Bloggers have long been portrayed as the lepers of journalism, their cracked, flayed skin gathering as dust as they hunch, like horror-movie foes, before their glowing screens, muttering incoherently into the gloom.
Trawl the net for long enough and you find their colonies, the clanging bells most cacophonous around The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report, where bloggers huddle in muttering groups surrounded by bits of Perez Hilton.
So it’s not as though Andrew Marr is picking on a new target with his comments made at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, in which he attacked bloggers as ‘inadequate, pimpled and single.’
But whatever truth might lie in his comments regarding appearance – and it certainly shouldn’t be forgotten that most media personalities at the BBC currently host blogs themselves – the rest of Marr’s speech rather misses the point.
Dismissing the rise of citizen journalism – admittedly a wretched term – as primarily ‘the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night’, he asserts that ‘it is not going to replace journalism.’ No, it’s not – but then it was never trying to, was it?
Bloggers gain popularity precisely because they can be outspoken – often shadowed behind cloaks of pseudonymous anonymity, they can say what they want pretty much with impunity. There’s no PCC Code to bring them up on, no nervous advertisers wary of controversy. They’ve a freedom that journalists just don’t have, with their shackles of professed impartiality and fear of the libel court.
But bloggers are isolated – sure, there may be millions of them, but there’s little connecting one to another beyond camaraderie and the hyperlinks between their pages. Theirs is largely a role of reflexivity: they respond to news, rather than make it, because they simply don’t have the access to sources that traditional journalism has. Tony Blair doesn’t give interviews to a Sheffield blogger. Wikileaks doesn’t send their found intelligence to a guy known only by a funny picture on his Blogspot account. And if we want breaking news, we go to the BBC, not Facebook.
Sure, bloggers have a role – their comment can often tap into the public mood much better than an NCTJ-styled cover story, and their perceived distance from authority (and hence control) certainly works in their favour – but it’s not to replace journalism. Bloggers are too disparate, too autonomous to disseminate news content in the way we expect. And yes, Marr’s right – they are often too angry and reactionary. We need the cool balance of reportage, the delicate reason of the leader column. But we need the fire too, the rage and the vitriol – this is why the U.S talk-radio hosts have done so well, because they know that interest is piqued by hyperbole, not received pronunciation. But they don’t give news, and without traditional news outlets they’d have little to rage against beyond conjecture and rumour.