Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

"Commentariat vs Bloggertariat" event review - #eiblogger

I was invited to attend an event yesterday called “Commentariat vs Bloggertariat” organised by Editorial Intelligence. It was an attempt to bring bloggers and newspaper commentators together and discuss the relationship between blogging and newspapers and to speculate on what the future may hold.

It was nice to be treated as a "proper" blogger like this! I have only really been seriously blogging since last November and I think this invitation was a result of the well publicised posts I did last month about the link between the expenses scandal and safe seats which got me lots of visits and coverage.

The panel consisted of Anne Spackman Comment Editor of the Times, Iain Dale, Martin Bright of the Spectator, Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole blog and David Aaronovitch of The Times. It was chaired by Julia Hobsbawm, Chief Executive of Editorial Intelligence.

Here is a quick synopsis of what each said in their opening speeches:

Anne Spackman is concerned that there is no business plan or commercial underpinning for online journalism. She feels that newspapers are a very powerful medium but online it is a real struggle to get the readership. The worlds of blogging and journalism are converging with bloggers writing for papers and journalists blogging but Guido was able to do what he did with Smeargate precisely because he sits outside the mainstream.

Martin Bright thinks that the most important medium is broadcast but mentioned that Downing Street are absolutely obsessed with his Spectator column. He said that one of the good things about blogs is the instant feedback but the problem is that it is hard to comment well on fast moving events and this can be a weakness of blogs. He suggested that he has never yet read what he described as a "classic" blog post. He also felt that Twitter was threatening blogs.

Mick Fealty said that 5 or 6 years ago, bloggers were held in comtempt and it is telling that now events like this are trying to invite them into the "inner circle". He thinks that shows that bloggers have won. He argued that far from it being blogs that are damaging journalism it is Google. He said that big bloggers are social entrepreneurs and one of their big advantages is that their sources are usually not within the "golden circle". He also felt that bloggers do not generally need to earn money from the activity and they often have "normal" jobs like Policeman, Doctor, Teacher etc. and see blogging as a side line.

Iain Dale began with a strong attack on newspapers who damage or destroy blogs. He singled out The Times for its recent treatment of the formerly anonymous blogger Night Jack whom they outed and therefore ended. He suggested that newspapers are dying because they don't know where they are going. He singled out mainstream media bloggers Paul Waugh and Ben Brogan as excellent examples of where the media cross-over well. He explained how he will often get bombarded with e-mails asking why he has not covered some or other issue within a few hours or sometimes minutes of a story breaking! He found doing his Telegraph column that he used to do very difficult because he had too much time and found he did it best when he just banged it out in 20 minutes like he does on his blog. His said his readership has doubled in the past 4 months.

David Aaronovitch accused Iain Dale of "idiocy" with his comments about Night Jack. He said that his biggest problem with blogs is the rudeness and that he has seen himself being called a c**t 15 times in a single thread on blogs such as Guido Fawkes. He thinks that Twitter is very powerful and that the commentariat will still be here in 25 years time but he said that the bloggertariat will have changed beyond all recognition. He questions why Iain Dale's frequent media appearances often include analysis of the Labour Party which he felt is usually wrong because Iain's specialism is the Tories. He also felt that there is not a level playing field between blogs and newspapers because papers can be sued and generally blogs cannot because they usually don't have much or any money.

Because I had rather cheekily plonked myself in the middle of the front row, I got to ask the first question. I suggested that many people by default go to the mainstream media at the moment but there is a generation coming through now who get their media mainly via the internet so in 10 or 15 years time the demographics could give blogs the upper hand. I also explained how my experience shows that a single person sitting in his bedroom with an idea can now get widespread coverage (I cited the safe seats, expenses analysis as an example). I also questioned Martin Bright's assertion that he has not come across a "classic" blog post and promised to send him some links. I concluded by suggesting that some members of the panel needed to start looking more widely at blogs because most of them are not full of vituperative comments in my experience.

I didn’t really feel that my questions or points were properly picked up on by the panel but there was still plenty of debate to be had. I was quite surprised at how many of the audience were famous journalists. People like Suzanne Moore of The Mail and Anne McElvoy of The Evening Standard asked questions. In fact I seemed to be the only one called to ask a question who the chair didn’t actually know!

There were a couple of notable moments:
  • There were screens all around the room that were displaying tweets containing the hashtag for the event #eiblogger streamed directly from Twitter which cycled around and about 5 minutes after D. Aaronovitch's comments about being called a c**t there was a tweet scrolling past several times that said "But David Aaronovitch IS a c**t"! This actually went some way to proving his point and Martin Bright commented on this afterwards.
  • Mick Fealty mentioned that Guido is actually making very good money from his blogging. David Aaronovitch said he was pleased to hear that because his lawyer had previously claimed the opposite and that therefore there was no point in suing Guido. Now he said he would need to rethink this. Mick cursed himself at this point.
Guido texted to Iain (and tweeted) during the event that as a rule he does not swear on his blog and it is the commenters who generally do this. I also managed to tweet a few times myself during the event.

