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

parasitical bloggers? « Previous | |Next »
May 20, 2009

In his post, The myth of the parasitical bloggers, over at Glenn Greenward challenges the standard argument of the mainstream media that bloggers and other online writers are "parasites" on their work; and that their organizations bear the cost of producing content and others (bloggers and companies such as Google) then unfairly exploit it for free. This has been, and still is, the standard position of The Australian in Australia.

Greenwald says that this is more myth and stereotype propagated about political bloggers mostly by establishment journalists, eager to demonize what they perceive as their competitors):

The reality has always been far more mixed than that, and the relationship far more symbiotic than parasitical. Especially now that online traffic is such an important part of the business model of newspapers and print magazines, traffic generated by links from online venues and bloggers is of great value to them. That's why they engage in substantial promotional activities to encourage bloggers to link to and write about what they produce....Many, many reporters, television news producers and the like read online political commentary and blogs and routinely take things they find there. Traditional media outlets simply take stories, ideas and research they find online and pass it off as their own. In other words -- to use their phraseology -- they act parasitically on blogs by taking content and exploiting it for their benefit.

If there is a dynamic between establishment journalists and blogs, then the media reality is that, unlike the political blogs in the US, the political blogs in Australia do not engage in substantive original reporting. Nor do they claim to do so. However, these blogs do offer a substantive punditry or commentary, and it is recognized that these offer something that is missing.

Greenward adds that while bloggers routinely credit (and link to) the source of the material on which they're commenting, there is an unwritten code among many establishment journalists that while they credit each other's work, they're free to claim as their own whatever they find online without any need for credit or attribution. Greenward adds that:

The tale of the put-upon news organizations and the pilfering, parasitical bloggers has always been more self-serving mythology than reality. That's not to say that there's no truth to it, but the picture has always been much more complicated. After all, a principal reason for the emergence of a political blogosphere is precisely because it performed functions that establishment media outlets fail to perform. If all bloggers did was just replicate what traditional news organizations did and offered nothing original, nobody would read blogs.

Apart from the ideas and commentary there is the critique of the false balance (he said, she said) and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin in the lapdog media. However, it is true that political blogs, with their unpaid writers, are analogs to the current media system rather than gamechanging or disruptive technologies that change our fundamental ways of relating to the media world.

The myths and stereotypes will quickly change as the old media companies increasingly downsize, and they lose their grip on the “we-control-everything” media status quo. The key question, as Dan Conover says in 2020 vision: What’s next for news is what comes next? We know that the next decade will see great diversity in terms of media funding, mission and identity. Conover says that it will be a decade of experimentation, opportunity and chaos and that we can safely expect that this diverse open-source, networked-media future is going to be radically reorganized by media techologies currently in formation.

This means that our media horizons are expanding, the bottlenecks put in place by the media gatekeepers are being blown up. The new world is much better than the old one.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:07 PM | | Comments (42)


though the big mainstream newspapers in Australia may be failing as advertising revenue migrates to the internet, they (eg., The Advertiser in Adelaide) still do a good job of limiting serious competition in their markets. What succeeds in the shadow of an established metro paper in Adelaide is very limited--eg., The Adelaide Review or the Independent Weekly. It's not much.

Hopefully, these alternatives may not be what ultimately winds up contending for the market positions vacated by the decline of the old monopoly media giants, such as The Advertiser.

Not just the Advertiser Nan. Microsoft is rapidly becoming a sinkhole where talent goes in and nothing new comes out apart from daily patches to fix security holes and incompatibilities in their Vista operating system.

the mainstream media's message is very simple. Journalism is being replaced by nothing. You'll miss us when we're gone.

The problem with this thesis is that while the corporate press---Fairfax, News Ltd--- has been declining with the collapse of their business model, a new decentralized online press has been booting up. This gives us a chance to see the new journalism from the perspective of the new not the old.

I reckon you've asked the right question. What replaces the newspaper journalism we have relied on in the past? We are moving away from it, as both News Ltd and Fairfax deal with crisis through increasing efficiencies with increased centralisation, further job cuts and the loss of local content.

Jay Rosen says at Press Think:

I do not look forward to explaining to my students the contractions in the job market and why they’re likely to continue for the near term. It feels grim to have to say: “There is no business model in news right now. We’re between systems.”I honestly don’t know what’s next.

If a professor of journalism at NYU doesn't know, then what hope for us? Look at the new from the perspective of the new and not the old?

Australian blogs have had an impact on Australian media, whether media acknowledges it or not. Eg, they now include the margin of error in poll reporting.

