Should we bloggers own the fuckawful state of news media?
Roy Greenslade is one of those old guard media types - edited the Mirror in the 90s - so his survey of what happened to the dream of the news-based internet is worth a look. It's not pretty.
Blogging has been an important innovation in undemocratic societies where press freedom has never existed, but its impact in terms of the national news agenda within the developed world has been minimal. As for the founding of news providers at local level – the hyperlocals – this proved to be a false dawn.
In other words, MSM has not been superseded by the growth of an all-singing, all-dancing, truth-telling, fresh, responsible, informative, unbiased alternative media. Instead, what has taken hold across the net has been the opposite, based on the surfeit of fake news: a nasty, brutish, hysterical, intolerant mob proclaiming extreme opinions marked by racism, including both antisemitism and Islamophobia.
I was part of that hyperlocal revolution, working with Talk About Local and helping a number of sites start. Created in Birmingham was seen by some as a best-practice case study, and for a while there I was a bona fide consultant.
While I like to think I had a critical view - I remember sitting at the back at some barcamp-type affair cringing as folks attempted to universalise some personal experience or other - I have to own my enthusiasm for citizen journalism. I came from the DIY media culture and had seen it work. I saw a real case for connecting people beyond the constraints of traditional media as being a good thing.
And then it all went to shit. I blamed the marketing people and the celebrities, because I didn't like them, and that was probably unfair, although they were awful. But while we were all guilty of naivety in the face of too much Kool Aid, I think the cause of the mainstream media's decline and the rise of toxic online media is fairly simple.
As a local blogging microsleb I was invited to the launch of the Birmingham Post & Mail's new offices. They had a whole floor at the top of Fort Dunlop with hundreds of desks. We were shown the new newsroom, but I noticed it only took up a small area of the floor. The rest, a good 80%, was for the sales and advertising departments. News might have been the vehicle on which money was made but the money was not made from news. They were an advertising company. And I feared they couldn't see it.
Of course, Google and Facebook are now the advertising companies, and I fear that while they know it, we often can't see them as such. Hyperlocal blogging wasn't a threat to the traditional press, nor was it its saviour. It just flourished for a short while in a temporary void while the real business shifted.
In hindsight it's pretty obvious. But the news media believed its own hype and didn't realise what business they were actually in. And now, on a local level at least, there's nothing left except a load of local forums, funnelling ad money to Facebook by fuelling anger and intolerance.
I feel I should own my part in this. But I also feel to do so would be to buy into the myth that people like had any part it in at all.