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Independent media: the sleeping giant and the MSM’s response

Paul Sheehan’s recent attacks on the hugely popular Facebook site Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History are not isolated incidents of the mainstream media (MSM) publicly airing disdain towards the social media.

Ferocious, and to some, persuasive attacks by the MSM have become rabid from the moment the independent media (the Fifth Estate) and voices in social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) became even the slightest of threats to their diminishing integrity. And why wouldn’t their integrity be diminishing when the direction we’ve seen in the MSM leans towards, especially in the last few years, are stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist? And often untrue. My recent article, The facts versus Andrew Bolt offered an example of the of the fabricated sensationalism so evident in today’s media.

It was a couple of years ago that I first noticed the MSM unleash an attack on the independent blog sites. A couple that I read from the Murdoch media exhibited a sort of  ‘xenophobic’ hatred. Christian Kerr, a political journalist with The Australian, savaged the blogosphere with more zeal than I’ve ever heard him attack incompetent politicians, writing that:

It’s also worth noting that the`blogosphere’ supposedly outraged is the small incestuous clique of self-identified lefties, with readerships composed mostly of themselves, who were more than happy to out other bloggers a few years ago with whom they disagreed.

That last bit, for the uninitiated, is a reference to the modern dull and doctrinaire Crikey and its very own Adrian Mole, barrister-blogger Walter Jeremy Sear, and his role assisting The Sunday Age dissect the corpse of the spectacularly snarky site The Spin Start Here that offended sensibilities for years until it reached its logical conclusion and ripped itself apart. Sear was happy to help with an outing then.

The whole thing smacks of naivety and self-righteousness.

And naivety and self-righteousness seems to define the vast majority of the Australian blogosphere. That and whining conspiracy theories.

Quite remarkably, Christian’s little dummy spit was shadowed by the editorial of another from the Murdoch empire, the Townsville Bulletin, which announced to North Queenslanders that bloggers are cowards:

When reporter James Massola “outed” an anonymous blogger in The Australian newspaper last week, he received death threats and a torrent of personal abuse.

How dare someone in the mainstream media name one of these increasingly puerile bloggers, self-appointed guardians of righteousness and all that is wrong about society and, in particular, newspapers.

Grogs Gamut was named as a Canberra public servant and the reaction from his mates was as predictable as it was boring.

Those who hide under the veil of anonymity, taking cheap shots to satisfy their trendy social agenda, don’t like it when they are thrust into the real world.

The great thing about newspapers is that, love us or hate us, we’re the voice of the people. We represent the community, their views, their aspirations and their hopes. We champion North Queensland’s wins and we commiserate during our losses.

Oh how high and mighty they are, being the acclaimed “voice of the people”. And true to from, jumping in on the act the aforementioned Andrew Bolt screamed that the outed blogger, Greg Jericho, be sacked from his usual job. Indeed, let’s punish this new media.

There is no doubt that all forms of dialogue in the social and independent media have profoundly influenced the nature of modern communication and obviously this doesn’t sit well with the traditional media. The above references are indicative of their opinion that the new media produces public discussion that falls well below their standards. I, however, disagree. News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held to account.

New media is now holding them to account and this sits very uneasily with them.

In a few short years the new media, blogging in particular, has become a global phenomenon and it has reshaped our view of journalism. It is in the political sphere, that the impact of blogging is being nurtured.

In an essay titled The Influence of Political Blog Sites on Democratic Participation, ShariVari wrote that:

A computer-mediated environment may make it easier for citizens to express their feelings about political candidates and allow them to speak more candidly than if they were in a face-to-face situation. The diversity of the internet gives citizens access to a wide variety of opinions and information that they may not have access to otherwise, and this may play a role in changing or shaping an individual’s political views. After disregarding any blog sites that have a corporate financial objective or are engaging in political agenda-setting, political blog site users can begin to discuss their personal view points with peers.