It's also more complicated than the media/blogs relationship. Remember when hundreds descended on Shanahan's blog and the OO didn't seem to notice. Gary pointed out at the time that they didn't understand their relationship with the online public. They also didn't understand their readers' relationships with different information sources.

They've since modified their behaviour and exert more control over their own space. On one hand that's stifling dissent, but it's also a behavioural adaptation they've had to make.

I think it's only a matter of time before bloggers and commenters start calling them on their failure to credit sources. They'll probably get all huffy about being accused of plagiarism, but it's already happening so often it's starting to get a bit obvious.

for those that still have jobs in the mainstream media. It's all downsizing, downsizing, downsizing into the forseeable future.

What has happened to Dennis Shanahan? He seems to have quietly disappeared from writing op eds and blogs in The Australian, even though they are creating misleading headlines and a selective reporting of Newspoll to advance their line of the Rudd Government being weakened at the knees by the public reception of the budget.

Has Shanahan been replaced by Mathew Franklin? Or is Dennis Shanahan the political editor with some political reporters under his wing?

Can't get past some of these Murdoch hacks incessantly carping about bloggers being "parasites".
Pot calling kettle black wouldn't begin describe it.
Bloggers/bloggees are not deliberate liars, as many columnists and Grubb Streeters are and only exist in the first place because the MSM is so full of mercenaries and pathological specimens, now finally in a situation where they can be challenged by their long-suffering and till now captive, victims.
Many MSM hacks have not been on speaking terms with the truth for so long they wouldn't recognise it if it jumped up and bit them on the face!
At least if bloggers lie, it is merely tactical and traceable back to principle, trying to fill in on the omissions of MSM, rather than premeditatedly to obscure the truth for mere lucre, or out of the blind prejudice that had them recruited in the first place.

I regard blogs as mainstream now. Many journo's perhaps fear their demise as more and more people access their news on-line and read and participate in blogs. Newspapers will always have a place in society though. Well as long as we have bird cages anyway.


Funny you ask what happened to Shanahan. I wouldn't know, because the sources I find most reliable on politics haven't mentioned him for ages.

I read about the Neilson poll this week at the Poll Bludger, then Possum, then read Possum on the Essential and Newspoll, and now Graham Young's What the People Want. I also learned everything I know about the media's reporting of those from the blogs. I hadn't realised how much my news sources had changed.

News about the news has come to be as important as the news itself, if that makes sense.

I still read--ie., scan-- the mainstream media online early in the morning with a ear on Radio National Breakfast. I have given up reading newspapers other than when I'm in a coffee shop, then I quickly glance through the AFR. I'm mostly looking for an idea to bounce off for this blog.The quality and diversity in the mainstream media is continuing to decline. I'm really noticing it now.

Trouble is I don't read many Australian political blogs. I should do as I have them on a feed reader. I'm more inclined to read the American ones to find out what is happening in the US. I don't bother reading the Washington Post, only read the New York Times sometimes, but dip into The Guardian.

Do you use a feed reader for the American press and blogs you read?

What about you Les? Feed reader?

I know a handful of people who've lost interest in blogs and say they've shifted their affections to Facebook. They seem to get their news through gossip, but it's limited to headlines and out of date. Eg, they heard about Matthew Johns through friends joining groups days after the story broke.

I use a feed reader. Scan the ABC Just In feed, then get the stories of the day and how the media is covering them from blogs. If something interesting happens in politics I read the Poll Bludger threads. Those guys have the entire Australian media covered, as well as Question Time and sometimes the senate.

I don't bother with OnLine Opinion anymore unless I'm really bored.

nope re the feedreader for the US political blogs. I just work off the ones listed on public opinion. (the list needs updating, especially for think tanks).

Many of the online magazine in the US ---The Atlantic, American Prospect Mother Jones etc ---have a number of bloggers as well. I'm on the RSS feed of The Washington Post and the New York Times. I used to have a lot of international newspaper email feeds but I've been cutting back.

a video cartoon on newspapers v the internet

Google's Australian advertising revenue is now around $1 billion. Google now generates more ad revenue than the entire Australian radio industry; a lot more than the three Fairfax flagship newspapers combined; more than any of Australia's TV networks; almost as much as all magazines in Australia.

"...unlike the political blogs in the US, the political blogs in Australia do not engage in substantive original reporting."

