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

movement at the station « Previous | |Next »
September 14, 2008

William Bowe's Poll Bludger and Possum Comitatus' Pollytics have both joined the growing crowd sheltering under the Crikey blogging umbrella.

Petering Time from North Coast Voices isn't terribly happy about it,

It is sad to see yet another very successful independent blog being absorbed into what is essentially the mainstream digital media.

With the best of intentions, true independence can be diminished by the needs of the new parent. Something Possum will have to guard against.
Previous visitors and participants on Possum Pollytics comment pages will notice the registration requirements on the new blog which add yet another level of basic data sharing.

On the other hand, the current period of uncertainty over the future of journalism and where blogs might fit in opens up spaces for thinking in grey areas. Does the idealism of the purist perspective work in the interests of either bloggers or journalists?

Stilgherrian has put together a few thoughts on the matter from the journalism angle. The central problem is not so much that journalism and blogging are different animals, as the fact that so many on either side of the fence believe that they are. Or that there's a fence to start with.

Where is the rule book which prohibits any of the recently sacked Fairfax journos from practicing their craft, or profession, or whatever they want to call it, in a blog instead of a newspaper? Where is it written that the only proper place for real blogging is some remote corner of the internet with a total audience of 5?

Some of mainstream media's biggest problems work to the advantage of blogs. There's what over at LP has called the collapse of facts, an idea from the sociology of science and Bruno Latour particularly. The authority of journalists and journalism depends on the willingness of lots of people to believe what journalists tell them. Stilgerrian points to the Shanahan vs the psephs mess of last year to illustrate the collapse of that willingness, but it's not just the Australian. Trust in mainstream media is disintegrating globally. A recent PIPA survey finds only 46% think al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. The result says as much about attitudes towards Bush and American foreign policy as it does about media, but Presidents and policy fads come and go. Journalism was theoretically supposed to be around serving democracy for as long as it lasts. Not that democracy's all it's cracked up to be, but that's another story.

The other problem for mainstream news media is what you might call the collapse of the masses, or the notion of the masses as some kind of undifferentiated audience anyway. As Mark Bahnisch rightly points out in comments on the LP thread,

So while the journalism is there to fill the space between the ads, you can’t conclude with any rigour what best fills the space. The intense focus on the ephemeral and the day to day political reporting is probably very poorly read. It doesn’t rate in the online versions, and that probably means that it doesn’t rate that much in the print ones either. Flip straight to the “lifestyle” or sports pages. All the readership surveys show that’s what people want to read. The “quality journalism” stuff is a niche taste, and it’s no use pretending otherwise - if it’s not properly related to people’s lives then it deserves to go unread. Is there a “fourth estate” role in writing about what Peter Costello interjected at question time? Please!

I suspect the number of people who really focus on all this stuff in this country is smaller than 50000 on a regular basis.

That’s why doing focus group research on politics is very instructive. Almost no one cares about the day to day stuff - at most it’s background noise that combines to form an impression. Hence the recital of “working families” etc etc about 100 times a week.

There are two real options here. Write better analytical stuff for a niche market. Or relate the political stuff to a mass market in a way that really does relate. The MSM does neither.

The option of tailoring politics for a mass market has so far been done tabloid style, helped along by politicians making spectacles of themselves. But politicians drunkenly capering about in their smalls, snapping bras and sniffing chairs doesn't hold audiences for long, and the reporting doesn't require the kind of investigative work needed to make the public sphere ideal tick over.

Whether we like it or not, serious news and current affairs is a special interest which does not meet the profit needs of mainstream media or the self esteem needs of journalists who take themselves seriously. If the future of real news journalism lies anywhere it's with its own audience, and that audience has been drifting away from mainstream media for some time now.

The recent move of Possum and William can be understood as drifting toward the mainstream, but it can also be understood as something a bit more solid taking shape in the grey area between polarised MSM fact provision and purist blogging. Shanahan might consider the pseph bloggers to be a waste of pixels, but the mob who shuttled between them last year certainly don't. I wonder whether the scoffing 'real' journos at 'real' newspapers understand the cred that Crikey has just gained with the audience, and at whose expense?