I find this essay to be rather heartening. As a blogger and a social media user who has lost all faith in the MSM it was good to know that we can indeed have an impact, albeit small at this stage.

ShariVari concludes that:

All of the research shows that increased opportunities for participation can only encourage democracy . . . This research means that citizens are increasingly turning to and trusting the Internet for accurate information, using it as a platform for participatory democracy, and becoming more knowledgeable about political information in the process. A Spiral of Silence is less likely to exist where citizens have only each others’ opinions to evaluate in terms of their own civic participation and lack status cues such as gender, race, and socio-economic status. Blog sites definitely are increasing the ways in which citizens can participate in their democracy.

The above article, although American and a couple of years old, aptly describes how independent media is now evolving in Australia.

Independent media are better suited to provide the diversity which is often ignored by traditional journalists. Both independent and social media advances the opportunity to expose doctored or omitted facts from mainstream media and point out the bias by particular reporters who do not provide such opportunity for his/her readership to give voice to alternate opinions.

Independent media also encourages contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that might often be avoided by the MSM, particularly if they are working to a different (or hidden) agenda. Further, social media gives people the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the established media and as a consequence social media is awash with a more objective and factual analysis. Where, for example, would you find corrections to false or misleading statements from the current government exposed? Not the MSM. Not the MSM as they operate under a different agenda.

But if the MSM was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then there may not be the thousands of social media groups the MSM are now taking a disliking to.

Had we a balanced and analytical media, there would be blogs and social media groups, certainly, but at the extremes of the political spectrum although their popularity would have been limited to those that simply agreed with them. Now we have people turning to the new media because they know they cannot expect the truth out of the old media. If the MSM did their job better they wouldn’t need to be so capriciously attacking social media because, quite simply, they wouldn’t be competition.

Sheehan’s recent attack, as mentioned earlier, is not an isolated incident. David Donovan of Independent Australia has also been targeted. David innocently tweeted:

Forgive if I recall incorrectly, but didn’t Abbott promise to spend his first week as PM in an Indigenous community?

It was a fair question. If it wasn’t bad enough that this pre-election commitment was washed aside by the MSM, then the insulting attack on David by Samantha Maiden, the national political editor of News Corporation’s Sydney Sunday masthead, the Sunday Telegraph was. The attack was personal. I encourage you to read David’s account of it.

What on earth is wrong with the MSM? Not only is the credibility of their professionalism crumbling but they attack the independent media for introducing the credibility that they themselves lack. Independent media are asking the questions that should be asked. Independent media are exposing the falsehoods that should be exposed. And in doing so, incur the wrath from the MSM who people, traditionally, have looked to for balanced news and opinion.

Margo Kingston – a former journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and now a leading figure in social media – summed it up rather succinctly in an interview with The AIMN:

It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write . . . And there are journalists in the traditional media who secretly admit that the new, independent media is the way of the future.

Some, however, are obviously frightened of it. They can persist with their attacks, but like their news stories they are shallow as rossleigh proved when he spoke to the creator of the Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History Facebook group; the one that Paul Sheehan fabricated stories about. It was a glaring example of story being made up to attack the independent media. It’s not a good move. The Fifth Estate is a sleeping giant. It’s starting to wake up and my advice to the old media is not to provoke it. It is going to consume you. We are no longer passive observers. Margo adds:

We need to build a bridge between the new media and journalists who see the corruption within the mainstream media. We need to collaborate and work together. We can do this by luring traditional journalists into the new media and free them of their shackles. If we do this, one day we in the new media will look back and be grateful for the decisions we make today.

That would be ideal, however, even if ‘traditional’ journalists prefer to ignore the freshness that the new media can offer, there has already been an emergence of ‘new’ journalists in the Fifth Estate to fill the void.

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33 comments

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  1. newsflock (@newsflock)

    Great post Michael.