Well, some do. In fact, one even did so today!:

I prefer to read blogs in the authors presented format. I find that by scanning the headline stories and visiting 6 or so blogs I can get the condensed version of all that is going on news wise. This fits into my time frame. The internet drains you if you let it so I no longer blog myself in any format. I much prefer family time to blog time.

As you know, I have long argued this. In particular, the Oz Luvviespehere is one very long and unedited Letter to the Editor of The Oz.

However, things are changing, and in many corners, the blogosphere IS expanding our understanding and use of media. Even I now go to the blogs first thing in the morning, before the MSM. That's how I found out about SkinnyWogGate TM for example. From the Luvvie Plodders priggish sermon.

It's early days yet, don't be so hung up on being a communications revolutionary. It's coming darl, it's coming! :)


JG's SkinnyWogGate thing raises another question. Do you think that getting your news from blogs also means that you get different news, or a different focus, than you get from MSM?

We already know there's widespread dissatisfaction with, and distrust of, media. Is it also true to say that MSM just doesn't tell people about stuff they're interested in?

On Sam's point, is it true to say that Australian blogs don't do anything original, or would it be more true to say that, as Gary's post points out, the MSM doesn't acknowledge blog sources, so it just seems that way?

I suppose you do get different news from blogs. For instance you don't see many stories in papers about new model cars that are lemons. Or the large amount of dissatisfied Telstra/Bigpond customers. Or stories about the huge amount of complaints about a brand of White goods that Harvey Norman push over all other brands because they own 51% of it.
Newspapers and Television are bound by their advertisers to a large extent.
Blogs seem more concerned with hits at this stage because the money gained is minuscule at present.

The only down side of reading blogs is the politics of the authors always come through. Yes this is evened up some by the commenter's but in the main people tend to hang out at blogs where the people are like minded. Generally those with differing political opinions tend to dwindle and what is left is a bunch of people agreeing with each other.
As for acknowledgment I don't need to care about that.

So true Les, that blogs not tied to advertising can say stuff MSM can't. I haven't seen too many complaints about bank fees against specific banks yet. Have you? I wonder whether, in future, blogs will be able to hold these commercial interests accountable in ways that compromised media can't.

On bias, that's one gigantic difference between blogs and MSM. Blogs don't pretend to be anything other than what they are. Does anyone seriously expect the kind of objectivity from blogs that MSM claims for itself? Having said that, this is definitely a left leaning blog, but you'll find plenty of criticism of so-called leftist policy.

Blogs aren't beholden to advertisers and their party political informants the way journalists are. Not generally. It's true that people tend to cluster where they're comfortable, but like you, I find that utterly boring. I'd rather a decent stoush any day, but I'd much prefer it to be on the basis of open and honest understanding than everybody pretending to be objective.

Also, I hate the high quality/low quality, tabloid/broadsheet thing. I don't see why matches between the less educated and the well educated should be held in different rings. Fact is though, they are. I see blogs repeating the tabloid/broadsheet pattern, and I think that's a shame. Why is it that only people with large vocabularies can participate in policy discussions?

Yes Lyn we should have more redneck policy. Free road kill for all.
Seriously though generally speaking those that present their viewpoint(if reasonable) in a clear and well worded manner are usually perceived as being smart. How they physically present accounts as qualifications do too. Others will always be perceived as dumber.
Oh this is a left leaning blog is it. I will have to look at it more carefully.

Lyn, re you most recent post and tabloid and broadsheet, last para.
Not sure I get you.
Are you saying you don't understand how some might read say, the "Guardian" (or what ever comes closest to it this country, as the "Age" used to do) and watch public broadcasting docos rather than cop the Murdoch press, Alan Jones; TDT for example?
Why Tele type readers and viewers seem to prefer content-devoid against actual news, from broadsheet press/ media?
Well for heavens sake, if I left you the choice between the Age and the Tele, which one would you have delivered?
Like wise blogs- do you prefer Quiggin, Sauer Thompson etc, presumably for content; it seems you post here rather than elsewhere, e.g. Tim Blair?
If you are saying you don't understand why tabloid press and media (commercial teev radio) remain content free zones rather include real news rather than bollocks about Jen Anniston's latest sex life, diets, tits'n trots and pop stars, you have my full attention but I think it s commercial reasons and they prefer political dumbing down/ reification, anyway.

