Bloggers: the biggest whingers since journalists

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I’m well pleased that my rant for Crikey about journalists elicited a witty response from Jonathan Este, the journos’ “union thug”. He’s kindly allowed me to republish it in full below. My comments afterwards.

He’d also like me to draw your attention to the MEAA’s own project, The Future of Journalism, done in conjunction with The Walkley Foundation.

Bloggers: the biggest whingers since journalists

Jonathan Este writes:

Your blogging correspondent, Stilgherrian, seemed like such a nice bloke at the Future of Media Summit in Sydney on Tuesday. On the way from the venue to the pub afterwards we shared a few yarns and war stories and I bought him a beer.

He could have been a real journalist.

But his piece in yesterday’s Crikey [local copy] betrayed his outsider status in his very first par:

What is the future of journalism? To judge by the discussion at this week’s Future of Media Summit… it’s endless bl–dy whingeing.

Whingeing, old son, is the past, the present and the future of journalism, as you’d know if you’d spent much time in the newsroom. It’s what we do. Journalists love whingeing and we’re pretty damn good at it.

But to judge by the wrangling during the Future of Journalism panel, on which I sat alongside Jane Shultze of The Australian, APN’s Hugh Martin and Professor Stephen Quinn of Curtin University, bloggers are certainly catching journalists up when it comes to the culture of complaint.

Their complaint appears to be this: “Journalists don’t take us seriously enough. They won’t let us play in their sand pit.”

Much debate raged about how to define journalism and journalists. Shultze copped a barracking for insisting that, as far as she was concerned, being a journalist had involved getting to know a beat (in her case, media business) extremely thoroughly, building a list of contacts around that beat and using it to break stories in the newspaper and — lately — online.

(With the greatest respect to a former colleague, I take exception with this, as it appears limited to reporters. To me a journalist is engaged in any or all aspects of journalism, there is just as much of the craft — yes, craft — of journalism in finessing a story for publication and the other roles involved in the production of a newspaper or bulletin as there is in reporting, but that’s another issue.)

Shultze’s definition was greeted by a howl of protest from the bloggers’ brigade: What do you think bloggers do? We break stories as well! What we do is just as valid as what you do, etc, etc.

And they are absolutely right. The best in the blogosphere are right up there with the best journalists, while there can be no doubt that some journalists practise the craft with more talent and diligence than others (you know who you are).

One of my favourite media stories this week is the Pounds 30 million purchase of ContentNext, the tech blog group, by Guardian News & Media. I’m a big fan of GNM and their online strategy as it is optimistic and aggressive. They are forging ahead into new markets in the belief that “reach will equal revenue” down the track.

And ContentNext has a high net worth readership in India of which the Grauniad wants a piece. GNM is not falling into the trap some other media organisations are in of circling their wagons, putting their fingers in their ears, singing “la-la-la” and hoping it’ll all go away if they cut staff savagely enough.

Perhaps Rafat Ali, the brain behind ContentNext, is technically a blogger, but what he and his people are engaged in is high-quality journalism. It is finding things out and keeping their market informed. So, can bloggers do journalism? Absolutely.

Stilgherrian reminds us of our faults and, yes: you do read barely altered press releases, there are sloppy errors and bias has been known to creep in, from time to time. One of the most recent comments you read about falling newspaper readership is: “If they gave us something worth reading, we’d buy their newspapers.”

So, less people are buying newspapers and more people are reading blogs and getting their news through informal social networks. As long as they still want the news, then there will be work for those of us whose job it is to find things out, whether it be by old-fashioned door-knocking, by monitoring Twitter feeds or by crowd sourcing. And we all get to share in the wonderful new online tools being developed.

So, yes, Stilgherrian, you can play in our sandpit. And we’ll be duly impressed when you come up with something better than the castles in the air you built yesterday.

Jonathan Este is the director of communications with the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. His views are not necessarily those of the Alliance.

Stilgherrian’s Reaction

I think this is a superb response. But Jonathan, I think you’re slightly wrong about the nature of the bloggers’ complaint.

The complaint is, I believe, that bloggers are sick of being lumped together as an undifferentiated mass of amateur irrelevance while (some) journalists spout about the superiority of their craft — when both crafts cover the full spectrum from excellence to shite.

Jane Schultze was the worst offender on the panel in this regard — but she didn’t help things with her overly-narrow definition of journalism.

The bloggers feel, I believe, that if journalists don’t know about this spectrum then they’re only showing their ignorance, and that it’s a bit precious to gloss over the obvious failings of many members of their own profession.

Maybe the very term “blog” is the problem, because we’re using it for both the tool and the role. The tools for blogging did indeed emerge to serve the keepers of diaries full of trivia, but were soon co-opted by news organisations and others for more serious purposes.

To lump all users of blogging tools together as “bloggers” is like lumping journalists with historians, novelists and scientists and calling them “typists”.

Other Reactions

Duncan Riley, editor of The Inquisitr, emailed me:

What delicious irony from Jonathan Este in his contribution to the bloggers vs journalism debate (Crikey June 17), when as a journalist he has failed to use the correct name of the blog network acquired by the Guardian last week three times in as many paragraphs. The company acquired was ContentNext, not FirstContent, and its main blog is paidContent (they publish no title by the name of FirstContent). Bonus points to Jonathan on the acquisition price, which was $30m US not 30m pounds.

Would it be churlish for me to also mention that, um, Jonathan, we met on Tuesday, not Wednesday? Ah, fact-checking…

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  1. Stephen Stockwell’s avatar

    There’s still plenty of cheese left, readers.
    I finished the wine last night.

    Reply

  2. Mediamum’s avatar

    I am still enthralled by this conversation. I don’t think the journalism debate is about “you can play in our sandpit.” The sandpit is no longer owned by anyone. It’s free and available to everyone. After owning the sandpit, the sand, and the play tools for so long, no wonder the traditional media journalists are pissed that any old grubby kid can get in there and start building their own castles.

    All those years of owning a masthead, controlling the medium, the message and the readership that goes with it potentially means… nothing.

    So I get why traditional media is annoyed.

    I don’t, however, get why ‘new media’ is so pissed off. If traditional media has betrayed the public and is currently at such an incredible low point, why does their opinion matter to you so much? So what if they tend to dismiss bloggers?

    The sandpit is changing. Instead of trying to stake claim over the sand, or spouting about how the previously owned sand is crap, better ways of making a decent castle would be great to see.

    Reply

  3. Stephen Stockwell’s avatar

    Bingo.

    Reply

  4. jason’s avatar

    Rather than hen peck the lower ranks, I’d rather see journalists muscle up against the media corporations diluting media in general.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when young people turn to Jon Stewart for a reality check.

    Reply

  5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Mediamum: I suspect a lot of “new media” folks spend most of their time talking to other new media folks, and get their news through new media. So they’re bound to think that new media is bigger and more important that it actually is (yet). Plus some of them think they’re a bit special because they’re “Inventing the Future”…

    Reply

  6. Todd’s avatar

    I don’t think true journalists whine — they are reporting the news. If the news is bad news, well then it might come across as whining, but it is hard to report bad news and sound happy about it!

    Reply

  7. Dave’s avatar

    Mediamum, you beat Jeff Jarvis to the point of his “cure for curmudgeons” post by a few days — ignore the perceived criticism or complaints and just start building a better castle.

    Reply

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