Friday, 4 May 2007

Frontline postscript

Thursday's World Press Freedom Day discussion at the frontline club was humbling for anyone - like me - who's spent their professional lives in the relative comfort of the UK media. You could say that fretting about how the anglo-saxon world's politicians and political journalists are trying to grab the blogosphere for themselves is kinda missing the point. Ethan Zuckermann and Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah brought to the discussion accounts of bloggers (and journalists) intimidated, imprisoned, closed down, unplugged.
The simple truth that the web enables more people to speak more freely to a bigger audience than ever before has got to be A Good Thing and I can't think of a single argument against it - not even when blogging is at its most uncivil or social networking at its most irreverent.
But the web's value as a medium through which the (potentially amplified) civic conversation takes place doesn't automatically make it the answer to our broken politics' prayers. Worse, the danger is that both politicians and political journalists - in the anglo-saxon world at any rate - are tending to make the parts of the web they occupy resemble all that was wrong about politics and political journalism in the first place.
Suw Charman argued - and I don't disagree with her at all - that many bloggers here in the UK post about real-world political experiences and issues, the ambulance service, the NHS and so on; that blogging constitutes an alert, engaged, bothered conversation. Kevin Anderson adds the thought that this is a reflection of the way in which most people "relate to governance and policy differently than politician and journalists."
Exactly - that's the precise point of the disconnect; the exact place the wires have been cut. Martin Moore takes this one step further and asks whether these conversations - including those involving councillors and candidates and activists - shouldn't "feed directly into politics at a local level"?
But that's the point - they don't. Neither locally nor nationally. And one of the reasons they don't is the way in which our politics and political press have co-evolved over the past quarter century; that co-evolution has neutered ideology, stunted political debate and replaced it with a hand-book of standard scenes that have litle to do with the connection of conversation with action and everything to do with tomorrow's headline.
Soooo ... blogging, good; social networking, good; civic conversation, good. But is the web the the tool that will mend what's broken? No.

1 comment:

Jonathan Marks said...

Frontline is an excellent club for journalists. I don't think many of the people on the real frontline are going to go away soon, their stories are original and there will always be a market for trusted story tellers. I firmly believe that the policy many broadcasters have with user generated contact will change when someone from the public gets killed while trying to take a photo for a broadcaster. Many of the photos I see on newsblogs have clearly been done by taking risks (chasing fire trucks) and some companies are now offering to share the profits for celebrity or breaking news photos.