Josh Young, in What the Structure of Content Means for Context on his Network News blog, highlights the changes to the form of the journalist article. He says that there has been a breaking free of the model of discrete articles that have a beginning and end. What has emerged is the form of an ongoing series of dispatches:

Each dispatch isn’t comprehensive. They catch the reader up on past reporting with a few links to previous posts. Or they start off with a link or two to others’ posts or articles, promising to pick up the issue where they left off. Then they take a deep look at a small set of questions, teasing out contradictions, and end up with a set of conclusions or a new, more pointed set of questions for the next post.The point is that the containers are small—shallow in the sense that they’re often only exposing a few dots at a time and not necessarily always trying to connect them all up as they go along. These posts don’t feign omniscience the way some, though certainly not all, traditional journalistic pieces do; they admit doubt and highlight confusion. The goal is to isolate facts, issues, and relationships, not always synthesize them.

The dispatches can compose a series in that each post extends previous ones or adds more to the same canvas. They’re all part of some bigger picture; they’re cumulative.

So the way journalism is being written is changing as a result of the emergence of blogs

I'm not sure whether a blog is left or right in the political spectrum is a core issue. Nor Is the high quality/low quality, tabloid/broadsheet thing premised on the less educated and the well educated amongst blogs a core issue.

In my view the core issue that much of the news Australians get each day has created to serve just that purpose—to be the news of the day. Many of our headlines come from events created by public relations—press conferences, speeches, press releases, canned reports, and, worst of all, snappy comments by “spokesmen” or “experts.”

Isn't there a need for blogs, whether they be be left or right, or tabloid or broadsheet in style, to serve as a counterpoint to the managed news. Being a counterpoint to the managed media requires some form of expertise.

Sam--fair point. Good to see.

re your point about left and right wing blogs. I think that blogs have returned to, or recovered the roots of newspapers -----their origins as a media formed by pamphleteers, political parties, or businessmen who wanted to get involved in local, state, or national affairs. They used their presses to influence government.

The liberal journalism democratic thing was that citizens in a democracy were to read more than one paper or pamphlet, weigh all opinions and facts as presented, and make up their own minds.

At the end of the day news is a business.

If you are bright and culturally literate, it does not matter whether this or that blog, paper, broadcaster purports to be Left, Right, or Pink With Blue Spots.

Lyn's point about how one 'news' incident can indeed be several types of 'news' according to who/what is distributing it, is so spot on.

I saw SkinnyWogGate all over the frontpage of The Age website, which had little editorial. But what I read on LP was a completely different news story altogether, much more about LP than a Kings Cross shooting, wogs of various size, or a 19 year old 'bogan racist'!


You're right. The high/low, tabloid/broadsheet, left/right distinctions are not a good set of conceptualising tools. Although I'd like to see some research on lurkers before writing it off altogether.

Gary's post is on blogs and bloggers on one hand, and media and journalists on the other. I'm thinking more about participation generally, who gets to speak and be heard, and who doesn't.

I've asked quite a few people why they don't participate and their reasons are many and varied. But a common one is that they don't feel smart enough.

It's true that being a counterpoint requires some expertise, but as far as I can tell, participating as a commenter has its own requirements. More cultural norms than anything else.

I hope that clears things up a bit. I read a lot of blogs from all over the political and quality spectrum, but I only participate here. And sometimes Ken Lovell's place.

I used to comment at a lot of others, but never developed a sense of belonging, if that makes sense. Here and Road to Surfdom.

re the participation thingy---there is little to technologically prevent people from commenting on the blogs--many are pretty open ended and do not require registration to comment.

if it is more a cultural thing re politics than technology as to who gets to speak, then what are the cultural norms that act to keep people as citizens remaining silent? Why the big hesitancy?

Hi Lynn, actually thinking about it after my post last night.
What you're suggesting seems a little in line with a media studies post mod media reading.
Correct me if wrong, but I think this goes along the lines of:
the post mod world is civil society disintegrated; nowadays "tribal" and fragmented.
Hence subgroups like teenage girls for example, are actually "transgressing", or "resisting" their lack of "voice" if you like, when they cluster around "Girlfriend" and then enact; drunk on alcopops on Friday nights in imitation of hollywood "bad girls", their sense of a lack a position in everyone elses "real" world. They become "complicit" with their exploiters in order to rebel against the constraining influences of formal civil society.
The oldies likewise cluck over the latest profundities of Alan Jones and mums sit glued to "Young and the Restless", because within their subgroups these events enable a specific language that is coded for the benefit of the insiders to these in- groups.
Likewise working blokes at footy, spraying out the weeks resentments towards bosses, wives and other authority figures at the opposition teams and the umpires or referees.
In which we are back to a more realistic appreciation of how reifying capitalism has responded to old style leftism, by developing (usually profitable) safety outlets for emotions and frustrations, whilst splitting the working class by offshoring industry to the unseen but poverty-stricken third world.
Gendering and migration has furthered splintered the old hegemony because suburban woman, migrants and indigenes, say, might have different goals to the "workers", also.
So the bloggs probably become the latest of historically numerous mere "holding" operations, also accessed by the system itself as part of its own adaptive capability.

