Today on the Rangers Tax Case Blog, there has been some detailed and interesting discussion about the nature of journalism and how blogs such as that might take over from the mainstream media as far as coverage of news is concerned.
It seems to be a law that any blogger, after blogging for a while, has to write a Meta piece about blogging, so her I go fulfilling my statutory obligation!
I have taken the liberty of copying the comments from RTC which inspired me to write this, and they are at the end of this piece.
I recently attended a Scottish Press Club meeting at which James Doleman spoke. James was responsible for the excellent Sheridan Trial Blog.
During the trial of Tommy Sheridan for perjury James attended court every day and wrote detailed and balanced reports of the day’s proceedings, at all times making sure he did not fall foul of the rules of contempt. Even the most assiduous newspaper could only produce a fraction of his output, and the comments on James’ blog, like the comments on RTC, provoked much thought and analysis.
James’ blog was, quite rightly, highly acclaimed and as I understand it is used generally as a source by writers now in connection with the events of the trial, rather than any mainstream media accounts. Therefore one would expect him to be an ardent advocate of new media.
He was not, and this is the fear for blogs like RTC and the future of reporting. He mentioned that at his peak he was getting 25,000 to 35,000 hits per day on the blog (James, if I have underestimated that, then feel free to correct me!) He pointed out that the main newspapers, even at the lower end of the scale had a far wider readership, and as for TV coverage, this reached hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Therefore whilst those who read his blog were almost as well informed as the judge and jury, the vast majority of the public and professionals relying on MSM were dependent on what the media fed to them. James posited that the press had a common view, formed unconsciously, and that it was very difficult for any one reporter to go “off message”. In addition, the reporters were working within the possibly blinkered view of their employers, and there is more than one anecdote about press men watching an incident being told by their editor far away that the event is not happening!
Therefore those “in the loop” were well informed – and those outside, including in fact some reporters who popped in to court when a “juicy” witness was in the box, were not.
“Old media” no longer have the will or resources to have a reporter sit all day, every day, in court or the Parliament. As was mentioned earlier, “reporting” has been dropped in favour of “news gathering” and “churnalism” as Guardian journalist Nick Davies says, is rife. PR companies can get their puff pieces into newspapers almost verbatim as this fills a space and keeps some celebrity or special interest group onside. The ultimate fear is having access cut off, as happened to the Herald and BBC with Rangers and also as between Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC.
James Doleman said that, if there was money in it, he would have been delighted to sit in the High Court for every high profile case and provide the same service. However, there is not, and not just would the press refuse to send a reporter of their own to sit in for the whole duration of a case, but, as I understand matters from sources I have, they would not be prepared to pay to host an equivalent of James’ blog for any upcoming cases.
I think that RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain have done wonders bringing the Rangers Tax case, and related stories, into the public domain. However (and I do not have access to either party’s web stats) I am sure that any article by the “usual suspects” in the press would have an enormously bigger readership.
None of the above is to say that bloggers, like RTC, or journalists, like Phil, should stop. In fact, the reverse. There is a danger however in thinking that the coverage is reaching far wider than it actually is. Take a full Ibrox or Parkhead. How many fans (by definition people with more than an average interest in these matters) will be aware of RTC or Phil, and how many will understand what the tax case means for Rangers? That is before we get on to the even more esoteric topics of UEFA licences, when is a tax bill overdue, how late can it be left to appeal a tax assessment and whether a reference to “disqualified within the last five years” refers to the expiry of the sentence or the date of “conviction”.
Some years ago we entered a time of great peril for newspapers and traditional media. Even the smartest, like Rupert Murdoch, have struggled to cope. His brilliant success with Sky TV has overshadowed a number of failures as he attempts to adjust to a 21st century business model. The Times newspaper going behind a paywall apparently cut its readership by 90%. Graham Spiers tweeted today that he is being made redundant by the Times. Redundancy implies that his role is gone, not to be replaced.
The Herald too seems to be heading behind a paywall too. One suspects that the hard working and dedicated journalists there will not benefit from this. Instead, in an effort to keep their jobs, they will find themselves forced to produce more and more copy, with the result, as mentioned in the posts below, that “investigative” reporting will become a thing of the past.
The journalist Charles Lavery wrote an excellent piece last week about the blind alley up which much of the media has travelled, due to its obsession with sport and “celebrity”. This contributed to the excesses now being pored over by Lord Justice Leveson.
We are in a state of flux. As the mainstream media loses its battle, there are literally thousands, if not millions, of “citizen journalists” contributing to the web. Most see very little interest, but an occasional few, like RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain find topics of interest to many, and write about them so well that they attract more and more interest. But a hugely successful blog post will probably be read by less people than see an article in the Hamilton Advertiser!
Someone somewhere will work out how to turn what bloggers, and journalists with blogs, do into a money making pursuit. However, the only “successful” model so far is to become so attractive to main stream media as a result of blogging that you actually get a job there! Craig Calcaterra is a former attorney in the US. He blogged for some years about baseball, until finally getting a job with NBC to blog about baseball. He gave up the law with nary a second glance.
