In a speech about public life made in London’s Docklands yesterday, Tony Blair had a go at the media both old and new. Saying that modern media now “hunt in a pack” and that traditional media organizations have shown his party “ferocious hostility”, he also put the boot into Web 2.0 generally and bloggers in particular. So what’s his beef with us bloggers, eh?
“In my ten years, I’ve noticed all these elements evolve with ever greater momentum,” he said. “It used to be thought – and I include myself in this – that help was on the horizon. New forms of communication would provide new outlets to bypass the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media. In fact, the new forms can be more pernicious, less balanced, more intent on the latest conspiracy theory – multiplied by five.”
My thoughts on bloggers? Firstly, I’d note that many bloggers straddle Web 2.0 and traditional media anyway – I am both a blogger and the editor of a monthly trade magazine that still involves the chopping down of trees; and like me there are vast numbers of journalists who also have blogs. So to draw a clear distinction between bloggers and more traditional media is an over-simplification.
That aside, I am sure there are blogs that are unbalanced (indeed there are plenty of blogs that are positively unhinged). But since when has more traditional media been balanced?
I am sure there are plenty of conspiracy theorists in the ‘blogosphere’, too. But take a look at more traditional media’s coverage of the Bob Woolmer ‘murder’ case, making all sorts of insinuations that it could have been linked to alleged match fixing rings or even some sort of underground mafia, and you have no alternative but to conclude that traditional media is happy to cook up conspiracy theories when it gets the chance. How many stories have there been in traditional media about the ‘mystery’ surrounding Princess Diana’s death?
It’s tough to say whether bloggers are less balanced, more pernicious and more intent on conspiracy theories than traditional media without doing some sort of detailed analysis that is a little more scientific. Maybe I’ll attempt one. But for me the key thing in this debate is about transparency: as long as it is obvious to readers whether a blogger, journalist, or blogging journalist is writing something as reported ‘fact’, or merely as their own comment and opinion, then it is up to the reader to decide how much gravitas to attach to that article.
Readers make these judgements – how much they trust what they read — about traditional media all the time. It is at best naÃƒÂ¯ve, and at worst incredibly patronising, to make the assumption as Tony Blair has that people reading blogs are unable to make up their own mind about the trustworthiness of that writing. Readers are no fools: they can spot an ill-founded, flimsy conspiracy theory a mile off, regardless of whether they are reading it in a daily national newspaper or an obscure blog.
Other bloggers covering the speech: judge for yourself how balanced their coverage of it is…
“Feral” Blair grabs headlines, by ‘South Tyneside’s Premier blogger.
Jeff Jarvis and his BuzzMachine