Blogs or elite media?

Week 4.

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

Informing the public is the main tenet of journalism. Without a public to inform, and without publishing important information, there is no point in following up a story or putting pen to paper, or typing anything. In the past, we relied solely on elite media institutions to report what was going on in the world, in our country and in our city. Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax were powerful names in Australian media with almost unwavering control over the industry. These names are still undeniably powerful. Murdoch owned media reaches 75% of the world’s population. They’re influence and power, however, is also a shadow of what it once was. The arrival of web 2.0 technologies and an increasingly networked public culture has resulted in a downfall in the power of traditional media monoliths.

The arrivals of bloggers and avenues for independent media have challenged the authority of the media elite – something that was essential to the trust audiences placed in them, and their profits. It is unlikely that blogs will overtake elite media institutions as the main provider of news but they do serve an important function, and in some cases inform the public more effectively than elite media institutions. This is especially clear when the issues being reported infringe on the media organizations other commercial interests.

Russell et al argue that “people are actively resisting the content and practices of mainstream news” (2008:66) and ask “do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure, and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (2008:67). I believe that in general, blogs, especially news and political blogs, which I will focus on, serve an auxiliary function to the main media institutions. Most successful political commentary blogs have positioned themselves in this way because their authors understand that politically informed people who take the time to seek out and read their blogs have already got the basic facts and overview from mainstream media.

There are some cases, however, where independent bloggers are vital to informing the public. These are in situations where it is against the mainstream media’s economic interest to report on an issue and the bloggers take up a cause. Of course, in countries where the media is censored, the ability of blogs to communicate the truth is absolutely paramount. Recent protests and deaths of civilians in Syria at the hands of the state military are not being broadcast by state media, but bloggers are keeping people inside and outside Syria informed.

Locally, the issues not being reported are not issues of life and death but they are in the public interest. In the past 2 years, buying and selling of shares in media companies has been an issue of contention. Lachlan Murdoch and Gina Rinehart significantly invested in Channel 10 last year, meaning that they had significant control over the corporation. This was reported on in mainstream media, but analysed fully in blogs such as Crikey. Crikey is a collection of blogs and news articles that acts as a watchdog for much of the media.  They can analyse media ownership in a way that elite media cannot, due to the ways in which most media owners have their fingers in multiple pies, or that seemingly different news sources are all pieces of one pie.

Crikey also reported last year that The Age’s circulation figures were artificially bolstered by school and university bulk subscriptions. Although the papers are sent out and paid for (some for only $1 for the year like MUSU offered this year) many are left unread. This may seem like an innocuous bit of news, but for advertisers who pay big money to get in those pages, and people who are interested in the fate of the media industry in general, this is important.

More recently, Crikey has reported on industrial action and stop work meetings happening at Fairfax about the proposed outsourcing of sub-editors. Fairfax wont report on the people they are sacking, so Margaret Simons (a freelance journalist) has here, and this website is also keeping people up to date.

Elite media need a watchdog, just as they too are a watchdog. Blogging is not the perfect way to keep the public informed, as mostly it is a ‘seek and find’ medium. Blogs are often more editorialized, by nature, but those interests are usually personal and declared, unlike in the mainstream media. The elite media and anti-institution media both serve a purpose, but bloggers and independent online media is becoming more important in effectively informing the public.

References.

Russell, Adrienne et al. (2008) ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture’, in Kazys Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics (pp. 43-76), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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