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Bloggertariat vs Commentariat – who’s winning? (does it matter?)

Last night Journalism.co.uk picked up its laptop and notepad, and sat on the fence. Sitting in the audience of the Editorial Intelligence/Edelman/Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism ‘Commentariat vs Bloggertariat, Who is winning?’ event typing away definitely had me branded as a ‘blogger’ by some of the established comment writers in the row in front, who seemed to throw a glance every time liveblogging was mentioned.

Blogger/reporter/observer – it was a night of arbitrary definitions – some of which were fortunately challenged by the panel of:

Martin Bright, New Deal of the Mind founder and Spectator blogger

Mick Fealty, political blogger at Slugger O’Toole and the Telegraph’s Brassneck blog

Iain Dale, Iain Dale’s diary

David Aaronovitch, comment writer for The Times

Anne Spackman, comment editor for The Times

‘versus’
Before attending the event I had some reservations about setting up bloggers/blogs vs comment writers/comment – so it was good to see this artificial opposition challenged by both panel and audience.

“They are part of the same thing – it is part of the same continuum. I think it’s an artificial distinction,” said Bright.

But there are new rules and etiquette that blogging, and the technology which powers it, have introduced, which are shaping the future of comment.

“Bloggers have been able to hold traditional commentariat to account. That gets an instant reaction from the commentariat because they’re not used to be held to accountable in this way,” explained Dale.

“When you do comment quickly you do make mistakes and you have to hold your hands up.”

And if the future of journalism and the business of publishing is online, bloggers are the pathfinders, added Fealty:

“We’ve changed the behaviour of a commentariat. It isn’t bloggers that have ripped the revenue out of the big newsgatherers – it’s Google,” he said.

“Online bloggers have started a party that is irresistible to the commentariat. Spreadability is the new currency. To do that you need a personal audience as a blogger.

“They [the commentariat] are better writers, but there are many more of us than there are of them (…) We’re getting stories from the little people, not the big people that the commentariat are. The people we talk to aren’t always the best behaved witnesses.

“We’re not obliged to fit in with someone else’s brand. Bloggers are brand builders, the new brand online (…) is us speaking directly from the gut.”

Anonymity and NightJack
Last night’s event was timely given the debate over the Times decision to out anonymous policeman blogger NightJack – despite a punchy start from Iain Dale, neither Spackman nor Aaronovitch would be drawn on the issue.

However, Spackman did say she agreed with Jeff Jarvis that social media sites were breaking down anonymity.

Aaronovitch went further saying he could see previously ‘anonymous’ political sources in comment writing being unmasked and suggested that this was a necessary development.

Bright agreed and said he hoped this would happen ‘organically': “It is changing, but at the moment it isn’t changing fast enough.”

For journalists using social and new media sources, transparency is needed, added Aaronovitch: “There are synergies there (…) I use bloggers as sources of information I wouldn’t otherwise get. There’s a form of democratisation there. It’s unreliable democratisation – I don’t really know what I’m getting or who I’m getting it from.”

Twitter challenge and shaping the future
The commentariat has been with us for 25 years, but how the shape of the ‘bloggertariat’ will shift in the same time is almost unpredictable, he added.

“I absolutely love what the new media has created (…) the possibilities it has created for me and everyone else.

“We couldn’t even imagine two years ago that there’d be a form of 140 characters and we had no idea how it would apply itself to situations like Iran.

“‘Commentariat vs bloggertariat’ suggests a settled contention that we know where everybody is and everybody’s going.”

Indeed the rise of Twitter was agreed to be a somewhat unforeseen challenge to the dominance of blogging over traditional comment.

“I’ve yet to read a great classic blog post. I think it’s getting close with Twitter. Every now and then you do read a fantastic tweet,” said Bright.

But, commenting on yesterday’s launch of the UK Investigations Fund, Bright said he was concerned that developments and the future of neither the bloggertariat or commentariat would accommodate investigative journalism.

UPDATE – you can now download Editorial Intelligence’s podcast of the event.

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For @GuidoFawkes, Twitter is a fad that will disappear; for @MickFealty, it’s a valuable tool

May 12th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Twitter is a ‘fad that will soon disappear,’ political blogger Paul Staines said yesterday.

Staines, who blogs under the alias Guido Fawkes, told participants at the Voices Online Blogging conference at City University that he has ‘not got the time’ to monitor the 3,000 + followers of @guidofawkes.

“How profound can you be in 140 characters?” he said. “I use Twitter to broadcast, but I go to individual bloggers for information.”

Staines argued that the increasing popularity of the site, boosted by celebrity users such as Stephen Fry and Oprah Winfrey, meant that ‘overload is inevitable’.

However, Mick Fealty (@mickfealty) creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog, agreed that Twitter is a ‘nightmare’ but insisted it remained an ‘important tool’ for journalists.

