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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

missing the point of blogs « Previous | |Next »
July 10, 2008

Some clever people at the University of Sydney reckon they've invented something that could speed up the internet by 6000 percent. That would come in really handy when you want to watch stuff like this.

It's an hour-long video of the first panel at the Microsoft Politics and Technology Forum a couple of weeks ago discussing Blogging, Social Networks, Political Movements and the Media. Annabel Crabb, Matt Bai from New York Times magazine, Peter Black and Mark Textor form the panel.

If it's worth watching at all, it's to get some idea of how badly misunderstood the independent blogosphere can be, and perhaps how poorly the blogosphere has articulated what it actually does, or can do given the opportunity.

Mark Textor seems to have a good handle on where independent blogs fit into election campaigns, which is odd considering he must have been associated with Howard's disastrous adventures on YouTube. He argues that blogs, media and various websites are among the many sources people use when they're deciding an issue. But being Textor, he seems to see the blogosphere as one big unexplored opportunity for would-be exploiters.

Black had a go at representing the so-called political blogosphere, but didn't seem to have anticipated having to defend it. Asked why an amateur blogger's opinion should be considered as worthy as a media insider's opinion, he could reasonably have asked why, in a democracy, is a single journalist's opinion more worthy than anyone else's? Or he could have pointed out that, unlike columnists, opining is only one of many things bloggers do.

Crabb makes the usual them vs us arguments about bloggers not being real journalists, despite thinking of them as competition at the same time. Bloggers being mainstream media leeches but they're untrustworthy because you don't know where they get their info from, without noticing the contradiction there. In one snort-worthy comment she says

"Isn't transparency about the last thing you get in the blogosphere?...You don't know who half the people are"

I guess that would be as opposed to the totally objective reporting we get from mainstream media who are pristine and blameless when it comes to partisanship or influence from advertiser's interests.

Despite these unimaginative and hackneyed arguments though, Crabb seems a tad conflicted between preserving her authorial authority and finding independent blogs useful in her own life for the things they do that mainstream media doesn't. She describes a blog she likes where commenters contribute different points of view and bring new bits of information to an issue, transforming a set piece into a dynamic.

Someone from the floor, didn't catch the name, said she was working for government on how to engage people and get them participating in a proposed government blog following the public submissions to the Australian Government Consultation Blog Discussion Paper. They didn't receive as many submissions as they'd hoped, but followed blog discussions on the issue and incorporated ideas from those into their data anyway. The proposed consultation blog is supposed to be in the interests of transparency, which is what detonated Crabb's minor explosion about not knowing who bloggers are.

After watching The Hollowmen last night it's probably best not to get too hopeful about such things, but in the meantime it's gratifying to think that it's at least possible that this government is possibly, maybe, perhaps, hopefully, vaguely aware of the differences between real blogs, and the simplistic and misleading ways they're described by so many in traditional media.

| Posted by Lyn at 3:34 PM | | Comments (13)
Comments

Comments

Lyn
I gave up watching conference stuff like that some time ago. I just love the appeal to authority when most journos have BA's whilst many of the professional bloggers have PhD's and have written books.

It is the professionals in the media who under the spotlight these days re credibility, not the political bloggers. The insiders are being watched by the bloggers.

The professional journos don't seem to understand the distinction between policy and politics--something the Hollow Men made very clear---nor the idea of deliberative democracy or Web 2.0.

Gary,
It's probably fair to say that the most interesting stuff at conferences happens between sessions, but that would be much harder to film.

It's a bit between-the-lines, but I got the impression that Crabb, at least, understood very well where journos stand in the credibility stakes but had to defend her patch, which is understandable. What was very clear was that journos do read blogs (der) but it was more interesting to note that someone within government acknowledges that they do too. That's a good way for them to get around the journo middlemen who can't tell the difference between policy and politics.

The Hollowmen was just depressing. Too real for comfort.

Of course they read blogs. They have been doing this for years----from back when I was working in the Senate and blogging before 2004.

The insiders just don't engage with the policy ideas. Never have. Only Margo Kingston discussed ideas, then she was a maverick.

I loved the Hollow Men. It took me back to a place where I felt very comfortable. I was sorry to leave.

Lyn,
the boffins may have developed the super high speed chip, but for such a switch to work it requires fibre optics to go directly to the home. Deary me.

We are light years from that. Aren't the telcos and government still talking about fibre to the node (or exchange?) It is the telephone line or copper wire from the house to the exchange that is the big problem.

I thought hollowmen's first episode was a bit poorly acted and lacked the vavoom of a new show.
But I am not turned off from it yet and expect it to get better as it goes. These guys have been in TV for a while and understand the viewer.
What was the name of that Olympics show? That was well written.

