Tag Archives: Facebook

Mainstream News vs The Blogosphere

Blog On
Blog On

Earlier this month I watched Newsnight Review on BBC2 and saw Kirsty Wark and Paul Morley discussing the recent death of Christopher Hitchens. One comment of Mr. Morley’s rankled with me. He said “5000 bloggers are not worth one Christopher Hitchens”. “Hmph!”, I grunted and tweeted “…True, neither are 5000 TV critics in black polo neck sweaters”.

It is commonplace for the mainstream media to denigrate bloggers and attention is usually drawn to the mediums very real failings: Blogs can be abusive, poorly thought through, dreadfully worded, awfully spelt and the facts are rarely checked. Many blogs have all these failings and more but professional journalists whining about bloggers are a little like aristocrats sneering at working class speech.

If we invert the failings attributed to blogs we get the strengths of the mainstream media. Like all large organisations, newspapers divide work into specialisations. They have specialist proof readers, specialists fact checkers and specialist editors. Given this production line approach it is not surprising that the BBC scores higher than most amateurs when it comes to “production values”.

Should we, then, ignore blogs? Should we limit our reading to the mainstream press? We may as well ask if we should ignore Rock and Roll. Like Hollywood the mainstream news media are very adept at the techniques of their profession but the industrial approach can produced results which seem contrived and predictable. If blogging has any advantage it is authenticity.

Prior to the printing press most people would have been unable to read and public discourse would have been dependent on numerous personal interactions. A discerning individual would have given less credence to the boor and more to the wit but the onus on differentiating would be down to the individual.

With the arrival of newspapers in the 17th century the news began to coalesce around a standard version of the truth. In the 19th century wire services such as Reuters further accelerated standardisation by providing identical information to its customers. The style or opinions became what differentiated one publication from another.

For as long as I can remember The News Of The World had been full of gossip to be taken with a pinch of salt while broadsheets cultivated a reputation for more accurate reporting. As readers we learned the difference but though the style varied the agenda remained broadly the same.

As with much of our corporate 21st Century, the mainstream news media has come to resemble a cartel. If we visit the web sites of the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, BBC News we see that the agenda is very similar. While they report different viewpoints, they still represent a bottleneck for ideas and information and are effectively setting a standard news agenda at least at a national level.

The Internet is challenging this status quo as was shown dramatically with The Arab Spring and the Occupy Protests. Ordinary people are setting their own agenda and even have their own news wire in the form of twitter. As events unfold in real time the mainstream media are forced to play catch up. It’s messy and difficult but there are as many opinions as there are individuals and the blogosphere merely reflects this reality.

An article in The Economist (December 31st 2011) stated “..it is hard to argue that the internet has cheapened the global conversation about economics. On the contrary, it has improved it.” and went on to say “…blogs have brought experts … out of the shadows.”

The mainstream news media have become a vested interest and, as with lawyers or gas fitters, they scorn the idea that anybody else could do their job. They do this by raising themselves up as gurus and denigrating those who threaten to replace them as incompetent. The mainstream media still provide better standards of quality control but, if all they do is package news and disseminate it through web sites and apps then they are not much different from a blog. The difference is further burred by sites such as The Huffington Post or the Guardian’s Comment Is Free which feed articles written by bloggers into a more professional looking framework.

Certainly the writings of Christpher Hitchens were superior to most amateur blogs but then Mr. Hitchens did not have the encumbrance of earning a living in a different field. One reason that mainstream journalists are competent is that they have spent their professional lives honing their competence. Some, like Mr. Hitchens, may rise further by dint of personal attributes such as individualism, iconoclasm and determination. Others cling to the technical paraphernalia of their profession to distinguish themselves from the amateur. As the mediocre artist relies on dressing in black and a well groomed 5 O’clock shadow so the mediocre journalist relies on grammatical pedantry.

Like any other profession the real threat to journalists lies, not with amateurs, but with industrialisation. Companies are now emerging such as Wordsofworth and Vivatic which outsource article writing and proof reading to individuals via The Internet. Their business model is to source articles from competent but cheap writers and flog them on to multiple sites which use them to pad out advertising. These sites are not looking for inspiration or controversy, they are looking for “content” and they effectively reduce the value of articles to that of filler.

The hope is that new media will provide greater access to public debate and challenge entrenched opinions though this is by no means certain. As some bloggers gain credibility, some journalists will find themselves paid peanuts to write 500 words on cup cakes. Sean Parker, founder of Napster and Facebook’s founding president has said “What we don’t have are good organising tools so that institutions, which have hierarchy which have management, can actually leverage the power of social media to get things done in a consistent and sustainable way”. Presumably Mr. Parker is now developing tools to enable power to be leveraged by consistent and hierarchical management.

We may be living through an interregnum. The Internet is a disruptive technology but its long term effect on public discourse may be to just shake out the chaff. If the mainstream media want to remain relevant they need to focus on nurturing thoughtful journalists who produce pungent and insightful articles. In this respect the blogosphere may be a much needed kick up the arse.

fast broadband wont stop facetime

Facetime not facebook
Facetime not facebook

The news has been reporting that the British government is to reveal plans to provide “super-fast broadband”. Oh, good grief! We’ve had this back in March when Gordon Brown had the same idea.
I despair over our leadership as they seem rudderless when confronted with a changing world. I remember when PCs were becoming popular some idiot politicians thought that we should have typing taught as part of the national curriculum. This, at a time when kids were getting home games computers before they became teenagers and picking up typing naturally.