    Hopefully this is just the beginning of the emergence of independent media and it can become influential enough to make the MSM irrelevant. Knowledge and communication are the cornerstones of democracy, so there’s the possibility that new media (independent, social etc.) will eventually usher in a new era of democracy with a highly engaged population.

  2. Fed up

    Well, Mr. Reith told us this morning, one cannot believe what one reads in the media. Does not like them talking about weddings.

    Did not like the questions he was getting either.

    I was reared in the bush, with weekly mail delivery, and poor radio reception, run off the car battery.
    Yet, in this community, living on a farm, I was at eleven, amazed at how fast new traveled.

    Yes, it was called the bush telegraph. Had the same experience in Central Queensland, in my teens. No radio or TV, weekly mail, and one was kept informed.

    I believe that bush telegraph is well suited to the cyber space.

    Gossip travelled twice as fast.

  3. Marc

    Great article, only let down by the many typo’s 🙁

  4. diannaart

    If the drones from the MSM are getting uppity, this must mean the fifth estate is having an impact. YAY!

  5. Fed up

    Marc, it is content that counts here, not typos.

  6. Geoff Of Epping

    Great post Michael. Classic example of this self congratulatory behaviour from the MSM and it’s utter disdain for truth is the fact that Kate McClymont has received 5 Wankleys for the drivel and lies she passes off as “investigative journalism” They’re so blind to their own failures that they’ll be heading to the dole queues so soon wondering why we didn’t appreciate them more.
    Keep up the work Michael. Truth will always win out in the end…..that’s what keeps me going.

  7. Carol Taylor

    Michael and,

    What on earth is wrong with the MSM? Not only is the credibility of their professionalism crumbling but they attack the independent media for introducing the credibility that they themselves lack.

    That’s it, and precisely. They attack the independent media due to their ever-increasing lack of credibility. I recall another article where one mainstream media writer bemoaned the fact the he now had to compete with the fast pace of the social media – hence the reason he didn’t have time for research and to check the facts of what he was writing, so he said. I was very tempted to answer if independent authors can, when why can’t you?

  8. Carol Taylor

    Fed up, that’s apart from the fact that there don’t seem to be any typos…

  9. Fed up

    We are having a media conference with Abbot, in a hour or hour and half. Wonder if he will answer more than two questions.

    The reason it has taken so long for a trade deal with China since Howard first started the process, is that China in demanding we change our migration laws, so they can bring in, and empty their own workers, outside the IR laws here.

    Would not put it past Abbott to agree.

  10. Fed up

    Carol, even I noticed that.

  11. Bacchus

    There are a couple Carol, but they’re so minor and inconsequential – less noticeable than “typo’s,” with absolutely no effect on the meaning or readability of this excellent piece from Michael 😉

  12. Bacchus

    Minor grammatical errors Michael – of absolutely ZERO consequence – your meaning is as clear as crystal. 😀

  13. Terry2

    I could not help but wonder how, just a few weeks ago, Tony Abbott could be posturing before a large billboard that recorded the number of illegal boat arrivals under Labor and now we have Scott Morrison orchestrating a media ban on all information concerning boat arrivals as it is now no longer deemed to be in the public interest.
    You may recall in Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith was employed by the Ministry of Truth where he “corrected” historical and economic facts to suit the prevailing political climate, here’s an extract from the book:

    “For example, the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two million pairs. Winston however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions , or than 145 millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year becomes uncertain.”

    Reviewing this on the Labour Day public holiday there is a certain irony as, in Queensland, your calendar will tell you that Labour Day was 1 May 2013 and the holiday, Monday 6 May. However, the newly installed Newman government determined that Labour Day should be in October and the holiday should be on Monday the seventh in 2013.

    The records have been changed, accordingly: thanks Winston.

  14. martha

    I have been driven off two blogs over time re typos so called, beware they may be liberals.
    i didn’t notice one mistake and if i did i would nt think to question.

