My, oh my, you really have set the virtual cat amongst the pigeons, haven’t you? The blogosphere is up in arms at the dismissive and derogatory remarks you made about bloggers – or ‘citizen journalists’, as some choose to label us – at the Cheltenham Literary Festival a few days ago.
Of course, you are well qualified to make your comments. A Cambridge degree, the editorship of The Independent, five years as political editor of BBC News and a further five as a TV and radio presenter constitutes an impressive CV which I daresay few professional journalists can match, let alone their ‘citizen’ counterparts.
And you knew exactly what you were doing when you further underlined your opinion in your subsequent responses to questions from the audience. You knew that the blogosphere, Twitter – hell, even those trapped miners in Chile – would rise up against you in unison screaming, “Oi, Marr – no!”
I also recognise your judicious use of qualifiers and modifiers in your statements, which stop just short of tarring everyone with the same brush, but which you knew full well would be misused and abused by the baying hordes. You are a seasoned professional who knows exactly how to play the media game. (You are also, by the way, someone whose opinion and integrity I have long respected – and continue to respect despite your outburst.)
Anyhow, allow me to respond to what you said on behalf of my audience of literally dozens.
Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all.
Wikipedia defines journalism as “the investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience”. It is a loose definition, but even so it occurs to me that a lot of professional ‘journalism’ has little or nothing to do with the true aims of the profession at all. Unless you think countless weekly magazines printing unverified third-hand gossip stories and grainy ‘nip slip’ photos of Z-list soap actresses most people have never heard of is in the wider public interest.
The vast majority of us bloggers write because we have an interest and passion we want to share with others. We do it in our spare time – some have considerably more than others! – because we love it, not because we are paid for it. And yes, some of us do it because we are dreadful show-offs and loud-mouths – I can’t imagine there are any individuals like that in the journalistic world …
A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people.
But enough about yourself, Andrew. (Okay, I know that’s a cheap shot to take at a target who is married with three children and whose father-in-law is a life peer. But, hey, you threw the first punch.) I know you used the generalisation “a lot of” rather than the more definitive “all”, giving you an escape route, but you knew exactly how this comment would be interpreted. As a married, middle-aged man with a crippling mortgage and a full head of hair who mostly writes about stuff that makes him happy, I understand the general point you are making about a certain vocal portion of the blogging universe – I read other blogs, I’ve seen them too – but I can’t say I’m best pleased by you lumping me in with the trolls. Thanks for that. (And, by the way, my mother doesn’t have a basement. She buries the bodies under the patio.)
Okay, the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.
While we’re making generalisations which are both outdated and inaccurate, maybe I should paint a picture of all journalists as bitter, middle-aged, nicotine-stained, drunken hacks in grubby, mud-splattered mackintoshes who spend most of their time hanging around in seedy Fleet Street pubs with a spiral-bound notebook containing pages of rudimentary scribbled shorthand. But I would never stoop so low, would I?
In fact, if I just clipped out the last 13 words of the above quote – “journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night” – how many people would dispute that? I’m not saying you fit that stereotype – I know you don’t – but can you honestly say that no journalist or editor has ever spewed and ranted and distorted a story to fit his own bilious agenda? People. Stones. Glass houses. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?
It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.
Yes, yes, yes, you conclude by acknowledging that there is a modicum of good to be found within the evil empire – a closing, conciliatory statement which has become lost among all the headline-grabbing furore. But then you knew that would happen, didn’t you. That’s why you didn’t say it up front as one of your leading statements: a measured, balanced view doesn’t generate column inches, does it?
The fact is that in some ways citizen journalism is already replacing the traditional variety, or at the very least supplementing it. There are brilliant blogging sites such as Huffington Post or The Daily Beast, where the quality and depth of knowledge of what is written – some of it produced by former professional journalists – is frequently superior to much of the broadcast media.
Even among the masses of single-operator ‘citizen journalists’ out there, you will find plenty of knowledgeable, incisive and amusing writers who focus on specific topics outside of the traditional mainstream. They fill a vacuum; most do it competently, some brilliantly.
