Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Amateur night or citizen journalism?

I enjoyed much of the October (oops) September edition of The Monthly magazine, but Gideon Haigh's review of Andrew Keen's book The Cult of the Amateur really bothered me because an essayist/writer whose work I really enjoyed and respected had bought into Keen's arguments that 'amateur' content makers – including, in particular, bloggers – threatened the legitimacy of professional journalists, writers and opinion makers and their capacity to inform – and form – public opinion.

Being one of those 'amateurs' myself, I tried to think through a response, but couldn't get to it. So, I was pleased to see that The Monthly has published a letter
by Ken Nielsen responding to Haigh's review, and Keen's book, on its revamped website (unfortunately, they haven't put Haigh's review online). Nielsen's comments resonate with me (the emphasis is mine):
My worry is not about a "culture without a hierarchy of talent, expertise and authority" but about a mainstream media that is peopled with columnists whose regular writings are as consistent and predictable as a McDonald's burger. You know what Phillip Adams, Tim Blair, Kenneth Davidson, Janet Albrechtsen, Hugh Mackay and Miranda Devine are going to say about any issue. And with several, you know what issue they are likely to write about: some react to the previous day's headlines, others cycle through the same five or six topics. Few surprise or make us think hard. It seems that editors do not like readers to be surprised by a columnist. They prefer us to nod solemnly when our opinions are supported or grind our teeth when reading someone we always disagree with. Columnists have become brands and are subject to the same quality control. I see little "talent, expertise or authority" among them.
Nielsen is no uncritical cheer squad for bloggers:
Among the bloggers on the internet - Keen's amateurs - I find much stimulating, thought-provoking and informative material, as well as a lot of rubbish.
But he does highlight the capacity of blogs to engage him and even change his mind about some things! When was the last time something you read on a blog changed your mind about something? Or, as importantly, made you go 'wow!', or 'Oh!'

If you're interested in the 'citizen journalism' angle on this, I recommend this post on Gatewatching, a Queensland-based site devoted to the topic.

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At October 18, 2007 9:01 pm, Blogger phil said...

Too true, Mark and in fact I said more or less the same thing yesterday, albeit a little less elegantly.

I don;t read Phillip Adams for (almost) the same reason I don;t read Miranda Devine - they bore me. Unfortunately, the Devines and others of her ilk also provoke even less noble responses.

At October 27, 2007 5:45 pm, Blogger genevieve said...

Good to see they published a decent letter on the topic. LIke you, Mark, I was a bit dismayed that someone as prolific and gifted as Haigh even bothered to take the time to bag bloggers. But then there are people like Clive James, who can see the similarity between Viennese pre-war satirists and contemporary bloggers, so it's not all bad news. Thanks for the link to the letter.

At November 01, 2007 12:55 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Gen, sometimes I think many journos and writers, including Haigh, get too precious about their 'professionalism'.

I used to think it was just about concern that we did this for nothing, and that it threated their market – getting paid for their work.

I'm not so sure that's all of it, now.


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