Paul you could well be descibing monkey behaviour too. Remove words like alcopop,Alan Jones etc and substitiute banana.

No, it's not technology.

Any established blog develops patterns of assumptions over time. Quiggin's commenters are familiar with the language of economics. The Poll Bludgers are walking encyclopaedias of Australian politics. LP commenters use the languages of academics. That's one set of constraints.

There's also some weird publishing/public thing that I don't understand. I spoke to a bloke who'd just given a paper at a conference. He and a lot of his friends were glued to Possum and the Poll Bludger leading up to the election, but none of them commented, even though they really wanted to. When he finally did leave a comment he told all his friends and they all rushed to see what he'd said and if anyone responded. It was almost as if he'd had a brush with fame, or been on TV.

He's not short on literacy or intellect, so what was so scary? He didn't know.

Then there's contribution. You have to actually contribute something to the debate. You can't just agree or disagree with something. You have to say why or provide evidence. That's a cultural norm.

Visiting some blogs is like being a stranger walking into a private party. Not everyone can do that.

I don't go for the pomo explanation personally. All of these things, exclusion from specialist knowledges and languages, in groups and out groups, tight knit social circles - they've all been around since Moses was a kid.

If you're going to argue that repressed groups transgress, you also have to acknowledge that 'capitalists' exploit that by selling printed Che Guevera t-shirts and alcopops. Capitalism invents new ways of being naughty - pole dancing kits for kiddies, best-selling hip hop cds. Australia's Biggest Loser for one audience, Foreign Correspondent for another. If you look past the details it's business as usual.

I suspected "the weird publishing/public thing", but like you, I don't understand it. It is based on fear of being exposed in public as having little to say is my initial guess, though it is strange for an academic who gives papers at a conference to feel constrained.

Then again the hurly burly of debate in public life is a far cry from the seminar/conference conventions of academia. The far cry is a losing control and becoming just another voice, as opposed to being an expert talking to other experts.

The only explanation I can offer revolves around appearing in print. We're accustomed to talkback and vox pop, but the masses don't appear in print.

Plenty of postgrads have real crises over submitting their first articles, and go berzerk when they see their work published. As if they haven't spent years having their writing scrutinised already.

That's my best guess. I grew up watching my dad being a journalist and magazine editor, so don't see getting published as much of a big deal.

Why the same people are happy to publish status updates on Facebook all day I can't explain. Although what you might call Facebook theory is a different creature.

In regards to those too timid to comment. Especially before elections many fear being wrong. Visibly wrong.

Others its a bit like going for a swim. Some jump straight in while others look at the water for a while, put their toe in and then decide whether its too cold or not.

Yes, Les.
Humanity overestimates the time its been out of the trees and off its knuckles.

Campbell Reid of News Ltd reckons that newspapers are going to stay around because we love the feel of them in our hand!

There's a sweet spot about a newspaper, printed on newspaper, in your hand, that people like. So, we aren't even going to contemplate turning them off.

Oh yeah? Thsi view is at adds with his boss who says that newspapers will evolve onto a mobile, electronic platform:
Instead of an analogue paper printed on paper you may get it on a panel which would be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, (and) be updated every hour or two. You'll be able to get the guts or the main headlines and alerts and everything on your Blackberry, on your Palm or whatever, all day long. All these things are possible. Some of the greatest electronics companies in the world are working on this very hard. I think it's two or three years away before they get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take 10 years or 15 years for the public to swing over.

Campbell Reid is look backwards.

Oh, and props to you guys. Do you know, despite being the Left blogosphere's most loathed habitue, I don't think you guys have refused to post even one of my posts. God knows, what your comptetitors are scared of. I clearly do not bite! :)

why is this the Left blogosphere's most loathed habitue?

No, Nan, darl. I'M the loathed one, not this blog! :)

you appear to think that people are critical of you because of your politics but it is not your political position that annoys (who cares where people are coming from?). What annoys is that you do not really engage in a debate on an issue and offer insights about that issue from your position based on your knowledge and reflection of that issue. So you make yourself the issue.

It is the ongoing debate (conversation) on an issue that is deemed crucial, given the cartoon level of debate amongst the politicians and the tabloid media.