of the blogosphere is very different to the 'one-way' media of old. If you want to be a practioner, or a citizen journalist, it is extremely difficult to get heard. The best way is to make inflammatory attacks, preferably on other bloggers. This is the easiest and quickest way to get noticed and to generate traffic for your blog - as my silly stunt this week has confirmed. And apologies again to Iain Dale and Alex Massie for abusing them gratuitously.

Attention-seeking behaviour is turbocharged on the web. To get a blog going you need as many links and hits as possible and this can best be done by hooking into a current controversy and making inflammatory statements about the bloggers who are talking about it. This is why the blogosphere gets so personal. You want to establish links to the main blogging sites because this is the surest way of attracting people back to your own. I don't know if I'm making this very clear - I don't fully understand it myself yet - but it clearly works in practice. This is why it gets so personal so fast.

As in all forms of new media, the blogosphere isn't quite what it appears on the surface. Sophisticated bloggers use search engine optimisation techniques to get their blogs promoted. I have actually been closed down by Blogger because they thought I was using one of these techniques. There is a science to blogging which mitigates against its mission statement as a new and accessible democratic medium of comment and debate. There is an inbuilt tendency to the ad hominem and the inflammatory.

The old press faced the same dilemma of course. It was always easy to get readers by saying outrageous things - by lies, smears and half truths. But a culture of editorial discretion built up over the years and consigned attention seeking and sensationalism to the outer fringes of the tabloid press - such as the National Inquirere or the Sunday Sport.

I really want to have a debate about this because it is clear to me that the future of journalism has to be on the web. But we still don't have a way to go about it. It's a little like democracy itself. Everyone accepts that the old party structure is dead. But the new form of politics - a politics without parties - has not yet been born. And the mother of the new media - the web - isn't even pregnant yet.


Freedom and Whisky said...

Mission statement? The Herald may have one but the blogosphere collectively doesn't. I don't think that most bloggers see the medium as "democratic". We say what we want to say as individuals. Whether we allow others to interact with us is up to the blogger, not to a democratic majority.

In fact I'd go further. Large numbers of bloggers wish to reduce the proportion of human interactions that are subject to politics altogether, no matter how "democratic" those politics may be. In other words many of us are far keener on liberty than on democracy.

Stuart Winton said...

I'm not sure if the analogy with the mainstream media is entirely appropriate - yes, perhaps the likes of the Herald adheres to high journalistic standards, but most people don't buy the Herald or the quality press generally, and it's not necessary to go to the Sunday Sport end of the redtop press to read a more inflammatory and ad hominem tone.

And if you look at Iain Dale's Top 40 Scottish Blogs - voted for by bloggers themselves - I can't see any there that I'd class as particularly inflammatory in tone (although to be honest as a newcomer I haven't seen them all because some are now defunct).

By the same token, perhaps the reasons the internet tends to be more personal and confrontational than the likes of press comment sections is because of its immediacy and spontenaity, thus it's nearer to a verbal debate than an old-fashioned exchange of views in the press.

To that extent the internet covers everything from an argy-bargy in the pub to a Parliamentary debate, and given the 'Punch and Judy politics' on display in the HoC, is it really surprising that a lot of the blogosphere demonstrates a similar tone?

Clearly the accesible and spontenaeous nature of the internet is both a plus and a minus, but to an extent these pros and cons merely reflect other methods of debate and discussion, and everyone's preferences will differ, but hopefully the good will crowd out the bad.

If not then this probably reflects the kind of society we live in today, which is reflected in other facets of human discourse.