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Thursday, October 27, 2005
Sir Harold and Sir Arthur on Citizen Journalism and Blogging 

A couple of extracts from Outlook's Tenth Anniversary Issue
Do you think the rise of ‘Citizen Journalism’, with blogging being one element of it, represents a diminishing trust in the established media? How can news organisations go about building credibility in the eyes of readers, viewers and listeners?

Established media has lost some trust, no doubt, but I think the rise of blogging is more to do with the appetite for telling the world where to get off. Very healthy. Most of it is opinion/argument, which is fine, but there is no central organising intelligence to sustain the heart of journalism which is reporting. (And sometimes that reporting is too difficult, too urgent, to leave to one reporter). Indeed, a significant proportion of cyberspace perpetuates myth and falsehood. The absurd lie that Jews blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11 began life on the web and got endlessly recycled by the credulous, the ignorant and the malevolent. One of the tasks I would submit to mainstream media is the regular detection and exposure of cyber propaganda.
From an interview with Sir Harold Evans, Former Editor, the Sunday Times, London, Former Editor-in-Chief, Atlantic Monthly Press, President and Publisher, Random House, Author, of Good Times, Bad Times, voted the Editor of the Century in 2002.
Blogs, wikis and citizen journalism are all signs of things to come.

This has far-reaching implications. For one thing, it allows far higher levels of interactivity and audience engagement than has been possible in newspapers, radio or television. Even more importantly, the web provides a platform for small-time companies, organisations and single individuals to disseminate ideas, analyses and viewpoints to a potentially global audience. And it can be done at a fraction of the cost of launching mainstream media outlets. While the web is not yet a level playing field and has its own limitations, it has already triggered the end of absolute power enjoyed by press barons and gatekeeper editors.

Nowhere is this breach more apparent than in the remarkably swift rise of bloggers. Their publishing of online diaries has shown how passionate individuals can command attention and influence way beyond their professional or social circles. John Naughton, a noted British chronicler of the new media, says the web has again demonstrated its capacity to unleash disruptive innovation on a complacent establishment. As he wrote in 2003, "The response of the ‘professional’ media to this explosion has been interesting. First there was patronising incredulity that people would write without being paid for it. Then there was disdain. ‘Where’, asked the hacks, ‘was the quality control?’ Surely the whole thing was just an epidemic of vanity publishing. Then there was unease, fuelled by the realisation that (a) large numbers of bloggers were talking to one another behind the media’s back, as it were, and (b) some of them knew more about many subjects than most journalists. Badly researched or ideologically skewed reporting was being instantly skewered by bloggers...."

Naughton has documented many instances where poor journalism about highly technical or complicated issues was exposed by bloggers. The Columbia space shuttle disaster was one, where half-baked journalistic theories were effortlessly demolished by bloggers with serious aerospace expertise.

The blogging community has refused to accept the news ‘agenda’ as determined by the mainstream media. As Naughton says, "This has been increasingly evident since 9/11 as the established US media have dumbed down their discussion of the issues surrounding security, civil liberties and Bush’s policy towards Iraq.It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that (with a few honourable exceptions) most of the serious discussion of these issues in the US at the moment is happening in weblogs and not in the ‘official’ mass media."

It’s too soon to tell how much and how far bloggers could act as a countervailing force for the lapses and excesses in the mainstream media not just in the US, but across the world. We can only hope that the bloggers will push the mainstream to embrace long overdue reforms to become more transparent and accountable—the very virtues that editorialists constantly preach to the world’s governments and corporations.
From Arise, Citizen Journalist!, by Sir Arthur C Clarke, SciFi legend, the man who predicted geostationary satellites in one of his stories, and inspired Tim Berners-Lee to invent the World Wide Web with another.
[Cross-posted at indi³.]

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