Les,
Maybe. I tend to overlook acting as I see television as a visual medium not theatre. I thought the use of words to describe the political shifts in response to creating an Obesity policy, and the retreat of good policy in the face of the entrenched power of the Food Industry lobbyists, were very good. Clever.

It also gave a very good insight into how a ministerial office works, the politics of policy, and the role of the bureaucracy.

There was real bite and satire from the Frontline crew.

Annabel Crabbe is writing satire in The Age these days. I find it not to be very insightful. It's more infotainment than political commentary. I rarely get the point that she is making--the futility of politics?-- and I rarely finish reading the column. The Age is going downhill. I used to buy it. I no longer do so.

Gary,
At the end of the day it has to rate well and I don't think it will. I base this on the current political process transposed.
Wrong time wrong place. But it will be funny. Not funny like yes minister but funny like ACA.
If I was inserting adverts into it I would be say; Public Transport, holidays and wine.

Gary,
The thing I found most interesting about journalists and government reading blogs was that both were acknowledging it in public. The context was important. The panel had pretty much agreed that the blogosphere is either useless or hasn't become relevant yet, yet both found them sufficiently useful and relevant to spend time reading them.

Do you think that blogs are getting better at ideas and suggestions? Ages ago Les observed that they complain a lot but don't seek solutions. I think that's changed recently.

Nan,
Towards the end of the session someone from the floor said our internet speed and coverage is woeful. We have the technology for wireless coverage but don't use it. He said the kid sitting next to him had a gadget in his pocket that could provide wireless for the whole room. The response was along the lines of - we're not all tech heads like you and working families don't have the time to be on the internet all day. Pathetic.

The Games, Les, John Clark and Brian Dawe. They'd be perfect for the Hollow Men. Watching it I kept thinking of the ETS - that it's probably being mangled beyond recognition behind closed doors. So the time and place seemed perfect to me.

Nan,
Poor Annabel is not on her own. All of them seem to be in their death throes, no matter which empire they're employed with.

It's not so much that these kinds of shows get better as they go, so much as we get used to them and learn how to watch them. Now that we know how it works we'll appreciate it more.

Gary, I find the visuals of this kind of Australian TV very interesting. The acting dovetails, half over done and half under done.

The political blogosphere is much misunderstood. Especially we amateurs. The euphemism is citizen, meaning unpaid and unrecognised. I think I'll put 'Senior Citizen Journalist' on the next census and passport application. There seems to be a lot of forums and discussion about CitJ's (love the jargon) which is fascinating given how few there seem to be in Australia.

Lots of people are blogging, as commentators or conduits for news and commentary. Lots are making satirical video and animation. Yet it's hard to find many who have the time or inclination to undertake traditional news gathering and investigation. Perhaps it is a job for seniors who have the time.

When the WA government held a Community Cabinet in Broome earlier this year I contacted the relevant government office to get some kind of accreditation so that I could at least know what was planned and get the press releases. The initial response was that it would set a dangerous precedent. What if every university student with a camrecorder wanted to come to the Perth media briefings. There wouldn't be enough room. I was eventually successful and the fruits such as they were can be found on my blog.

I used to enjoy Annabelle Crabbe's SMH blog but she rarely has more than on post per month these days. A pity. Won't comment on her remarks until I've see the footage.

Good blogging!

Welcome back Kevin. I understand you've relocated to Melbourne. Talk about climate change.

You're right about citizen journalism. I think that's one of those things that's poorly understood because it's poorly articulated. It creates the impression of a citizen being, as you say, an amateur journalist first and blogger later, which misses the mark by a long shot.

Interesting story about the community cabinet. In the interests of transparency the room should be full of people of all kinds with camcorders, not just media students. 'Dangerous precedent' gives you some idea of what's going wrong here. Really, what's worse for governments - hostile and selective media or amateur video? They'd be better off skirting the media and trusting the public any day.

On Crabbe, you'll notice she admits her blog isn't really a blog but a flog - her column with comments facilities. It's a fake blog with the primary purpose of flogging advertising.

"The thing I found most interesting about journalists and government reading blogs was that both were acknowledging it in public. The context was important. The panel had pretty much agreed that the blogosphere is either useless or hasn't become relevant yet, yet both found them sufficiently useful and relevant to spend time reading them."

Now that so many government departments and agencies at state and federal level have installed US-based Websense (or its affilates) security and filtering systems , many government people can no longer read the full spectrum of Australian blogs and online magazines.
The exceptiosn appear to be the Australian Parliamentary Library and defence/
intelligence.