Thursday, 11 September 2014

Well, no, not really

From The Guardian

Newspapers and coffee were the lifeblood of an emerging public realm. Public as a definition of spaces and experiences open and shared by everyone: not circumscribed by kin, patronage or client relationships. A truly public place is one where communities and solidarity can be imagined, shaped and built. A place where anyone can deliberate on the political decisions that govern our lives. A place that gives life to democracy.

Wind the clock forward a few centuries and these notions of public are under threat. People are losing confidence in the ability of our public and corporate institutions to serve the collective interest. The forum of the newspaper to hold power to account is under threat too: the digital revolution is disrupting the economic model of producing news.

This is what’s at stake: that a diverse independent media is stripped out, leaving an elite of oligarchs to dominate the distribution of information behind the barrier of a paywall. This amounts to the privatisation of trusted, accurate information, so that it becomes the preserve of a wealthy minority – the equivalent of a gated community.


Go back 20 years and you had less than a dozen national newspapers, Private Eye, The Spectator, The New Statesman, a couple of regionals and a local paper or two in each town. Compare that to today where there are thousands of news blogs, hundreds of news sites, as well as all of that and you'd have to conclude that the past was much closer to "elite of oligarchs dominating the distribution of information".

And I do wonder about this funding of investigative journalism and how accurate and trusted information is. There were plenty of whiffs about what was going on in Rochdale (and Nick Griffin almost went to jail for comments related to what was going on up there), but The Guardian never looked into it despite having hundreds of millions of pounds in the Scott Trust to "hold power to account". On the other hand, they did have money to pay someone to print lies about the News of the World in the hacking story.

I'm generally more impressed with the work on blogs nowadays. I see people who are far more knowledgeable in their subjects, more likely to spot things about government policies than the papers do. And also, genuinely more independent.

So, maybe there's a new model, and maybe it's more powerful. That instead of stories coming from a few journalists paid to look at things full-time, we instead have thousands of people looking at things in their spare time, perhaps not even posting more than something that opens things up, but combined create a bigger picture.

9 comments:

Bayard said...

"Public as a definition of spaces and experiences open and shared by everyone: not circumscribed by kin, patronage or client relationships. A truly public place is one where communities and solidarity can be imagined, shaped and built. A place where anyone can deliberate on the political decisions that govern our lives. A place that gives life to democracy."

Sounds like the internet to me.

Kj said...

The whole premise is wrong on several accounts. You had to pay for a newspaper in the yesteryears as well, that´s a paywall right there. Usually a subscription of the online version is cheaper as well.

Mark Wadsworth said...

It's a bit yawnsome, it's just Murdoch-bashing.

Yes, Murdoch is evil and I refuse to spend anything on his garbage (Times, Sun, Sky, BSkyB and so on), but I don't make a career out of slagging him off.

The Stigler said...

Bayard,
Exactly. And the net allows everyone to join in, from anywhere, and depending on the space, when it suits them.

Kj,
Spot on. The Graun is only not bothering with a paywall because they don't work for most newspaper content. Nearly all newspaper writing is low-grade content, and there's plenty of that on the net.

The paywalls that succeed are those for either pros or people with expensive hobbies where spending £5/month to get expert advice saves you a lot more.

Mark,
More than anything I've never been that bothered by what Murdoch offers. I did have Sky for a couple of years for extra kids channels, but mostly because the Sky+ box was excellent. After the phone hacking thing it triggered me to dump it and get a Freeview PVR.

And Murdoch is a bastard, but most of the left's attack on him is just sour grapes because he helped Thatcher win. They're more than happy to apologise for Islamists, Chavez, Castro and numerous other people who make Murdoch look reasonable.

Ben Jamin' said...

Modern media creates a lot more background noise. So, the responsibility of sifting news and information is now more of an individual endeavor. Hard work for the lazy.

Personally, I think Murdoch has been good for the UK. He is basically anti-establishment.

Rich Tee said...

Special pleading by the Guardian which is, rather ironically, just protecting its interest.

However, they are certainly correct that I have lost faith in institutions to serve the collective interest.

Newspapers did always do some things very well which bloggers generally can't do: foreign reporting and investigative reporting. These types of journalism are often expensive, time-consuming and dangerous.

Roger said...

There is a difficulty - who will go to the trouble of doggedly following up FoI requests, listening to the dissatisfied (off the record) or buying an MP a quiet drink. Not many bloggers can manage this. I used to support Wikileaks and if another viable operation emerged might support that - but look what happened to WL.....

Rich Tee said...

Wikileaks was ruined by Assange's naivety and arrogance.

If he had been more selective in which cables he published the authorities would not have been so bothered, and he could have used them as bargaining chips ("I know about this and that, but I won't tell anyone if you leave me alone.")

But as he published all of them the authorities have nothing to worry about and can pursue him with impunity.

James James said...

“Scott Trust”
You mean “the serially tax-avoiding Scott Trust Ltd”