Thursday, August 17, 2006

Paper tigers

Bob Swipe is characteristically droll and perceptive on the subject of The Girl With A One-Track Mind and her recent difficulties; and also on the self-evident superiority of Spinsterella's blog to The Girl's. I don't want to stay in a solipsistic quagmire, musing about the Nature And Future Of Blogging, and the whole Old/New Media thang; and I promise this is going to be the absolutely final reference to all those mad women at The Independent. (No links. Just Google "Mary Dejevsky gynaecology" and stand back.)

Small Boo was in Hong Kong over the weekend, and came back with a couple of the UK Sunday broadsheets. Now, I scan the UK press quite intensively via the WWW; but there is still something different about reading a paper. Because you're not choosing to summon up discrete articles, you get an overall view of the whole product; as the advertising slogan for the News of the World used to declaim, "All human life is there".

Essentially, most articles in a modern newspaper fall into one of three categories: news; comment/analysis; and lifestyle. Now, news is one area where old media has an edge over blogs, and will do for some time. It's a question of resources and access: we don't have a Murdoch expense account; we don't have accreditation; we won't get embedded with the Marines. Yes, individuals can get an invite to the party with their cellphone footage of the 7/7 attacks; but, despite the efforts of Matt Drudge and his ilk, the networks and the big corporations still run the show here.

Comment/analysis (which, I suppose, is the sort of ground on which I've pitched my tent) is a greyer area. In theory, all you need is a basic level of subject knowledge, and smattering of critical intelligence. In practice, the big guns have the advantage, because they have access to raw material ahead of us. I can't come up with any serious analysis of the Booker longlist, because I can't afford that many hardbacks, and some of them haven't even been published yet. However, as producers start to realise that word-of-blog is a decent selling tool, they're starting to send pre-release review copies of books, CDs, etc to certain bloggers; doubtless this practice will continue, and increase. But I'm not the literary editor of the New York Times and I know it.

But when it comes to lifestyle, I think something interesting is going on. Newspapers are full to gag-reflex point with columns in which middle-class journalists tell us about how amusing their children are. In small doses, this can be interpreted as a quasi-sociological snapshot of modern life. In practice, it gives an entirely warped view of what's going on, because all these views are expressed by journalists, who by definition are not normal. (This is not a dig at hacks; it would be ridiculous if all these columns were written by architects, or butchers, or redheads, none of whom, collectively, are 'normal' either.)

People have joked about how banal these Polly Filler columns are; bloggers have proved this is one area where they have the edge, because bloggers are amateurs, and come from a much wider range of backgrounds and lifestyles. But what's freaked out some journalists is that rather too many of these lifestyle bloggers - stand up Spinster again, but there are plenty more of you out there - are equally good, if not better, as writers. So Old Media has a choice. It can co-opt them: whether to turn them into 'real' journalists/authors, thus compromising their objectivity; or to add blogs to their own outlets. Or it can follow the lead of The Independent and make feeble squawking noises from the sidelines.

It's fairly clear which course is in the best interests of Old Media. And as someone who was working in various manifestations of that media for 15 years before I started blogging, I've got no scruples if someone offers me an inducement to extend in a cross-platform direction. But I think The Girl's experiences indicate that it's not always going to be a smooth transition. In other words, Spinster - if someone comes waving a cheque, you're worth it, but don't jump in head-first.

Unless you fancy him, of course.

14 comments:

Robert A. Swipe said...

Nice post Tim.

I think I'd add that blogs (done correctly) van also chip away at what the Situationists and others have described as "the spectacle" - i.e. the media's insistence that we all really should be enormously concerned about Israel-Lebanon/whether the market is down/Boy George shuffling up and down the streets of NYC with a broom up his arse etc. because *that's* what's important - that's what we *should* be looking at. I'm not saying those things *aren't* important, but, caught up as we are in our own lives, they are also completely irrelevant on a practical level. And blogs remind us of the commonality of those interior monologue lives we lead - the fact that there *might* just be some tiny, fleeting purpose to all those things we mull over in the gnawing caverns of our skulls.

So it's blogs v. "the mad parade" in my unreconstructed punk view, Tim.

Good on you for biggng up The Spinster. I share your ambivalence as to her impending success - one feels a bit like that sad, not very pretty Beatles fan on the Anthology video moaning because they never came back to Liverpool. Still, could be worse. She might actually find *the right one* and that would *completely* fuck everything up...

realdoc said...

