A blog newsdaily ?

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[1]. 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[2]. 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.

24 thoughts on “A blog newsdaily ?

  1. I would stack my biased blog up against Akerman’s drivel for balanced commentary anyday. On the subject of metablogging Planet Foo seems to do this in a rudimentrary way already. Will this concept ever rival the new age of “independent” media. I think not as they are reliant to a certain extent on traditional media to get the story source. Also, they are amateur and so most lack the discipline or time to fully develop and expose an issue before leaping off on another tangent. However I would hate to see them lose their posting rates and readership now that the election is over. The louder your voice, the more doors that open. In that sense there may be some potential for lobbying on some issues.

  2. I don’t think we can build an online newspaper. We can do something better. We can crosslink better, aggregate better and do the kind of checking the US blogosphere has proved good at. Now the presidential bulge (the one on his back not the flight suit notorious allegations) is in the New York Times. It started life as speculation on the wilder shores of the blogosphere.

  3. Ken, Trackback has seemed a bit flaky to me lately, though I see my ping to you went through OK.

  4. Stuff to think about, but as a quick comment, the term ‘blog’ (as in sounding pretty much like ‘bog’) is a shocker, I reckon – a legacy of the history of the medium, alas.

  5. John, over at Ken’s place I pointed out that if Howard’s media reforms go through, there will probably be lots of experienced journalists looking for something new to do anyway. After reading Powerline’s 50,000th reference to RatherGate, I realised perhaps amateur blogs still do have a bit to learn.

    In terms of software, there are already any number of aggregators to choose from and many more that can and will be built and I agree that it’s an evolving space.

  6. Most bloggers are learning how to crawl let alone any other speedier services with some meat … (smile)

    It is the best system, however, so far designed by any independent publishing dudes. Better than ink and carbon coppiers of the communist Samizdat era.

  7. I could see a subscription-based, subscriber-owned model working. With the current concerns over media independance, finding enough subscribers to fund a full time editor should be possible.

    Being subscriber-owned would, I think, be in keeping with the spirit of blogging. It would also be a model that could overcome professionalism/resource issues with growth.

    As for technology, I’m sure the open-source community has something in the works, if a suitable app doesn’t already exist.

  8. What we are paying for now is quality control – a decision as to what is important, what is (probably) true and what is worth reading. The actual dissemination of information is effectively free, or very close to free. So what could work is a journalist with a Reuters feed, with a revenue model (either subscription- or advertising-based). Or perhaps they could just filter and aggregate free content.

    If the software doesn’t exist now, describe what you want and someone will build it.

  9. A Spanish gentleman, whose name escapes me right now, has long had the ambition of establishing a newspaper in Adelaide, and possibly Brisbane, but he has been frustrated by the media ownership laws. He has however been allowed to buy the Adelaide Review, and that goes to a fortnightly basis instead of monthly from this week.

    Also, a new Sunday Newspaper has been established here, the Independent Weekly. This is actually a venture by local Liberals who I suspect might get together with the Spanish Sugar Daddy to take old Rupert on.

    Why this fellow would wish to do such a thing is quite beyond me. My understanding is that most wealthy Spaniards with an urge to throw their money away spend it on football.

    The problem with blogging is that it is bloody hard work to do. I am happy to be the Sports Editor of the Australian blogosphere, but even that is a big ask, and I’ve found getting assistance from others to be vital.

    Taking a serious look at news coverage from a blogspherical point of view seems to be a tough ask; it would have to be someone who did not have to make a living.

  10. Scott Wickstein writes on October 11, at 10:00 PM: “Taking a serious look at news coverage from a blogspherical point of view seems to be a tough ask; it would have to be someone who did not have to make a living.”

    There, I think, is a clue to the crucial problem. We all know the old saying: you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Or rather, you get worse than monkeys; you get nutballs who can’t assess evidence, who half the time can’t spell, and who think that the mere act of alternating between four-letter words and PUTTING STUFF IN CAPITALS constitutes some sort of knock-down argument. Plenty of these fervid amateur-hour types in the blogosphere already (and in Crikey if it comes to that – a good half of Crikey‘s material, I’d say, reads like a bundle of first drafts).

    For what it’s worth, I’d be very leery of any commercial publishing enterprise that wasn’t paying serious money to its writers and editors. Meanwhile, of course, I wish the Spanish gentleman (and indeed The Independent Weekly) good luck.