And what about the impact that citizen journalism and social media have had on the speed of news reporting and the dissemination of opinion in heavily censored nations? Would we have had as rapid and well-rounded a view of the Iranian election protests, the Mumbai bombings or the Hudson plane landing without the ordinary Joes on the street and their blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos?
Yes, there are plenty of bloggers out there who have little to offer other than derivative invective, incorrect facts and a masterclass in grammatical mangling, but they do not represent the majority of bloggers. And it’s not as if many of us have an English or journalism degree, and access to an army of sub-editors and fact-checkers to help us craft tight, beautifully presented arguments. But most of us are literate, as diligent as we can be about factual accuracy and attribution of sources, and have valid opinions on topics we are passionate about. Indeed, on detailed and specific topics, some of us are – shock, horror – even more knowledgeable about what we write than the more generalist journos who cover the same subjects for the major media outlets. That is often the case in areas such as technology, where the news agenda often revolves around influential online blogs and communities such as TechCrunch, and not around traditional media. Welcome to the new world order.
Most of the blogging is too angry and too abusive. It is vituperative.
“Most of?” Hardly. On political blogs, where emotions run high and contributors know they have the opportunity to address a large audience, that is often the case. (The same goes for sports blogs and forums.) But if the trolls are too angry, abusive and vituperative, perhaps that is in part because they are commenting on a political world which displays the exact same characteristics.
Terrible things are said online because they are anonymous. People say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.
There is a large element of truth in what you say here. But it is hardly a phenomenon unique to the online world. People frequently use the anonymity of crowds to hurl the basest insults and, on occasion, even missiles. And even when a person’s name is directly attributed to abuse – even when that person is in a public position – that has not stopped them from saying the most terrible things about individuals. As an example, I cite Jan Moir‘s hateful column in the Daily Mail about the late Stephen Gately. (I know the Press Complaints Commission exonerated her; it doesn’t make what Moyer said about a dead man any less spiteful.) Don’t blame bloggers for a problem which is present in wider society, and which has existed for far longer than the web.
Finally, I should acknowledge that the subject of your talk was about how modern technology is rapidly changing the way people receive news, and in particular the threat ‘free-to-air’ sources represent to eroding the commercial viability and therefore quality of traditional news media. You believe we are in a transitional phase, and that in future people will be willing to pay for online information, just as today we pay for newspapers and magazines.
I am spending a lot of money on my iTunes account, I am already buying journalism online, I am buying information online, I am buying books online. Even if you are not doing it, your children and your grandchildren will be doing it.
Funnily enough, I happen to agree with you. I recognise that the long-established business model of news publishing is under threat by the plethora of free alternatives, just as the viability of the music industry is threatened by widespread piracy. The revenue model for journalism will undoubtedly change – we cannot expect high quality news and current affairs reporting to be provided for free in perpetuity – but the operating model will also have to change. Traditional journalism needs to embrace change and find ways to work alongside the burgeoning model of citizen journalism, not against it.
Those of us who write and/or read blogs but who also treasure accurate, objective news-gathering and dissemination – and there are more of us than many naysayers think – recognise the difference between Angry Andy’s Bashing Blog and the BBC or the Wall Street Journal and their inherent economic value. There is a place in our lives for both types of journalism, though. Work with us, not against us, and you will find a body of willing advocates to help create an agile, 21st-century journalism which will endure and thrive in the digital age.
Or, alternatively, just descend to the kind of angry, abusive and vituperative comments you accuse so many bloggers of. Your choice.
- BBC Cojo: Andrew Marr is ‘spot on’ (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- In defence of bloggers – we’re not inadequate & pimpled (simplyzesty.com)
- Andrew Marr fails to learn from his own history (onlinejournalismblog.com)
- Andrew Marr says bloggers are ‘inadequate, pimpled and single’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Marr on bloggers: inadequate, pimpled, single, seedy, abusive ranters (guardian.co.uk)
- Andrew Marr attacks ‘inadequate, pimpled and single’ bloggers (telegraph.co.uk)
- Krishnan Guru Murthy (guardian.co.uk)
- Citizens Vs ‘Journalists’ (72point.com)