December 19, 2006

New Media

Prompted by Time Magazine's declaration that we are the people of the year, a lot of analysis has recently been done of what the internet has actually done for the production of new information and its dissemination. Is this in short a revolution as great as the printing Presz in the fourteenth century, allowing some poor Phd student the ability to talk to the thousands (here's hoping) or more realistically tens of you who read this website, is that a media revolution and if so what is it really about.

Coming swiftly on the heels of James's recent Blogpower initiative (go down the page for a link to the Blogpower blog) the Time magazine article shows no awareness of the difficulties that James so sensibly is hoping to help with. A blog like this or even a much more established and thoroughly praiseworthy blog like Stumbling and Mumbling is almost unknown to most of those outside the blogging fraternity. Blogging is very much an in crowd affair- there are commenters for instance on this blog whose comments I instantly recognise and can fit into a template of previous comments- the Umpire, Dreadnought, James Higham, Ellee, Liz, Edmund and many other regulars are people who force me to clarify my thoughts and work out what I mean to say in a much more thorough way than I would otherwise. And obviously anyone just coming to this blog is free to join them- by just clicking on the comment link and writing a piece. The general point I'm making though is that this blog doesn't really influence the world, and unless my traffic jumps by a factor of around a thousand I'm not going to have influence. What it is doing is opening up a new social space- its opening up a discussion between various people on the site and me- a discussion that's carried on in other blogs and on other fora, and in many ways that's the point.

Tim Footman in the Guardian approaches this from another point of view, that increasingly big corporations- like Google for this blog are dominating even the new media. Its interesting that a very famous and successful blogger like Andrew Sullivan has now moved across to Time. I don't think that will have many consequences for blogging- just look down the list of posts on this page and you'll find very little that Google would be interested in. Furthermore I think the effect is much more likely to be less dramatic than Footman imagines- just as we aren't going to change the world, so Google or Wordpress won't change us- they have no interest in upsetting their client base and largely no interest in regulating what we can publish- afterall we'd all just move and because blogging is a social network, the reputation of a provider which did that would swiftly end in them losing customers.

One influence I do think is being underrated though and that is the effect that blogging will have on journalism. Old fashioned pad and pen journalism, where a reporter sticks aroudn and asks some questions has been out of fashion for years but in reality it and name recognition are the things which make reading a newspaper essential for even the most dedicated blogger. The New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, BBC and many others provide bloggers with a set of "facts" upon which we hang our stories. Our threat, and I think it is a partial threat, is not to the media organisations but rather to some of their employees- to the opinion journalists. They are the ones ultimately who are going to be most changed and confronted by the new developments in the blogosphere- because I sense that many of them are going to have to become more irregular in their posting, more responsive to comments and more accepting of a wider range of other opinion journalists. Its they that are facing competition- and you can see it on Comment is Free. Having said that- the Toynbees and Kaletskies have the advantage which we bloggers don't have which is name recognition. The other consequence of this maybe that opinion journalism gets more partisan- one of the distressing things about blogging is the popularity of your Malkins, your partisans and I wonder whether the kind of open debate symbolised by Fox News might stifle the kind of open debate symbolised by In Our Time.

These are just musings- personally I don't think blogging is as epoch making a change as it seems- we are gifted with a new publishing format that enables anyone to write an article but that doesn't mean that anyone's going to read it or even to be honest that the article will be any good.


Ellee said...

I think you have to work hard building up blogs, by posting on other like minded sites, and it takes time to establish links and regular comments. But it's worth it. It's always disappointing when people tail off for no obvious reason, then someone else turns up. I've never had so much fun since I started blogging, the only downside is the time it takes. I've "met" so many great people, and look forward to discovering many more new sites next year.

Gracchi said...

Ellee this wasn't a complaint at all- indeed I'd second every word of your comment, at a time when my life has been very stressful blogging's been brilliant and I think there are lots of ways in which it genuinely is a real publishing opp even if you get no readers at least you've put some stuff out and put your thoughts into a form. I was more musing on what blogging will look like and what it does than on whether one should blog- the answer to that is undoubtedly yes- partly because you generate so many 'friends' for me your good self amongst them.

Graeme said...

I think your point about how partisan blogging can be is interesting and it's one that I've been thinking about a lot. I think that blogging is an excellent thing in that it allows anyone to publish anything but the problem is that it seems that bloggers group into like-minded communities. I suppose that's like any other sort of human interaction, but I have to wonder the effect that this has on standards of debate. Basically, (opinion) journalism and a certain notion of community are being conflated, and I don't know if that's a good thing. Mind you, I don't know if it's an entirely bad thing either. Intuitively, I think that it's good to read and consider viewpoints that are different than your own, if for no other reason than that they can allow you to strengthen your own views. At the same time, while a site like Harry's Place (or Lenin's Tomb, or Little Green Footballs, or whatever) may represent a certain political outlook, there still is plenty of room for discussion and debate within this.

Gracchi said...

Personally I worry about the partisan nature of blogging because the best thing about blogging seems to me the way that you can learn. Take a website like the Granite Studio I've only been going there a couple of days but its become indispensible because it tells me things I'd never known before- and its that kind of website that I'm interested in. I find LGF and even Harry's PLace just repeat things to some extent- they are good because they tell you bits of news you didn't know but they don't widen your perspective. I'm just musing here but thanks for a considered response