Now our government look around and see everyone talking about e-this and i-that and hits on some daft idea which they consider will prove their leadership regarding technological change. But copying Singapore is not providing leadership.

My broadband is quoted as about 6 meg download. I don’t get that of course due to contention ratios and other technical factors. The point is that my speed is usable. I work from home now and then without issues. If my work required faster speeds I could get it. I’d just have to pay more. I know that maximum broadband speeds are unevenly spread across the UK but I do not believe that this is a limiting factor to technological economic growth

As I said, I work from home now and then. Most of the time I join the nightmare commute north every morning to sit opposite another poor sod. We grunt “good morning” and then spend the day talking to people on the other side of the world. As soon as is permissible we join the commute back home and then slump in front of the telly.

This wokring from home is termed telecommuting. The reason I do use it most of the time is not technological, it is because of outdated management styles. British management like to see their workers sitting in the office; this makes them think that they are getting their monies worth even if the employees spend most of their time on Facebook. It can be no coincidence that for many years prior to Facebook the Japanese word for this time wasting has been “face time”. It is pointless and it costs industry millions.

The reason that facetime is so popular is that it is easier on the manager. He can hide in his office, then once his boss puts him on the spot, he can strut around giving instructions and demanding information. Having his staff scurry around makes him feel important and may impress his boss but this is poor management and detrimental to economic performance. Facetime should be eradicated irrespective of telecommuting policies but and telecommuting can help this process along.

Eradicating facetime means implementing effective achievement based management. The manager needs to plan his team’s activities, create schedules, allocate time and resources and them review progress. Employees should then be judged by the efficient and timely completion of tasks which they are set.

Many companies already have successful telecommuting policies but not enough. Achievement based management is more of a challenge as it involves the manager having to put in some effort. It is here where the British government could usefully intervene by providing training for managers and by implementing tax breaks for employers and employees.

The government encouraging telecommuting would also encourage achievement based management. Telecommuting would also ease transport problems, make industry more efficient and reduce CO2 emissions. It’s is a no lose proposition and would show real leadership.

Government should set policy and not get involved in implementation. This is where New Labour went wrong. The government should not use tax payers money to provide high speed broadband access to every shed on every mountain top in the country. Market forces can be left to supply broadband to where it is required.

Let’s not forget the last government technological big idea. Digital Audio Broadcast. OK, many of us have DAB radios but how many of us have them in our cars? And how long before the whole DAB experiment is shelved in favour of wireless internet access?

Raoul Moat – Neither heroic nor callous

Moat - neither heroic nor callous
Moat - neither heroic nor callous

The story of the police manhunt in Northambria ending in the suicide of Raoul Moat is still making headlines. Yesterday we heard news that Moat had made a series of recordings of his dealings with social workers where he requested help from a psychiatrist. Also we heard that a Facebook page which has been created by people glorifying Moat’s attacks and portraying him as a hero. In Prime Minister’s Question Time we heard David Cameron express incomprehension at the sympathy for Raoul Moat and say: “It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story” and “the should be no sympathy for him”. Mr. Cameron is TALKING BOLLOCKS!

It amazes me that the Western world has regular incidents where alienated men go berserk and kill many strangers and we always dismiss the killer as evil. When we do this we condemn our society to suffer a reoccurrence of the incident. Mr. Cameron’s comments are merely the absurd knee jerk reaction of all politicians: “All terrorist are cowards”, “all firemen are heros” and “all murderers are callous”….yes, yes, thank you, does anyone have anything constructive to say?

Moat had obviously built up a narrative in his mind whereby his wife had left him for a police officer, that he was being prevented from seeing his children an that the police were deliberately harassing him. At the moment it is too early to say how much of this narrative is true and how much is imagined by Moat but I believe it is this story which has moved some members of the public to sympathy.

And we should have sympathy! This man was suffering and, in the end he killed himself.

The accusation when one says this sort of thing is: What about sympathy for PC David Rathband whom Moat shot and has probably blinded. Of course we have sympathy for PC Rathband but this is a given. That is acknowledged by the whole of society and should not and is not being challenged by politicians or the media.

Further, the media tell us the news in the form of stories. A popular catchphrase amongst journalists is “simplify and emphasise” and this is what they have done with Moat. They built up his character by revealing his body building and use of steroids. They told us of his camping out in a tent, catching rabbits and eluding the police for days. The main character of this soap opera was Moat and sadly, PC Rathbone only entered the story briefly.

The shooting of Moat’s wife, the boy friend and PC Rathband are awful and were Moat to have lived he obviously should have been brought to justice and punished.

But merely to dismiss Moat as “callous” is wide of the mark. Sir Fred Goodwin who destroyed RBS and then made off with a fat pension was callous. Berny Madoff who built up the largest ponzi scheme in history was callous. Peter Mandelson publishing his diaries within weeks of Labour losing power is callous.

Moat interminable recorded rants give us some indication as to his state of mind. One can only imagine his anguish as he sat on the ground with night drawing in, surrounded by police marksman and knowing full well that his heinous crimes would, if he surrendered, push him even further from those he loved. The anguish of fighting with himself over whether to end it all or give himself up to a life that he would hate could not have been helped by having the police shoot at him with a tazer.

The obvious suffering of Moat and the resonance with many divorced fathers mean that this story was bound to draw public sympathy and Mr. Cameron’s claim that we should have no sympathy for this man is incorrect and unhelpful.