    I am a quilter, i remember a very wonderful quilter who had won many prizes over her life time one of my teachers told me the world is not perfect she suggested i go out into the garden and look the flowers individually ,they are the same, she said but take a closer look some not as perfect as the bud next to them, she told me perfect quilting was boring, so when one of squares of triangle or my applique is not perfectly placed, its my personal statement.

    ive seen visitors to exhibitions put their eyes close to quitls, when i look at quilt i stand well back and get the over all effect. i would not dream or examining some ones work all quilts are beautiful.
    We also have a granddaughter with mild autism , and another with heart problem so no they are not perfect either.

    Life is not about perfecting it about content and people, the grammar police ,
    do they see beauty or only mistakes. sad i think.
    yes a teacher a class room can point out and correct but that’s where is should finish.

    So the grammar corrector can make some one feel bad for the rest of there day
    it certainly had that effect on me.

    now why was here, O yes Michael on twitter there has been a couple of junos who thanked me for saying their story was good to read, and then I went on to give another suggestion on the topic that had been written, i got a thank you , so may be we are making head way, with the younger newer staff they may realise that we are customers also.
    thank again don’t you let any one put you off writing this blog is wonderful.

    .

    .

  15. Marc

    I should have said that in a couple of instances a word was repeated more than once, I didn’t think it was a big deal people. I appreciate the article and whole hardheartedly agree with the content. It’s written much better than I could have done it 🙂

  16. Michael Taylor

    Marc, please point out the typos (not typo’s).

    I’ve ran the spell-checker a number of times and I still cant find any.

    Apart from that, I appreciate that you like the article. 🙂

  17. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Geoff. Your comment is very encouraging.

  18. whatismore

    It’s a very small deal Marc. It’s the message that matters. Read the banners under ABC 24 news and the articles on Bigpond.com for some embarrassing misspellings

  19. Michael Taylor

    Thanks Bacchus. I ran the spellchecker a couple of times but on each occasion there was a clean slate.

  20. Lawrence Winder

    More good stuff.. particularly Margo Kingston’s.
    I was reflecting yesterday that in what seems a veritable Tsunami of warranted criticism of this Murdoch mandated mob, may be the first time a new Government (I hate using that term) has not had a “honeymoon period”. Perhaps this explains the venom behind the likes of the Sheehans and Bolts who are suffering their due death-of-a-thousand-cuts.

  21. Gitte

    “News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held account.”

    I read this excellent article and found only this grammatical error. It should read “held to account” or “held accountable”.

    In my opinion the mainstream media’s main complain centres around money and control. Fewer people buying what they have to sell means that they will have fewer advertisers. Fewer people reading and believing the mainstream media means that they have less control over what people ‘know’. That can only be a good thing.

  22. gordonwa

    Thanks Michael, another great article. I agree that the real news is to be found on sites like AIMN and IA. The MSM/ABC are now virtually in shutdown mode when it comes to questioning the coalition.

    On another issue raised here, and I mention it with some trepidation, I was wondering if there is a way the more pedantic of us could let you know about typos, etc. directly without posting on the forum and distracting from the comments? Perhaps an email to the editor? I haven’t spotted such a mechanism here but I do use it with other sites.

    I ask because I’m probably not the only one to notice that there is a change of thought in the sentence beginning:

    “Further, social media gives people have the opportunity to…”

    This can’t be picked up by spell checking. Removing the word ‘have’ will fix it.

    None of this detracts from the worthwhile content of your article but can affect the readability.

    Cheers

  23. martha

    the grammar thing is a bit like the old p and F days, we had fair and those that didn’t help

    complained the most.

  24. Northern Mariners

    But surely there are extreme right wing blogs as well? as there are blogs for every political and social position? The right wing media don’t like left wing blogs for one simple reason. They feel threatened. GOOD!!!

  25. hilderombout

    Thank you Michael for another excellent piece of writing. I too noticed what Gordonwa did and although it did not bother me in the slightest, i wondered too if there is a way of letting you know in an email. This is not a criticism Michael and i hope you don’t see it that way. I write / edit a monthly newsletter for an organisation i belong to and i have it scanned by about 4 different people before sending it off. It is a real pain and even then i find mistakes after it is published. I do have to checked by several people only because after a while i can’t see my mistakes anymore. Typos are easier to pick up than grammatical errors.

    As to the content of your work, yes hoorah that the MSM is getting upset by us on the fifth estate. Their eventual disappearance can’t come soon enough. I do worry though about Abbott signing the TPP, which if i understand correctly might give the MSM more power and might limit our access in internet sites. Not sure whether i understood correctly though. But if i did, i am sure we will find a way around it, because as Fed Up shows the bushtelegraph will get the news out anyway. And bushtelegraph in this instance might be some other form of communication that those in power might not be able to restrict.

    Thank you again Michael, you have given me more food for thought.

  26. ejdur662

    While I have always strived to use correct grammar and punctuation all my life, I don’t give a shit whether someone else uses it correctly or not. I’m more interested in the message they are trying to convey.

    As a Scottish friend of mine who had a very strong accent once said to me:
    “Listen to WHAT I’m saying, not HOW I’m saying it” – Good advice there.

  27. OscarJ

    And of course even Rupert Murdoch has become a blogger, albeit via Twitter, And The Drum- what is that ?
    I’ve noticed myself the fury of the MSM against blogs and it is quite bizarre,

  28. Jan Dobson

    Great article, as usual. The proviso, however, is that within the fifth estate there are those who are ill informed, dishonest, hypocritical, biased, prejudiced or who, deliberately or unconsciously, slant facts in any number of ways. It is difficult, especially when one is unfamiliar with the subject, to judge accurately.

    This was, I believe, the strength of main stream media until recently. From three or four sources, one would generally receive a balanced synopsis. The fragmentation of independent media requires more of that precious resource, time.

    That said, thank the powers that be, we have the means and freedom to post, read and critique. Imagine the state our country would be in, if there wasn’t anyone calling our current MSM to account. My blood runs cold at the thought.

  29. dave the brickie

    A good article that should be compulsory reading for journalists.I heard that fraudulent climate minister Greg
    ‘unt on radio today initiating the pink batts enquiry.A case of ‘watch my left hand as my right one is doing other things'(use your imagination).A smoke screen to hide a lack of serious climate policy.If he had access to decent broadband he could Google the results of the nine enquiries( including coronial) and save us the money and the bother.

    g

  30. Ross Sharp

    Paul Sheehan has discovered dissent and disagreement with the MSM on the internet. WHO KNEW!?!

    Also, people call each other names. Oo-er.

    As for Kerr …

    And naivety and self-righteousness seems to define the vast majority of the Australian blogosphere. That and whining conspiracy theories.

    Is he talking about himself or Andrew Bolt?

    What a tool.

  31. James Cook

    Thank goodness for these sites…Since accessing this and other independent sites I no longer scream at the TV news or 7.30 Report…Well, not as much. I can inform my friends of what’s REALLY going on in this appalling government, and they ARE surprised, with many asking for directions to these sites. Keep it up please!

  32. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, James. I appreciate your comments.

  33. whatismore

    It is interesting to note that Christian Kerr held a regular guest spot on LNL with Phillip Adams where he poured shit on JG’s Labor Government. Poor Phillip would chortle and wheeze in the background often declaring he had torn up his Labor party membership. Christian also served as a staffer for Amanda Vanstone of whom Adams often declares, “Oh, I like Amanda”. Such a brave man. And such a happy coincidence that Amanda now has her own show “Counterpoint ” since the departure of Duffy and Comrey-Thomson. Counterpoint was set up to balance the leftist views of Adams-please give me a break . He was too cowardly to have Margot Kingston on as a guest before the election. I wrote to him three times and was assured that Margot was definitely appearing. I must agree with a blogger who described Adams as the vapid tedious dull show leftie of the Murdoch media.

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