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If you’ve been reading the national media press recently you may well have read more than an article or two by established journalists which attack the rise of blogging. Principally, they criticise the lack of quality (fact checking, grammar, sources, regulatory compliance etc.) exhibited by many bloggers.
But are they really just annoyed that bloggers are threatening their status? Are journalists asking themselves similarly tough questions about how their readers perceive them?
There are some fantastic journalists out there, no doubt. But there are also some fantastic bloggers. There are lots of very poor bloggers too. I guess the poor journalists don’t make it to press.
But I keep reading articles by respected journalists where the sub-text seems to be an intense irritation on the part of the journalist at the blogosphere as somehow corrupting and tainting their profession. Bloggers are the ‘cowboys’ of journalism it seems.
Now one of the things that is absolutely at the heart of online, and the interactive world, is TRUST. It’s at the heart of most relationships, of course, but it’s particularly important online because you can’t usually see, or hear, the person you may be interacting with. “Online no-one knows you’re a dog”.
Phishing, scams, spam, identity theft… the fact is that as we get used to living with the internet, and as we become ever more super-media-savvy/cynical, we are developing razor-sharp “trust antennae”. We have to make our own judgements, very quickly, on how far we can trust anything we read or are told. We have to, to survive out there.
So whilst the serious journos are worrying about the factual laissez-faire approach of some bloggers, us readers are increasingly skimming our chosen media sources (including blogs) and using our highly-attuned ‘trust antennae’ to judge each source, and piece of content, as we see fit.
What surprises me, is the apparent implicit assumption by many journalists that their readers necessarily trust them? No-one trusts an estate agent, no-one trusts politicians, but how many people really trust journalists?
The trust antennae glow with warning signals for anyone who has an ‘agenda’. Of course journalists have an agenda – they work for a particular paper which has an editorial and/or political bias, they are being paid to do a job with particular business targets, they are climbing the greasy career pole. Can we really trust them?
[As an aside, I recently got an e-mail from an Ad Sales person at one of the UK's most-respected national newspapers saying - and I copy and paste - "If I was able to get your company and the seminar some editorial coverage, would your company consider advertising the seminar in the feature?". Mmm.. so there's editorial independence for you.]
I believe the reason that blogs have taken off so much is that, as a medium, they are largely *un-mediated*. Bloggers don’t claim to hold any moral high ground, they don’t claim factual accuracy necessarily. Usually they just want a conversation. They are passionate about what they write about. They blog because they feel a need to. And because they can.
Reading blogs is thus a liberating experience, both for blogger and bloggee. Sure, a lot of bloggers are nutters perhaps, and a lot of them have views you wouldn’t expect of a serious newspaper. But the bloggers are real people. And they don’t have an agenda. They are the quiet people at the party who finally have a chance to mouth off to the world. And why not? Why should we always have to listen to those with the biggest mouths? Let’s face it, some of what some bloggers have to say is actually far superior to many journalists.
So as readers we have a choice – listen to the ranting bloggers and select those we like and trust, believing them to have no agenda other than one we may also passionately believe in; or, read the journalists with their political and career agendas, and try and read between their lines?
OK, so my picture is a little one-sided perhaps, but I do believe it points to a deeper cultural shift and echoes the whole user-generated content / social media space i.e. that people want to interact directly with real people and they crave honesty, transparency, self-expression, individuality and fun over accuracy, control and mediation (because no-one believes the latter exist in any fair or reliable form anyway).
I believe this phenomenon is being encouraged by the openness of the internet. I also believe it is quickly corroding the last vestiges of trust and respect that much of the electorate have for politicians who attempt to cling to the power strings of mediation (aka spin). Give me a politician who gets it wrong, and admits the mistake in his/her blog; or a politician who admits their opposing party’s policy is better than theirs? Now there’s someone you might just trust?