One obvious consequence of the government’s victory and effective control of the Senate will be the repeal of restrictions on media ownership, with the likely consequence of a takeover of the Fairfax papers by one of our great magnates, or perhaps by a foreign buyer. There may also be a renewed attempt to punish the ABC, and even if there is not, the organisation will certainly be cowed. All up, the government is likely to enjoy a pretty supportive mass media.
In this context, it’s not surprising that Ken Parish should be thinking about the role of blogs as a source of balance. Ken says
the blogosphere (along with independent organs like Crikey) might well become a critical and lonely source of independent political analysis and opinion.
And whether the blogosphere rises to that challenge might depend in part on whether at least some blogs manage to evolve beyond the current norm of self-indulgent partisan shrillness and develop something resembling traditional broadsheet media standards of journalistic rigor and objectivity in presenting the facts, together with balanced presentation of a wide range of opinions.
The reference to broadsheets raises for me the question: could a blog-based competitor for the quality dailies be feasible, and if so how? I suspect the answer is “No”, but we mind find out something useful by thinking about it
I’m more optimistic than Ken is (at least in this post) regarding the opinion component of blogging. Even if “self-indulgent partisan shrillness” is the modal form for blogs, I think the best of the Australian political blogs outperform, on average, the opinion columnists for the major dailies, particulary on the left and centre-left. There’s a bit of a shortage of sensible centre-right government supporters (Andrew Norton and Scott Wickstein spring to mind, but the list isn’t long) , but this is a gap that could be filled pretty easily by linking to the mainstream media. So I don’t think it would be hard to put together a roster of opinion columnists that would be as rigorous and readable as any of the Australian major dailies.
The big problem as far as content is concerned is news. For political and international news isn’t as hopeless as it seems – a lot of the news we read is little more than rewrites of Reuters feeds and press releases, and it would probably be possible to compete with this at low cost, while providing better coverage in at least some respects. Although Crikey shows it can be done, it would be hard to match the Press Gallery for the kind of inside story of which Laurie Oakes is a master, but there’s a good case for avoiding this kind of story. It’s hard to see how the kind of leaks and scoops in which the Gallery specialises have done anything for Australian democracy. Far from exposing the secrets our masters want to keep hidden, they mostly provide a vehicle for deniable release of uncheckable information they want to make public.
As regards other categories, the Internet is now a greatest source of stories on all kinds of topics, and blogs provide more pointers to new and interesting material than anything available to the old media.
The other big question is technology. Would it be possible to put together something readable as an online newspaper, using blog software as the basis rather than the more elaborate content management software used by the Internet versions of mainstream papers? Would there be any value added, relative to a number of cross-linked blogs operating independently?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but they are worth asking.
fn1. This incorrectly implies an exclusive OR. One of our two great magnates is a foreigner, though I believe that he is an honorary Australian for media ownership purposes.
fn2. For that matter, blogospheric Right Wing Death Beasts outperform their print and radio competitors in vitriol and, at least in some cases, entertainment value.