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Guy Clapperton on the evolving new media

Newspapers and new media: more debate

Front page of the New York Times on Armistice ...
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OK, I’m a little scared by this. I’ve been reading this excellent blog post about how the threat to newspapers isn’t a threat to democracy but a symptom of it. I’m trying very hard to be detached and independent about this; I’m a journalist, I write for the newspapers, I read newspapers. I have been brought up in an environment in which it’s basically the papers that take the politicians to task, that hold them to account. There’s nothing the little people can do about it because we’re individuals but if the big guns at the New York Times, Washington Post, London‘s Times, start looking into something being wrong then it’s taken seriously.

I’ll give you examples from both sides of the Atlantic: Watergate, in which a President was justifiably brought down by a: his own actions, certainly, but b: the dogged pursuit of two journalists, and on a smaller scale the fall of former MP Jonathan Aitken in the UK. He was involved in an arms scandal – he may not have been doing anything as illegal as some people thought but he lied to Parliament about it and sued the Guardian newspaper for making allegations – then it turned out they were right all along. He claimed he’d been with his wife and daughter on a particular evening rather than in a clandstine meeting and airline tickets proved his family and he weren’t even in the same country at the time. He’s served his time in prison as a result of perjuring himself in court. The Guardian was protecting my right as a subject of the UK to expect honesty from elected people – my grandfather was among the many who died fighting for those sorts of liberties in the second world war. You can imagine, I’m well disposed to newspapers.

Then I read the blog entry quoted and it makes the very salient point that it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t say it mustn’t – it just criticises newspaper people for claiming that they are protecting democracy as though there’s no alternative. It (and its commentators) dares to suggest that blogs and people’s ability to comment are a development and refinement of, not a slap in the face to, the process the newspapers started all those years ago and that the idea of more people being engaged is better than fewer.

I can see that. I can see the argument that says our acceptance of newspapers and the current publishing model being ‘normal’ is wrong, it’s just the way things are now and it can change. Maybe I’m a dinosaur in this scenario, but that’s a possibility I have to accept – OK, so by the time I retire things may have altered unrecognisably. I won’t enjoy it but it’s happened to people before and there’s no point bleating about it.

What does concern me is how this can be turned into a business model in which people will be able to earn a living of some sort. No matter how enthusiastic bloggers get, there will come a point at which they need to eat and they’ll have to find something lucrative to do. If journalism as it is now is out of the way, then gifted writers won’t be able to write for a living except the handful of best selling authors lucky enough to get the right book out at the right time. There’s also the untrained nature of the average blogger. Don’t get me wrong, some are very high quality – the one I’ve linked to above is superb. But there are others who aren’t. I’m not talking about the poorly-spelled, badly-punctuated variety, we can all understand what they’re saying even if we tut a little whilst reading. But there are the ones that are plain misleading as well, the ones who through incompetence or an agenda they choose to hide put skewed or inaccurate copy out there. They aren’t trained and they assume that a stream of consciousness is all that’s required.

So yes, I found that post kind of scary. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But I’ll be very interested to see just how the monetisation of blogs and the professionalisation of the bloggers actually pans out in the end.

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March 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. It’s admirable your view comes across as well balanced and self-aware. I think for all of us the fear of change clouds our perspective. Despite your eloquently described fears of the erosion of an industry which has served you and our society well, you also acknowledge that the inexorable rise of new media publishing channels will engage more people.

    I tend to agree with two points in the debated blog; it can only be better for a broader community to be involved interactively in the issues that really matter to all of us and that new media allows for a more diverse range of views and knowledge to be debated in depth.

    I still believe in market forces and ‘quality will out’ people still look for well written content, healthy debate and expertise, arguably it’s easier for people to ‘vote with their feet’ on the internet and new business models will follow. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with new media businesses companies like citizen journalist site and peer to peer lending site Or a twist on Eaves comparison, is to democracy what is to capitalism, the new order.

    Comment by Wendy Tan White | March 27, 2009

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