For every Craig, there are thousands of people like me, who blog because we want to, and who might, in their wildest dreams, imagine the editor of a major paper of magazine snarling to his minions “Get me McConville (or insert the name of the blogger – not everyone thinks about me, I am sure) – and give him the biggest office in the building, with a huge salary, and an unlimited expense account!”
However, that ain’t gonna happen.
So we plug on – Phil, RTC, Charles Lavery and the like making their serious points to large (by internet standards) audiences; small time bloggers like me speaking to our regular reader (hi!); and “proper” journalists writing pieces of vastly varying quality in accord with the agenda of their respective employers.
Are old media methods of news dissemination on the way out? Yes they are. Are new media methods going to take over? Ultimately yes. However we are stuck between at least two stools just now, and where we end up, no one knows.
So, I will keep going. I hope RTC, and Phil, and Charles, and James and the rest keep doing so, and maybe that gig in the Auchtermuchty Bugle might not pass me by…
Acknowledgements – I would like to thank James Doleman, whose blog encouraged me to pick up my own keyboard, and RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain for opening up and then shining a spotlight upon the biggest Scottish sports story since 1967. I also want to thank Craig Calcaterra – if one lawyer can do it, maybe, just maybe…
Finally I want to than RTC and his commenters, especially the ones quoted below, for the excellent, erudite and civilised debate which has ensured that none of us are on Mr Craig Whyte’s Christmas Card list!
04/12/2011 at 4:42 pm (Edit)
Any intelligent, Scottish football consumer will now treat the MSM with the contempt it deserves – and will choose to obtain their information from other sources, such as the RTC blog.
Private Land says:
04/12/2011 at 5:41 pm
But that’s where they still have the upper hand Stevie. Exponentially fewer people have easy access to this type of media compared to the print and TV stuff.
That’s the Elastoplast I spoke about earlier. They may be a bunch of incompetents. Many of them may be complete tubes. Some of them are corpulent and lazy with no peripheral vision whatsoever. Trouble is that not nearly enough people are aware of that.
Over time perhaps, things will change – but I don’t think that the greater mass of people are ready to shift their media allegiances just yet.
On another pessimistic note, I can’t see unfettered Internet access going unchallenged governmentally if the threat to the traditional media is maintained.
Not that I’m paranoid mind you
04/12/2011 at 6:04 pm
Absolutely, print/TV media is currently most readily accessible. In time that could/should change.
But you could also argue that the people/consumers who currently have the influence/motivation for change are also savvy with current technology. [Yes, I do like to be optimistic sometimes.]
And I do agree re: unfettered internet access. The ‘copyright/IP’ legislation introduced in the States recently is disturbing. This could very well be abused to restrict internet content – not dissimilar to the abuse of terrorism legislation in the ‘interests of public safety’.
Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan says:
04/12/2011 at 8:46 pm
Good Evening all,
Can I just add a few comments to the various points made by John?
I was recently speaking to two journalist friends of mine who are man and wife. They work for two different organisations, with one being a fairly senior Editor at one national quality paper and the other being in a senior position for a chain with a number of local titles. Neither works for a Red Top, and both know journalism as their only career.
Both said to me that it was at this time of year when the publishers decide to close offices and make folk redundant in big numbers. It makes the run up to Christmas very stressful whether you are one of the ones that stay or whether you are one of the ones that go. You lose friends and find that your workload is simply increased.
Journalists are not alone in feeling this pressure, nor does it explain the really poor quality of some reporting, as some reporters seem to just go along with, and even excel at the dumbing down of proper news coverage.
There will always be some good journos and some who are rubbish. Worse still are those who write and say (on the radio) whatever it takes to get readers or listeners irrespective of the truth.
Like at least one other poster on here, I used to read papers from cover to cover- especially at the weekends. Now? – Well I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a paper!
As paper sales fall, advertising gets squeezed, and blogs like this one flourish and gain more and more followers, surely those who control newsprint can see that the public are no longer prepared to accept lazy and trivial reporting. Blogs such as this show that the new media, dedicated to specific areas of expertise and interest, bring out all sorts of different expertise and experience from some interesting commentators and contributors. To be honest, I am amazed that no one from mainstream media has, so far as I am aware, sought to contact anyone with input into this or other blogs, where information and views which are germane to the public interest is so readily and easily available.
Mainstream reporting and media is dying and in my view the only thing that will save it is “quality” reporting and reporters. Perhaps I am alone in that view, but if I were to make a pitch for funding for a new newspaper to Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons in the Den then I would be pushing “quality reporting” as the market to go into.
In the interim the sports guys could do far more to enhance or restore their reputation, and meanwhile good folk like my friends who want to do a proper job wait to find out if this is their time for the chop. Neither thinks they will be in Journalism in 5 years time and both wonder where people in their 50′s with 30 years experience of print journalism experience will find a job outwith that profession.