I’d like to pitch in a few thoughts about the John Armstrong vs the Two Bloggers column. I don’t generally read much of what Armstrong writes; Gordon Campbell’s response to Armstrong’s column would be the first time I’ve read Campbell’s blog; although I do often use Bryce Edwards' work to catch up with the day’s politics on those occasions when I’ve been head down in an edit or some such. I find it, as Russell is fond of saying, “useful”.
Which is to say this is not about that, at least not the specifics. I don’t know or care if Campbell has been regularly making snide asides about Armstrong, whether one of them schtupped (I’ve never written that before, and not sure how to spell it) someone important to the other, or whether Armstrong was just tired and grumpy and/or needed something to write about. But I’d like to say a few things about the more generalised “bloggers vs the establishment” meme.
When Public Address began back in 2002, there weren’t many blogs in NZ. Not ones you’d want to read anyway, not ones about politics and stuff. I didn’t know about blogs when Russell asked me to start one. And for at least five or six years after that, much of my time was spent explaining to people what one was.
I remember a newspaper column I had in the Herald on Sunday when it started in 2004 – “Blogger” was my description. It wasn’t my idea, and always seemed a bit odd, like I was being defined by one medium I worked in, at the expense of all the others. Surely it would’ve been just as apt, albeit redundant, to call me “Columnist”. And despite Public Address having won at least one or two Netguide Internet Awards by the stage, and me proudly telling Mum all about it, the day that first paper came out she called to ask, “what’s a Blogger”?
When I started working for Sunday at TVNZ in 2005, people there would ask the same question – reporters, sensing it was something mysterious, new and hip, would suggest doing a story about blogs. I was the subject of a number of articles around that time, talking about the medium. No-one seemed that interested in what the bloggers were saying, just where and how we were saying it. The idea one might actually use blogs as part of one's research was unthinkable. These people weren’t even professionals.
I don’t think a huge amount has changed in 2012. There are more blogs, yes. I don’t generally have to explain to any media what they are. But the idea that blogs are at best, an annoyance, and at worst a mess of half-arsed angry ill-thought-out feral opinion, still holds with many of the media establishment. Using a blog as a source, even just an idea for a story (and admitting it), would be like quoting Wikipedia in an essay or taking medical advice from sue6918 on Answers.Com.
The blogs don’t help of course. There are the rabid ones, the ones who will repeat a story even after it’s been pointed out to them that it’s not actually accurate, simply because it does their cause some good. There are the ones that sneer and dismiss the entire media establishment as either a vast left/right wing conspiracy, or totally and utterly in the pocket of our Government owners (that one’s for TVNZ)… it’s hard to even see the term “MSM” these days as being anything but pejorative, in the same way as a former political editor at TVNZ was unable to say the word “blogger” without his contempt being obvious.
And yes, despite being unresourced, unfunded, and often lacking in any journalism training, the bloggers have one thing many paid journalists lack – time. They have time to pick through your articles line by line and look for errors, or areas where you’d been a bit casual with the facts. Bastards. They have time to go back through the political past and dig up references you didn’t have the time to find while sweating on that bus in Russia. Pricks. They can quote extensively, write prolifically, update constantly and adjust accordingly, while your article in the paper of record sits there mocking you with the glaring omission you now realise it contains. Arseholes. They can just sit back and say “you coulda done better” or “I would have done it like this”. C**ts.
Yeah, life was a lot easier when the only way a person could criticise your work was to take pen to paper and write a letter to the editor, hope it got past the gatekeepers without being subbed beyond recognition. You even got a right of reply then if you wanted it – the Last Word. It’s fucking tough being John Armstrong in the 21st Century, let me tell you. I’m surprised it took you this long to snap. I know those work trips are more work than trips, I’ve been there. I still don’t know any journalist on the way up who wouldn’t give their right arm to jump on that plane to Vladivostok, even knowing exactly how difficult it was. You’ve got the access, the bloggers don’t. Having a bitch about bloggers criticising your work is like a dinosaur sitting in a swamp whinging about the oncoming meteorite. Much as you might want to, you can’t stop it. It ain’t going away. Time to adapt.