Mr Bahnisch has some more intelligent things to say about matters on the future of journalism front. So far the debate has failed to note the difference between the practice and the location of journalism and it's nice to see that being pointed out.

He also places the quibbles in the framework of the culture wars, with the tenured commentariat claiming to speak for all, which means the voices of proper reporters are rarely heard. For all we know there's a generation of real investigative reporters graduating from uni right now with their sights set anywhere but the industrial age model of journalism.

| Posted by Lyn at 4:37 PM | | Comments (11)


Whenever I read representatives of the MSM engaging in this tedious blog-bashing I'm irresistibly reminded of trade unionists in the early 1990s, happily arguing about their future place in the councils of the mighty while their whole power base collapsed beneath them.

I'm coming around to the view that the discussion misconceives the issues completely, and that the decline and fall of the mass media as a source of news and current affairs simply reflects a widespread disengagement with politics in our society. And very sensible of them too. However it's all a bit complicated to discuss properly in a blog.

Good luck to Bowe and Pussum. Get in for your chop while the going's good I reckon. If you can make some decent money from your Warholian 15 minutes you'd be a fool to knock it back.

It follows a trend in the US where top bloggers write for online magazines, such as The Atlantic or Salon, then move on.

The shift to Crikey by William Bowe's Poll Bludger and Possum Comitatus' Pollytics is a natural fit given the big concern with political polls. It will help both.

"the discussion misconceives the issues completely". It has so far, partly I think because it's focused on the bickerings instead of what's actually going on. I disagree though that it's simply about political disengagement. I think it's way more complicated than that.

For one thing, what's happening in news media is also happening in other media forms.

Gary, will we ever see a trend in the other direction, where it becomes normal for established writers to blog?

I naively thought that the decline in the rivers of gold at Fairfax leads to cost cutting and a shift to infotainment by the broadsheets. The downgrading of good political commentary shifts elsewhere----to the political blogs.

it has already happened---John Quiggin

Ken Parish in this comment on his post about the future of newspapers says:

If we assume that newspapers are going to be forced to adjust to this new multimedia world where a significant part of the advertising revenue they used to be able to depend on is siphoned off to other outlets, then their survival will depend on finding better and more efficient ways of sustaining quality content.

Lyn+ Nan
And Nicholas Gruen at Club Troppo. A lot of this commentary focuses on the political blogs vis-a-vis the quality broadsheets and ignores the academic blogging and the artistic or exhibtion form of blogging.

"If we assume that newspapers are..."

Nan, Is it safe to assume anything about newspapers in the mid to long term? We've already seen a few major news items - the China earthquake, one of the American school shootings for example - break on the internet. First hand stories then get passed around by 'consumers' and newspapers catch up later.

Assuming that that becomes the norm at some point, what does it matter what newspapers do?

Not that I'd argue with Ken Parish. He's way too smart for me. But I think that the only really safe assumption to make is that it's not safe to stick with our old assumptions any more.

That's true Gary. Newspapers also do more than just political news and commentary. So does Crikey. We focus on our personal special interest mixes. I daresay there are other conversations going on elsewhere about the death of sports reporting or reliable finance news.

aren't the independent blogs doing well? Very nicely in fact? They have carved out a space for themselves and left behind the tedious issues that are repeatedly trotted out that seek to belittle bloggers of all stripes as some lesser being to journalists. Those issues----blogging is all poor quality drivel; journalism is all deeply-investigated, cross-checked insight etc---are seen as specious at best.

Whilst the bloggers get on creating The Australian continues with its patronising “blogging has its place”,with the sneeringly implied “but of course we journalists know better”. It's the jourrnos who find the changing world of the digital age so, so threatening whilst the bloggers are at home in it and creating new prod user forms .

Nan, I might be imagining it, but there's a sense that independent bloggers are becoming more confident of their ability and function.

The disdain of "journos" was only effective while it was believed and while focus was on the role of the blogosphere. Now that focus is on the future of journalism, journalists, and consumers, the picture looks a bit different.