  11. It’s hard to see how more or better blogs could replace broadsheet newspapers in any useful way.

    Any serious blog reader no doubt already spends hours in front of the screen reading stories collected from hundreds if not thousands of sources. They are not lacking for content or diversity.

    More important to our democracy would be a new daily tabloid for the 54% of people who didn’t vote for the coalition.

    Surely those guys also have some money – although maybe less than 54% of the total?

    The internet does not need more left wing opinion pieces. However the mainstream marginals need more left wing news analysis.

  12. John, the latest news on computational dynamic macroeconomics in the incentive compatible mode. Your thoughts?

    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Norwegian Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott of the United States won the Nobel economics prize for 2004 on Monday for analyzing how economic policy is shaped and what drives business cycles.

    “Their work has not only transformed economic research, but has also profoundly influenced the practice of economic policy in general, and monetary policy in particular,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its citation.

    Their 1977 research on the “time consistency problem” described how policy makers often have an effect opposite to that intended because they lack consistency — for example, setting out to keep prices stable but in fact creating inflation.

    Their work helped shift the focus in policy-making to institutions rather than isolated measures.

    In 1982 they created a model which showed that supply-side shocks — such as technology — are a driving force behind the business cycle, rather than variations in demand alone.

    “Whereas earlier research had emphasized macroeconomic shocks on the demand side of the economy, Kydland and Prescott demonstrated that shocks on the supply side may have far-reaching effects,” said the Academy.

    Sorry for double posting this (on your comment threads), but trying to keep an important question relevant

  13. A online newspaper is a great idea. But will there be a print edition? Or should there be a print edition?

  14. I don’t see why Australia can’t generate a diverse and informative blogosphere similar to the USA.

    The strength of the US blogs are that they are unashamedly partisan, but nevertheless draw on legitimate news sources. Through places like Dailykos and Eschaton they have certainly sparked a critical revival of progressive thinking, and would add, constructive thinking in the USA. And it’s been vital given the conservative monopoly of the media over there, and the constant spinning and/or overlooking of critical information.

    We are close to the same situation here, and I’d certainly welcome an Australian version of dailykos, not least because of the open and vibrant discussion that website has created. This would certainly not happen if it was a fee-for service site. The ‘mojo’ system at Kos also keeps commentary at a high level of discourse. The unashamedly partisan slant of the site removes the need to waste time arguing black vs white – and the conservative blogs do the same. And yes, sites like Kos now regularly break news in the USA, not to mention literally put words and memes in the Democratic party machine and Joh Kerry’s mouth. It’s provided an essential connection between grass roots and their candidates, challenging the establishment model of politics – something sorely missing here as well.

    Another vital service that would be wonderful would be an Australian version of http://www.cursor.org – which essentially rounds up all the news the media doesn’t report and attempts to keep the bastards honest – and supply detailed information to boot.

  15. Through the election campaign, I’ve been using the National Forum portal as a jumping off point for blog and other information (at http://portal.nationalforum.com.au/portal/).

    This gives you access to a selection of blogs (including this one) (under the “Domain” menu option), plus a regular feed of opinion articles under “Journal”, a gateway to some more formal sources of information inder “iParliament”, and so on.

    I think this is the sort of thing we are talking about – perhaps there are other equivalent sources I don’t know about. It would probably be healthy to have a number of similar competitive ventures.

  16. John,

    I’ve just come across to your site from the link on our daily email at On Line Opinion. We’ve been thinking about the issues you raise for 5 years now and have been slowly ploughing away in the direction of an alternative broadsheet (well a bit more than a broadsheet, because I think the hard copy paradigms are limiting). As Alex notes above, the new portal has a site called The Domain which aggregates what we think are the better Australian blogs which I think gives you the best op-ed page for current political commentary in the country.

    One of the problems with producing a blog news daily is that hardly any blogs are about news. They are about analysis (although I did take my laptop down to the National Tally Room and experiment with blogging coverage, which you can see from http://www.ozelections.com). They also (with a very few exceptions) lack consistent input – both quality and quantity.

    They also seem to me to lead to a “ghettoisation” of the ‘net with a very real danger that many blogs will deteriorate into little more than hate sites. This can also have a perverse effect. I wouldn’t mind betting that site like John Howard lies actually worked in favour of Howard rather than against by making the opposition shriller and less connected with the general public than it might otherwise have been.