“I used it on the day of the US elections last November, when I was writing a live blog on the Slugger site,” he explained. “I canvassed for US readers to be mini-bloggers for one day.

He used feeds from people who were watching three or four American television networks, he said. “Within about two minutes I knew what had gone out on ABC, Fox and CNN, and I could give a clear judgement about what was going on.”

Fealty added that the site was an effective tool to generate information about an area where he had ‘no local or native knowledge’.

Twitter’s usefulness was a result of the ‘very smart and intelligent’ contacts he has made using it, he said.

“The value of Twitter is the value of people I follow,” he explained.

Journalism.co.uk reported from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for live updates from a wide array of media events.

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Online commenters are like ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’ says Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow

Bloggers and journalists discussed their shifting roles and relationships in the context of online political blogging at Monday’s Voices Online blogging conference at City University, organised by the Next Century Foundation.

Blogging is improving the quality of journalism by forcing reporters to be more honest about their sources the Guardian’s senior political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, said yesterday.

Sparrow said that traditional journalistic secrecy had become ‘hard to justify in the blogosphere’ because readers act as ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’.

“There’s an expectation that you will be more upfront about your sources, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“In a conventional news story, you can never own up to doubt. In a blog, it’s perfectly acceptable to say what you know and what you don’t know.”

Sparrow also suggested that political bloggers have raised the bar of competition for traditional news organisations.

“I don’t see myself as part of the blogging community in the way that Paul Staines or Nick Fielding are,” he said. “I view blogging as a tool that we use [at the Guardian] for our mainstream journalism. But I worry if the amateurs are doing it better than we are.”

However, in an earlier panel, Paul Staines questioned whether drawing a distinction between ‘journalist’ and ‘bloggers’ is still relevant.

“How long is it before we stop asking that question?” he said. “With converging digital platforms, there may no longer be a difference.”

Sparrow, who has previously reported on the political arena for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, said that he had been frustrated by ‘the limited way you could tell stories’ in traditional print media.

“The internet has an immediacy that you don’t always get in mainstream media. I like the commentability, but it makes many journalists uncomfortable,” he said.

He added that digital media has improved the range of sources available to journalists. “Once, you might have had to spend the morning ringing ten people to find out what they thought about something, whereas now, you can subscribe to ten RSS feeds,” he said.

However, Sparrow also said that the Guardian ensures its blogs ‘report in accordance with its journalistic values and the public interest’, and acknowledged that the wider blogging community ‘survives on subjectivity’ which is at odd with traditional journalistic notions of balance.

But Mick Fealty, creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog and who also blogs at the Telegraph and the Guardian sites, insisted this did not compromise the quality and integrity of blogging. “The journalists who make good bloggers are the ones who know they’re only interjecting into a larger conversation. There is a value in being challenged,” he said.

“Truth is more useful than balance. One truth at a time is enough.”

Journalism.co.uk reported live from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for updates from a wide array of media events.

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Round-up: Open house event at The Telegraph on political blogging

November 8th, 2007 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Debates about blogging, political or otherwise, could go on forever. Credit must go to the Telegraph team for getting this one going – it was just starting to get a bit more interesting before time ran out though.

Still, some interesting issues raised, if not too many conclusions.

  • Firstly, and this is something raised on this blog before, are journalists who write blogs the same as bloggers?

Iain Dale noted that Mail On Sunday bloggers have to submit their posts to the lawyers first. This was a common experience with one member of the audience, a blogging journalist at Telegraph.co.uk, who said the profit interests of the group’s owner would always impact upon the blogging process in this way.

Lloyd Shepherd pointed out that while legal costs are the only costs not to have gone down in the new digital age, the law is becoming more sensitive to cases where content might not have actually been seen by that many people.

  • Iain Dale downplayed the notion of a blogging elite. Yet how come everyone in the room (bar me…) were on first name terms and often didn’t have to introduce their blog first?

Mick Fealty, writer on Northern Irish political blog Slugger O’Toole and the Telegraph’s blog Brassneck, explained that ‘top blog’ lists are not intended to reinforce an elite, but ‘about trying to get people to break out of their daily online habits and go and look at something completely different’.

  • There’s a lot of cross-over between ‘traditional’ journalism and blogs (maybe this was because there were a lot of journalists in the room…): in-depth investigative coverage, face-to-face networking and contact making.

Major differences between the two discussed last night were the ability of blogs to talk to people and not at people, and their capacity to democratise. (Not a strong enouch distinction was made for me.)

One Telegraph blogging journalist pointed out that the BNP website receives more hits than all the other political parties’ sites combined – yet when blogging about this he didn’t link to the BNP’s site.

So can blogging democratise political coverage by the media, while the media adheres to an establishment view of politics as a three party system?

Lots of summaries of last night’s event have already been posted – here are a few to get you going (am I perpetuating a blogging elite by just linking to these few?):

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