Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.
The above question, which draws from Russel (et al.), implies an inherent relation between independent blogging and journalism. Alex Bruns, author of Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, though recognising that blogging and journalism do in fact interconnect, cites blogger-journalist J.D. Lasica to suggest that: “independent bloggers aren’t journalists because no editor comes between the author and reader” (Bruns 2009: 210). Herein lies a comparison of these two means of information distribution.
Indeed, the absence of an editor in blogging processes is hardly a bad thing. Within the blogsphere, any civic-minded citizen with a computer and the desire to express their opinions can contribute to the media and the public dialogue. And as a vast majority of news sources today are owned by multi-newspaper chains, editorial independence in professional media systems is uncommon. Blogs therefore offer a much needed way to expand on the number of news sources available, and ideally, provide for alternate views over political-economy bias. For instance, the political blog Australia Watch <http://auswatch.blogspot.com/> serves as a good example of a credible news source that remains independent of elite media institutions that abide by professional codes; one that serves on merit-based popularity rather than on “the viability of its business model and the sustainability of its products” (Russel et al. 2008: 136).
Moreover, the potential for blogs as information-distributors is significantly advantaged through their existence within the ‘infinite space’ of the web environment, automatically implying an infinite number of perspectives from which news issues may be looked at. Yet does this mean that blogs are more advantaged as informers?
Russel outlines that while these new-media networks may well provide a platform where all voices can be heard, not all voices attract equal amounts of attention; “[a] small set of so-called A-list bloggers garner the majority of the blogsphere traffic” (Russel et al. 2008: 136). While this can still be seen as “an improvement over the previous status quo in which big media dominates”, it perpetuates a merit-based process whereby users are encouraged to achieve ‘star status’ (Russel et al. 2008: 136).
This puts forward another question; one that I feel must be addressed: Is the purpose of blogging, first and foremost, to inform the public, uphold opinions and provide discussion, or is it to promote the blogger?
Of course, web platforms have developed in recent years as, principally, a place for self-promotion. Think: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Even Amazon, on which Kreiss (et al.) (2010) writes: “research suggests [that] users often falsely imagine that their free reviews will lead to paying positions with professional publications” (250). If this is true, then a closer inspection of the aims of bloggers is necessary; for if a writer is concerned mostly with feedback, recognition, and interest in their work—essentially, looking for ‘hits’—then surely this undermines a blog’s ability to ‘effectively inform the public’, and may perhaps even result in a manipulation of content. Ultimately, self-absorbed journalism, I believe, is not journalism at all.
And while bloggers, as unpaid reporters with no motives beyond either a passion for their subject or a desire for quality (which in turn generates merit), are arguably devoid of political or economic bias toward media ownership, their isolation from any strict professional codes means that their tendency to actually investigate an issue themselves (such as through interviews) is less likely. This is also true for important journalist ethics—such as sourcing material and providing evidence for big claims—which do not apply to bloggers.
There is also the issue pertaining to whether blogs do in fact offer an improvement on political bias. I propose that centralised values in newspapers are more effective in maintaining political discussion amongst readers. Old media is generally consumed with respect to a divide in political values — The Age offering liberal values and The Australian offering conservative values, for instance — and it is this division which automatically offers debate within the public sphere. The political content of old media is in this way moderated–something that is lost in the blogsphere, with the bloggers’ freedom from immediate counterargument and regular scrutiny providing for more radical assaults on political parties and lesser access to even debate. Surely the public is better informed on policy through an adversarial media system which ensures an equal distribution of both right and left wing values.
In the end, blogs are a platform for a discussion, analysis, and critique of news and affairs, rather than a report base. While I agree that the blogsphere’s independence from the domination of big media institutions inherently suggests a greater sense of impartiality, and therefore of honesty, in the dissemination of news and opinions, I maintain that its freedom from ethical codes and professional guidelines renders it as both a less effective and trustworthy means for informing the public; a public which, in the end, must get their information from somewhere to begin with, before they can participate as citizens in the new-media environment.
Bruns, A. (2009) ‘Case Studies: Blogs and Journalism’, in Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 201-232.
Kreiss, D. Finn, M. and F. Turner (2010) ‘The Limits of Peer Production: Some Reminders from Max Weber for the Network Society’, New Media and Society, 13 (2): 243-259.
Russell, A. Ito, M. Richmond, T. and M. Tuters (2008) ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation’, in Kazys Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 43-76.