    I’d appreciate your comments on what we are doing, because rather than write a long treatise of what should be done (I’ve read plenty of those since discovering the ‘net, but haven’t seen them lead to too many working sites) we’ve just gone out and built a huge transparent working experiment.

  17. Thanks for the link Alex. I get pointed to this blog by http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/ who send daily emails with a summary of several blogs for that day along with a few other articles.

    I’m new to the whole blog source of information (this week) and would love for people to post some links of which blogs they think are great (especially some more centre right ones, not because I like that, but because all the ones I’ve found so far are more leftist)

    And while we’re at it, what about independent news papers. Its very hard to find good ind.media without relying on word of mouth, so if you have a favourite ind.media sight, could you tell me about it?

    Cheers.

  18. An Aus blog version of something like http://www.aldaily.com could be a good idea, although it would require someone to search all blogs for the better posts (this task could be either very tiring, very dull, or impossible… or all of the above).

  19. Looking at the launch of New Matilda its seemed to me that they have it all wrong – wanting people to subscribe to a service which is, at least looking from the outside, a lot less inviting than the world of blogs. Its not so far from the old ‘Independent’ and ‘National Times’.

    The problem with these publications for me was that so much of their content was not of a noticeably higher quality or originality than the endless features and weekly review analysis pages of the daily papers. They also over-represented off-cuts from journalists who had more than enough exposure elsewhere.

    The idea of some harnessing of blogs seems a much more exciting project. And when you earn your living close to the internet, you realise how much content can be subsidised by exposure. Take Virgin as an example of a business that works this way, but more fundamentally almost all media receives funding from advertising.

    I might be quite wrong, but it seems obvious and inevitable to me that this, together with the harnessing of volunteer labour will generate just the kind of medium that JQ foreshadows.

  20. I’m wondering about one thing in this discussion of the role of blogs in the media, and that’s access. I don’t know if I’m just inflating an old cliche, but what’s the demographic of people who use the internet to source news? I’d assume it was a fairly upwardly mobile middleclass and up kind of thing, yeah?

    If the issue’s about a less government-supportive mass media, well, the mass media targets everyone who buys a paper, listens to a radio or watches teevee. How does the net stack up against that?

  21. sites like JohnHowardlies.com actually worked in favour of Howard rather than against by making the opposition shriller

    I thought the govt sounded a lot shriller than most of the anti-Howard sites, and certainly a lot shriller than the ALP, having said that, I do agree that these anti-Howard sites focus too much on simplistic derision and not enough on well reasoned opinion, analysis of factual evidence, consideration of future consequences, etc… simply calling Howard a liar while neglecting to scrutinize the reasons for and ramifications of “truth in government” or the lack of, does little to alert the public of the dangers of neglecting issues of governmental responsibility and accoutability, instead, as you say Graham, it can have the perverse effect of alienating the general public and trivializing the very real concerns of many informed citizens.

    The mainstream media is also guilty of depriving the public of sound, well reasoned argument about such issues … abc radio national & abc news radio are some of the better sources of free to air news, views and commentary, but even there we find some serious deficiencies – I thought the recent election campaign coverage was absolutely atrocious, the focus almost exclusively on a very narrow set of themes defined by Howard’s campaign strategists, I don’t think the ALP can be blamed for the way the media took up the interest rate “scare” and ignored “truth in govt”, forpol, natsec, WMD, Iraq war, etc. And the spin at the abc was the most pronounced I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve always thought government was about a lot more than just the economy, but you wouldn’t think so by watching this election campaign. Every policy announcement, whether schools or medicare or forests, was scrutinized, discussed and dissected almost entirely in terms of the economic aspects of the policy, how much money would be spent, who were the winners and losers in terms of dollars and jobs, not much mention at all about the less tangible social and environment factors, which are also important.

    The mainstream media has failed abysmally, and I’m really excited by the rise in blogs as an alternative source of news and views… I especially like the immediacy and interactivity of the medium, the ability to bounce ideas around in real time, and the open-source paradigm of collectively improving the processes is rapidly transforming the media, worldwide.

  22. The memes of defeat
    A key “argument” making the rounds in the wake of the election is that the people were fooled by a rightwing media. Couple of points: yes, the media almost uniformly endorsed the Howard government and this makes it hard for…

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