Interesting Tim. I share your frustration with the endless columns by middle-class mothers and I am one for christsake. I have only been reading blogs for a few months and I find them much more diverse.
Just a small point though a feel there should be just a little positive discrimination for us redheads

Tim Footman said...

The Boy George thing was dispiriting, in a Debord sense, but it was still bloody funny.

Doc - more or less than for journalists and butchers?

dh said...

"news; comment/analysis; and lifestyle"

and don't forget politics. Rightly or wrongly mainstream media outlets are seen as beholden to powerful interests. Bloggers are perceived as free and independent spirits. Bloggers think. Bloggers vote. That's where blogs have the mainstream media most nervous I think.

Tim Footman said...

Fair point, dh; but politics is a subject area rather than a mode of journalism; it can appear as news or as analysis. Most bloggers don't have the contacts or resources to truly break news stories (although the likes of Drudge, Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale are showing promise - where are the effective lefty news bloggers, ffs?)

Where political bloggers really get going is on the comment/analysis front. Proactive focus group, call us. Incidentally, if John Prescott just admitted that he'd called Dubya's Mid-East policy 'crap', he'd immediately become too popular to fire.

dh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dh said...

Point taken about politics. What's new is that blogging gives everybody a voice. Suddenly people can get their letters to the editor out there at the push of a key.

Of course my own humble effort is apolitical. I like to think of it as a thinly disguised attempt to get into Pamela Anderson's knickers.

First Nations said...

rockin post, tim.
not that i have Big News knocking at my door, but i've been thinking about the crossing over of blogs...remembering the woman that blogged cooking the entire Julia Child cookbook; she got made into a tv show and later published a book on the same (i have it.)
spinny is great. also gse and surly and mutha and mudlark and...
swipe makes a great point - again - about what Big Media tells us to be interested in.
me, i write about my dog eating bees and thats where i'm happy.

First Nations said...

rockin post, tim.
not that i have Big News knocking at my door, but i've been thinking about the crossing over of blogs...remembering the woman that blogged cooking the entire Julia Child cookbook; she got made into a tv show and later published a book on the same (i have it.)
spinny is great. also gse and surly and mutha and mudlark and...
swipe makes a great point - again - about what Big Media tells us to be interested in.
me, i write about my dog eating bees and thats where i'm happy.

First Nations said...

...yeah, crap.

Helga von porno said...

Although post modern I find self analysis interesting for mathematical reasons. In a comment on a blog post about the position of blog posts it would seem appropriate to comment on the role of commenting. The big difference in a news paper and a blog is that the comments are usually longer in conjunction than the posts. whereas letters to the editor take up maybe 3% of the text in a news paper. For this reason it is the comments that are the new feature. Blog posts can cross over to old media without essentially changing, but do they take their comments with them? No. Old media cannot give such a voice to the readership. A blog turned into a book or a newspaper column ceases to be a blog. Bloggers and news paper readers are the same people, and a journalist who used to write a blog is not a new kind of journalist. A comment on comments will never be able to capture the essence of comments.
Hows that?

Annie said...

I felt very sad for GWAOTM - it was such a stupid, old media storm-in-a-teacup - the bloggers who read her didn't care who she was, and the newspaper readers had never heard of her before and equally didn't care. The 'scandal' - Woman Has Sex Shock! - was entirely generated by the newspapers. And now it has more or less finished off her blog, which was very good. Bah.

Good luck to her getting her book published - but for me the whole enjoyment of blogs, like Helga von Porno says, comes from their interactive nature, and the immediacy of it. Books are great, but I don't understand why getting published is seen as the goal of blogging...

Billy said...

That's how I think of blogs, newspaper lifestyle columns, but, like interactive.

I think for a blog to work as a book (and it will lose something when turned into a book) is for there to be a underlying theme - which Spinny's certainly does.

Tim Footman said...

FN: Your bee-eating dog made me laugh so much. Then I got maudlin thinking about my own dim dog in London. A Moronic Dogs blog would be hugely popular.

Helga: Space is a crucial difference. But old media needs control, as well (if only for legal reasons). That's why, even when a newspaper blog has a comment function, it will almost always be moderated (which is why my comments to Simon Heffer of the Telegraph calling him a wobble-bottomed self-parody never make it).

Annie: Not only did she take the publisher's shilling, she also did the serialiasation thing. I hope nobody was bugging her phone as well. "Mummy; daddy; I take it up the arse."

Billy: Very true. But my point is that this will encourage people to create blogs about marketable subjects.