‘A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people.’
This is a limited view from Marr, the BBC’s former Political Editor. There is no evidence to suggest that a lot of bloggers are anything like Marr suggests and, indeed, this is a personal view with no research to back it up. A blog, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is ‘a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis’. In fact, when taking even a quick glance at some successful blogs, it is clear that bloggers come from a wide cross-section of society and their output varies greatly.
So, many bloggers are not ‘pimpled, single and bald’. Ree Drummond is a woman originally from Los Angeles, who left to live on a cattle ranch. Her blog, ‘Confessions of a Pioneer,’ details her transition from spoiled city girl to homely ranch wife, and what it shows us is that there are people who are far removed from Marr’s stereotype since she is often out and about, producing regular insights and comments for her readers.
Another example is Joe Romm, a physics PhD from MIT who took Climate Progress from a hobby quickly into a full-time passion. Ree and Joe are anything but the types of characters Marr envisions. Marr has said that he sees journalists as crusaders and yet he has glossed over the fact that, while there are many bloggers who write about their lives and hobbies, there are also those who crusade for social change.
There is a growing group of individuals who are calling on government – both national and local – to publish and make available a whole range of information – from bin collections to crime statistics – which they collect in the course of fulfilling their statutory duties. This campaign also has potential benefits for companies. Will Perrin, for example, runs King’s Cross Environment, a hyper local site which holds his local council to account and ensures they live up to their statutory duties. He does this by using the Freedom of Information Act, presenting the data he gets hold of in the most simple and readable manner. King’s Cross Environment gets things done. Here is Clay Shirky’s argument writ large, where an individual, seeking to bring about change in his local environment, taps into his cognitive surplus. The accessibility and affordability of blogging, unlike TV, has opened up the production process to relative newcomers.
There is, inevitably, an amateurish approach to much of the work by these people since this is still early days and the tools and the very concept that people can now easily produce their own content are quite new. However, that is not to say that people more versed in media production aren’t up to the job or that blogging is merely the domain of amateurs. Many prominent people in the media blog. Indexed, the BBC has over 300 blogs by it’s staff, which also refute Marr’s stereotype.
Another refutation of his view can be found by delving deeper into the BBC’s blogs, where you can find healthy debate amongst the bloggers and their audiences. We took a look at Gordon Farquhar’s blog – Farquhar works for BBC Radio 5 – where in a blog post from the Commenwealth Games in India, he posted about the noise spectators were making and the complaints that competitors were making about this. Issues such as racism and cultural differences were brought up in the piece and subsequent comments. Here is a great example of the BBC fulfilling its public service remit. Eliciting response and comment from a wide range of individuals.
On the other hand perhaps it would be better for the BBC to brief its journalists on social media because the lack of understanding in Nick Robinson’s view of bloggers may have effected how the audience responds to content, so we find on Robinson’s blog little in the way of comments. He is a contemporary of Marr’s and is said to be similarly dismissive of the medium. The result may be a static, half-hearted effort, leaving the audience with little desire to participate. This is what another BBC blogger does better at. Maggie Shields blog is more a conversation – it’s about sharing knowledge and understanding, which would suggest that Marr’s isn’t the only view about blogging at the BBC.
According to Channel Four News’ Khrishnan Guru Murthy, in a response to Marr in The Guardian, there is a point to blogging and microblogging, because they enable you to interact with your audience through different channels, including face-to-face communication. Blogging, then, affords people to share knowledge, which can be too much of a break from the norm for the likes of Marr, who is accustomed to the traditional approach of the mainstream news media. What is surprising, though, is how someone who is supposed to be unbiased and well-informed can be so wide of the mark.
Frank H Little, a Liberal Democrat Counsellor who blogs, sees Marr and his peers as out-of-touch with what’s happening outside of the London Media ‘village’ and goes some way to putting into context the role and behaviour of bloggers as well as the important role they serve.
‘We are seldom vituperative, and, if we are angry, it is with good reason. We pick up on aspects of the news which are ignored by the professionals in the London village. We fill in the gaps which the commercially-dominated media leave.’
Frank H Little, I May Be Inadequate But I am No Longer Pimply
Marr represents a tradition which sees the mainstream media as better able to report the news than the general public. Although we can’t say for certain what the motives for his comments are, we can point out that negative comments about social media in the mainstream media do support the commercial and professional interests of journalists like Marr.
‘BBC News blogs can be seen a new genre of journalism offered by the corporation, but it is one that has been largely defined by established professional parameters. The BBC experience suggests established news organisations may be taming the “black market journalism” aspects of blogging (Wall, 2004) by subduing it within journalistic norms and practices.’
Hermida (2010) THE BLOGGING BBC: Journalism blogs at ‘the world’s most trusted news organisation’ p. 13.
The group undertook individual research around particular areas in seeking to look at Marr’s statement objectively. Following our individual research, we collaborated via email and, more specifically, the online collaborative writing tool Writeboard to share and edit our research.
Due to the accessibility of the technology available, there are bloggers who use the Internet to air their personal grievances, but our society has always had those individuals, whether it be the serial letter writer, the campaigner, and so on.
The web works best when it’s collaborative. Marr’s vision is that where there are the viewers being given media by the producers. The blogosphere is more a conversation, a debate between producers of content. We believe Marr has made a sweeping generalization.
by Jason Antoniewicz, Jez Collins, Qiya He and Karen Kiely.