All in all it was a very enjoyable event and it was useful to hear the contributions on this subject from some of the most prominent in both fields.

UPDATE1: Edited to correct a couple of mistakes and add a few more links.

Also there is now a podcast of the event available to download here. My dulcet tones can be heard with my contribution from about 45:30 for about 2 minutes.

UPDATE2: I have started another thread here where you can submit your suggestions for "classic" blog posts that I will pass onto Martin Bright to hopefully answer his question.

UPDATE3: There are further threads on this from Charles Crawford who thinks there is a "long tail" scenario in play, Alex Smith on Labourlist and Iain Dale himself who suspects he might have blown his chances of a Times column with his comments last night. I think he might be right!

Chris Applegate also has an excellent analysis of the event on "We Are Social".

UPDATE4: Mick Fealty has now put a detailed post from his perspective of the important points to take from last night. Mick was a very thought provoking panelist who has a very clear passion for the subject. His take on it is well worth reading.

Mick has also reminded me that Editorial Intelligence also announced last night that they are now looking for nominations for their Comment Awards.


Charles Crawford said...

No-one seems to have mentioned the obvious point that when the costs of entering a market are low if not nil, more people do so.

In this case it is now possible thanks to the Web for millions of people to 'comment' and reach an audience, and so they do (see eg this blog posting and my comment).

So the days of elite 'paid' commenting via 'newspapers' are limited. Behold their writhings.

Back to the eighteenth century?

How did D Aaronovitch defend the Times's outing of Night Jack, by the way?

Mark Thompson said...

He said right at the end that there was a defence for what they did but then didn't elaborate implying that all would become clear at some unspecified point in the future. Iain had left by this point though and no-one else pressed him any further on it.

Matt Wardman said...

Martin B
>He also felt that Twitter was threatening blogs.

I think that's wrong. Twitter does to blog what blogs do to the MSM: mainly speed up the reaction cycle and make it easier to comment.

Twitter cannot be a repositary of major thinking (unlike blogs), so imho they are complementary.

Mark Thompson said...

Yes, I completely agree Matt. It was on my list of things to say when I asked my questions but I ran out of time!

I was disappointed that nobody else picked up on it though.

Twitter and blogging are complementary. I use Twitter to let people know about blog posts as do many others. I think this was a case of someone embedded in MSM not understanding how the new technology works properly.

Anonymous said...

What is happening is a speeded up version of the pandemonium when the printing press was invented.

That was a similar problem of 'cheap replicators'.

Michael Fowke said...

The mainstream media doesn't have a clue about blogging. Pretty comical, really.

Dave Raven said...

Not filmed, but recorded for an audio podcast - now published to - with bleeps !

CityUnslicker said...

Nice write up. Good to see the Journo's have hardly changed their tune over a couple of years.

They despise that people can do for free what they lke to be paid for.

Re your expenses posts; there are similarities here to politicians and the expenses scandal.

People cherish the lucre they have and wish ill will to all who wish for change.

happyuk said...

The commentariat is dying a slow but sure death. The beauty of the blogosphere is that everybody has a piece of the action. Everybody.

People now have a variety of ways of being informed faster (not necessarily better), and have more entertainment options, too.

Whenever more competitors enter a business, the economics of that business tends to deteriorate. It's hard to make money in a business that's in permanent decline.

A number of newspapers are still profitable, but returns are falling. The size of the audience for traditional TV is steadily declining. For years, cable TV was thought to operate in its own world, but that’s changing.

Many of the commentariat don’t yet see this protracted decline for what it is and I find it incredible that otherwise bright and capable people are still going out and investing in newspapers.

Old Holborn said...

Invite me next time

You'll see things you'll tell your grandchildren about

Mark Thompson said...

Do you promise to bring DK with you?

Would that it were up to me OH but alas I am a small cog.

Oranjepan said...

Fascinating stuff.

IMO twitter is more akin to the comments section than to the posting in a blog thread, so they offer different roles which won't cannibalise themselves.

For me now seems more like the point during 1917-18 when St Petersburg was exploding with slogans and the publication of cartoons and pamphlets encouraging political activism, but before the newly established order (after the next general election) manages to regain effective control of the idealistic propagandists.

So at some point next year I'm expecting a massive crackdown and our commenting/blogging freedom to be severely impinged upon.

My suspicion is that some popular or group blogs may reach commecial viability and have the power to sustain themselves, but perhaps the aggragators will become the political battlefields instead - will certain blogs have listings removed and be sent underground? Can ranking algorithms be tweaked effectively to devalue websearches?

Gareth Williams said...

Thanks for the summary of the debate: typically helpful and enlightening blogging! The terms of the debate seemed spookily similar to the terms of a debate between academics and journalists conducted in the '90s. There are some enjoyable ironies, which I've tried to highlight here.

Matt Wardman said...

One more note:

>I think that's wrong. Twitter does to blog what blogs do to the MSM: mainly speed up the reaction cycle and make it easier to comment.

That applies to permeability too. It is (currently - you have 3-6 months, and it was even easier for those who did the groundwork last year) a lot easier to build a profile via Twitter than in blogging which in turn is easier than the MSM.