Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blogs are evil

There has been some muttering in the traditional press on the subject of blogs as a result of the McBride poison emails business. The story was initially broken by Guido Fawkes, before being taken up by the mainstream media, who lagged the internet by a news-cycle, and in the case of the Telegraph ran a government-friendly piece designed for damage limitation. That didn't work and now few could argue that we have a slightly changed situation with regard to politics and news given the wide readership and responsiveness of the better political blogs.

Stephen Glover in the Mail isn't too happy though:
There is a further highly alarming aspect to this affair which no amount of apologies can ever affect. It has to do with the destructive power of the internet in disseminating false and scurrilous stories about individuals against which they have little or no redress.

Imagine what a low-life character such as McBride would have done as recently as ten years ago, had he wanted to smear the Tories. He would have known, in the pre-internet age, that not even the seediest gossip column in the most disreputable newspaper would have taken him seriously for a single moment. All he could have done was what such people have done down the ages. He could have spread his unsubstantiated rumours in a pub, where one or two listeners who had had a few too many drinks might have believed him.

The internet, in this sense, has become like one giant universal pub in which the darkest allegations against people can be recycled without risk. Actually it is potentially much more lethal in its effects than any pub. For if McBride had been peddling his mendacious stories while propping up a bar, he would have had to identify himself and might have therefore limited the scope of his allegations for fear of being publicly exposed as their source.
I think we need a bit of a reality check here. There is a lot of garbage on the internet, but most of it faces off to a tiny readership. So, if you are a fan of paranoid conspiracies about the Alien Lizards who really rule us then there is website for you, but you have to find it and you won't be in a crowd. The blogs and websites with substantial readership are much fewer and most of them are very good. What they aren't is controlled or controllable in the way that the media was as recently as 1997. Then Peter Mandleson probably had the phone numbers of a dozen news editors and key journalists in his filofax. All he needed to do was to keep them on board and the news agenda followed. That is simply no longer possible because of the internet, not just private blogs but because mainstream media also blogs and acceepts comments. The news process is now faster and more interactive and stories cannot easily be killed with a promise of an exclusive, as McBride tried to do.

Glover's key point is that it is the medium of the internet that prompted the attempt at an attack blog in the first place, but it was the internet community that found it out using old-fashioned investigative journalism. In fact, this is less an example of new media than an example of amoral bufoons who don't understand how new media works at all. They thought all they had to do was put up a website and tell lies. Idiocy. Like any publication, a successful blog needs credibility and a degree of authority. Guido is on the money often enough to attact a recurring audience, because you can find out things from him that don't appear anywhere else until later.

Glover is really wrong when he says that without the internet all McBride could have done is gossip to people in a bar. This man was no.10's head of strategy, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. Any mainstream journalist would take his call and accept an off the record. Few would dare alienate him, or else he would have been unable to operate for years in the way that he has. Boris Johnson has a piece in the Telegraph today with an example of McBride in action spinning a story, so don't give us nonsense that the medium made the monster. What is actually happening is that the internet makes it harder for the spin doctors to operate, and it fractures the cosy relationship between them and the tamer journalists in the mainstream media. This cannot be but a good thing.

No comments: