Andrew Marr has been a hero of mine for a long time. Unfortunately the shine completely fell off this week, when he denounced bloggers as ‘inadequate, pimpled and single’ , while citizen journalism also gets the benefit of his boot, being described as ‘the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night’. The rant doesn’t end there, which was carried out against bloggers, at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. This is an incredibly unfortunate episode – the significance of which shouldn’t be underestimated. When someone this influential in the media industry speaks out with such vehemence against bloggers, it’s something you sit up and take notice of.
The single biggest problem with Andrew Marr’s argument, is that he dismisses bloggers in total, as if ‘blogging’ is the unifying factor and therefore we all operate in the same way. This is completely illogical, as if by becoming a blogger, you are immediately like all other bloggers. Compare a Mashable to a Wiggly Worms blog and you see where his argument really falls down ; they are completely different from each other. A blog is a means of producing content, it is a form of content in itself. It really is time to get away from the idea of ‘bloggers’ being one and part of the same crowd. It is really no different to criticise bloggers, than it is is to criticise writers outright. Any point that Andrew Marr might have had is unfortunately lost in this. But putting this misunderstanding to one side, is there any validity in his arguments against citizen journalism?
The future of citizen journalism
According to Marr it’s nothing but late night spewing and it will never be a replacement for traditional journalism. On the latter point, I completely agree. But then, this isn’t what citizen journalism is about. Rather than being an either/or for traditional journalism, it is a new type of journalism that is enhancing the way we receive news. It should be something that can co-exist with traditional journalism, which in my opinion should never be replaced, but can adapt and evolve. And when so many publications, particularly local newspapers are suffering huge staff losses or going out of print, citizen journalism can go some way to filling this gap, with a new type of news. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing and viewing the news industry as juxtaposed between traditional and citizen journalism slightly misses the point.
The potential of citizen journalism is huge. And while I in no way endorse what Andrew Marr says, I’d like to look at it fairly and address some of the points that may have given rise to this particular point. As good as citizen journalism is, at some point you do have to consider the issue of regulation. If it is to become a much more widestream contributor to the news agenda, then how this is moderated is something that has to be discussed. There is, unfortunately the odd case that seeks to devalue the role of citizen journalism, with fake news and stunts. I would hope that this is seen as a reflection of the fact that citizen journalism is still in its infancy and that as it grows, new rules and ethics will be adopted that fit the medium. To devalue it in the way that Andrew Marr did while it still so new is potentially damaging, when it seeks to democratise the news industry.
In defence of bloggers
As much as it is disappointing that the tirade came from such an influential person, the rebuttal has come from someone just as influential, in the shape of Krishnan Guru Murthy. His piece in the Guardian yesterday, is written in defence of the ‘blogging masses’. What I like about the response is that it doesn’t come in the form of completely ripping Marr to shreds, or attempting to emerge as a hero among bloggers. Indeed, he refers to some bloggers himself as ‘obnoxious trolls’. But it’s the context in which this comment comes that’s important, as he argues that you might think of SOME bloggers in this way. From this very standpoint, Guru Murthy wins.
What’s interesting is that he discusses the social media policy of different news organisations. While some clearly embrace social media – Channel 4 and the Guardian chief among them, at the BBC, according to Guru Murthy, journalists are restricted from blogging or tweeting unless the content has been pre-approved by an editor. This in itself may explain why there are so many holes in Andrew Marr’s argument. And you can’t completely blame him for this, when the news organisation he works for is so strict about online policies. When you’re not able to immerse yourself in social media and experience it in the way that the majority of people do, it’s easier to misunderstand it.