Plato (428-348 BC) was opposed to the use of the written word; convinced that it destroyed memory. People, he argued, wouldn’t bother to memorise facts or stories. Spreading words indiscriminately was wasteful and they were not to be trusted.
How prophetic. And yet, though spoken over two millennia ago, how utterly contemporary. Look at our mainstream media (MSM) with their central tenet that their journalists are reliable, truthful and objective. Who do you believe? Them or Plato?
The direction we’ve seen in the MSM leans towards in the last couple of decades favours stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist. And often untrue. Truth doesn’t sell a newspaper. If Plato were alive today he would no doubt bemoan the MSM have been spreading words indiscriminately and wasteful. And they most definitely are not to be trusted.
Some bloggers have publicly stated what Plato would have agreed to, and in response the MSM unleashed a ferocious and to some, a persuasive attack on the independent blog sites. A couple that I’d read earlier from the Murdoch stable exhibited a sort of ‘xenophobic’ hatred, which first became evident a couple of years ago. Christian Kerr, a political journalist I admired, 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 the proclaimed masthead of the Murdoch empire, the Townsville Bulletin, which announced to stunned 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.
Represent the community! Don’t you mean control the community?
Blogging has profoundly influenced the nature of modern communication and obviously this doesn’t sit well with the traditional print media. The above references are indicative of their opinion that blogs produce public discussion that falls well below their standards. I disagree. News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held account.
The blog sites are now holding them to account and this sits very uneasy with them.
Many blog writers have a natural gift of being able take the single main story of the day – turn it into something worth reading – and foster the expression of a range of opinions that otherwise would not, or may not, have the opportunity of being expressed to a wide audience via the MSM.
In a few short years, blogging has become a global phenomenon. It has not only has reshaped our view of journalism, but has unlocked previously unrealised publishing opportunities. Blogging itself, in my opinion, is journalism. The readership is limited, hence blogging sites with similar agendas often link their sites together to broaden the impact of their commentary. The blog sites of the MSM usually filter out contributions from bloggers whose opinion do not fit into their schema, so while independent blog sites provide minimal impact, the avenues through the MSM can provide none.
Then what are the impacts of the independent blog sites?
It is in the political sphere, that the impact of blogging is being nurtured.
In his/her March 2010 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 found the essay to be rather heartening. As a blogger 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. If we follow the trend seen in the United States, we may one day see a healthy blogging industry flourish in Australia.
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.
Up until recently, people in democratic societies wishing to have their ideas and opinions published had to contend with editorial policies that were generally based on the ideology of the editors, and of course, on what was sellable. However, this regime of control over what content is allowed to emerge is collapsing in today’s world of participatory media.
Today’s audience want to be part of the media, rather than passive receivers. Not only do they want to comment on the news, they want to be part of creating it.
Many bloggers believe they are better suited to provide the diversity that today’s democracies need, yet which are often ignored by traditional journalists. Blogging advances the opportunity for bloggers 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.
Bloggers also encourage contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that might often be avoided by a mainstream media organisation, particularly if they are working to a different (or hidden) agenda. Further, through blogs, people have the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the established media; the blogosphere is awash with a more objective and factual analysis.
Blogs have exploded in number, not because they are the echo of dissenting voices, but because the MSM has created an arena for them to enter. If the MSM was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then in a modern democracy there may not be any bloggers, or for that matter, the millions of blog sites that exist purely to fill in the gaps exposed by the mainstream media empires.
In other words, it’s the people versus Murdoch.
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