Neil Dobson 4.32pm
As Rupert Murdoch’s municipal news fortress remains under siege at the hands of the army of the easily righteous, there is no shortage of volunteers ready to offer up their critiques of his organisation and of the wider state of journalism in this country. Issues surrounding the transparency, decency and depth of writing in our press will no doubt be debated long after the current battle lines have been redrawn, even if Murdoch is to be left lying in the rubble of his former stronghold like some Priamic dolt, sacrificed on the altar of his own family’s follies.
The wrongs and wrongs of News International’s conduct are both well known and barely open to debate, but one of the more interesting elements coming out of the myriad of panel shows’ waxing lyrical has been the relative importance of mainstream news media in our near and immediate future. One widely permeating view appears to be that news media and traditional journalism are about to be usurped by new media and its concomitant chum, blogging. Even if such a view is overstated by traditionalists in an attempt to avoid the inevitable inquiry as to how huge news conglomerates wield undue political power, the notion still throws up some interesting questions.
The mild ludicrousness of criticising the meaningful role of such blogging in a blog is hardly lost on me, but much like a blinkered horse trying to romp home in the National, I shall carry on in spite of my apparent handicap.
One of the assumed benefits of blogging is the perception that it offers access of commentary to all; a seeming panacea to the concerns raised by the Murdoch news monopoly. There is also an implied assumption that the independence of such bloggers can avoid the inherent bias of journalists who earn their salt for newspapers with specific political leanings and are beholden to tyrannical owners and shareholder pressure.
Firstly, whilst it is true that anyone with a pc and some bandwith can publish a blog, the number of people who read it is a different matter. One likes to think that in such a free form system cream naturally rises, but one look at Justin Bieber’s hit count should dispel that notion. The fact is that with any new media format there is a limited period of time where total output is relatively small and almost anyone can have their views picked up and popularised with relative ease. However, as with all new industries, as they mature, the barriers to success – if not entry – increase rapidly and the already established paragons tend to prosper.
Secondly, whilst in one sense bloggers may have total ‘independence’, a passing glance at the unparalleled vitriol found in blogs and message boards alike should give us pause. What value do we really get from an independence which tends towards unchecked hyperbole and rampant subjectivism? We may have concerns about the organisations for which they work, but there’s little doubt that the majority of journalists are driven by a general desire to write and report, rather than the single issue polemic which inspires so many bloggers to log on in the cold dark hours of the night and add to the virtual canon.
In short, News International might fall, the nature of news conglomerates and their sway in politics may need review, but the notion that the future of our free press lies in the hands of the world’s bloggers rather than a robust, transparent and, I’ll say it, relatively well paid, news media is simply wrong-headed. If the idea was a horse, I’d be erecting a tent and reaching for my shotgun.
And if you think this article is a load of old hoof, you shouldn’t be surprised – go buy a proper newspaper.