More MWF blogging: Who are the gatekeepers

I’ve been to some great sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival, most recently meeting and listening to Andrew Davies who’s written of the lot of the great BBC adaptations of classics like Pride and Prejudice, not to mention Bridget Jones’ Diary.

My first session last night was about blogging, under the title “Who are the Gatekeepers” with Margaret Simons and Antony Loewenstein, both of whom, unlike me, had an actual book to talk about. I read both The Content Makers (made even more relevant by the Fairfax job cuts and strike happening as the Festival got under way) and the Blogging Revolution and both are well worth it.

The topic led me to think about the gatekeeping function of the mass media (this is cultstud jargon for deciding what’s important and who’s authoritative). My assessment, based on recent experience was fairly negative. I see three ways in which the old media gatekeepers have failed, and in which bloggers have been effective critics.

First, the gatekeeping function is reversed when journalists are participants in an insider culture where the decision on what is released to the public, and what is kept back, is based on an exchange of favours between powerful sources and their media mouthpieces.

Second, media gatekeepers often claim authority based solely on their control of the gates. An obvious example is the way the Oz tried to claim that “we understand Newspoll because we own it”. Psephbloggers like Possums pollytics rightly ridiculed them and made much better use of the data.

Finally, on climate change, the gatekeeping function has been abdicated (or worse). The Australian has campaigned openly against science, and published a pack of lies in the service of its political ideology. But the rest of the “quality press” has been only marginally better, regularly giving space to delusionists lacking any relevant qualifications. More generally, rather than telling readers who is authoritative and who is not, the media prefer the “he said, she said” style.

Of course, blog readers have to make their own judgements as to who they will believe. But having made the judgement that you want to rely on properly qualified scientists, it’s easy enough to find them, and their blogrolls will point you to other similarly credible sources. And, the same is true if you decide you want to rely on rightwing hacks for your science – there’s no risk, reading them, that your diet of ideological fantasy and cherrypicked pointscoring will be disturbed by any intrusions of the scientific method.

13 thoughts on “More MWF blogging: Who are the gatekeepers

  1. I think an interesting question is why certain blogs have waxed and waned in the past few years. While the middle ground is shifting to the left some major schisms still remain. For example I see a rift between leftish hardheads and idealists on topics such as nuclear power, immigration and water policy. I suspect if a blogger is verbally attacked by readers but maintains an unpopular position then those readers will drift elsewhere. Even as newspapers physically disappear I doubt the influence of any one blog is set in stone.

  2. Last year’s election coverage showed clearly that the MTM not only thinks it has a gate keeper role but that it also has the right to denigrate anyone who tries to differ with them. The farcical narrative it ran last year in the face of the poll evidence was disgraceful. Possum Poll Bludger Mumble and Quiggin, to name but a few, hit them out of the game and for their troubles came under severe attack from the most arrogant gatekeeper of them all The Australian. Now Christian Kerr, a a man who made whatever name he has on Crikey, spends his time serving his new masters at The Australia writing delusional columns about the evils of bloggers. Bum boy is the phrase that springs to mind.
    It’s why I love the Internet. We don’t have to cop that drivel anymore. Of course I am sad for my many friends and ex colleagues at Fairfax. What the current management is doing borders on criminal. The fact that it is led by a man with the Fairfax name makes it even worse. But I have resolved never to buy their papers again until things change. I feel everyone should do the same A few years ago this would have left me information poor., Now my computer gives me all I need. I would love it if it came in newsprint so I could sit on the lounge for a quiet read. But Fairfax has given me the flick with its increasingly irrelevant products. Saddest thing is that The Australian now thinks it is the quality product on the market. If it is the answer then someone has got the question terribly wrong. Until it gets some balance and stops its vendetta journalism it can never been anything other than a broadsheet rag.

  3. I broadly agree with your point John but arguably this problem cuts both ways. We often see and hear in the mainstream media spokespeople for envt groups, who lack requisite expertise, talk about the dangers of nuclear technology and GMO foods.

    Interestingly, these same spokespeople also often feature in the media trumpeting the AGW cause, and often making statements that go way beyond what we read at sites like Real Climate, which as we know features scientists with a high level of expertise.

    It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Real Climate has criticised Tim Flannery on a couple of occasions, yet some media elements persist on treating him like an expert. I’ve come to the conclusion that media coverage of science in general is poor irrespective of particular biases and agendas.

  4. how does it matter? we grow up with opinions accreted from years of unreflective acculturation. we choose ‘information’ that suits our habits. barring disaster, we change our thinking slowly or not at all.

    complaining about the activities of media actors is as silly as complaining about the eating habits of hyenas- both are equally the result of environment and genetic endowment. if you imagine anyone is acting against his perceived best personal interests, think again. you may wish someone acting against your opinions was cutting his own throat- but you may be the one deluded.

    at best, young people whose ideas are incomplete or not strongly held will notice the hypocrisies of their elders and a shift in personal opinions will sway the society they live in.

    gatekeepers? you bet! they do it for a living, it has worked for thousands of years and will continue. of course, technology moves the gates: the fairfax employee-shedding is simply a reflection of the need for fairfax to move into web-borne information and away from paper. trees probably approve.

    there will be new gatekeepers, the people at google can hardly believe their luck at getting in at the beginning of a new age of information management. they are turning the advertising tap to their own advantage in a way that fairfax is desperate to join.

    ‘independent’ bloggers will find like-minded people to congratulate each other for knowing the truth. this won’t change anyone’s opinion. but it may help form the opinions of the young in a more productive way, allowing a greater concordance with reality.

    social evolution is much faster than the physical, but much slower than the evanescent intellectual activity that strives to direct it. no use getting your knickers in a knot about daily activities whose intellectual content seems compelling. nothing will be done till the current lot of power holders are dead, and only then if the inheritors see some personal advantage in change.

  5. That’s quit a riff Al. Well done.

    I am interested in the question of cultural change in the belief that is necessary for global survival faced with climate change. I will be careful to acknowledge that I do not fully understand this issue.

    The fundamental question, it seems to me, goes to the issue of how we got into this situation in the first place. Not knowing, for example, about the CFC’s is one reason we put them into the atmosphere, but we need to know that we have to remove greenhouse gases, rather than simply stop emitting them. As John points out, I can get that story clearly from Tim Flannery via You Tube and Democracy Now, but not from The Australian.

    At another level there is the fundamental interrelationships suggested by the creation story that posits a separation between humanness and nature. We accept one set of knowledge and stories, and that has social, political and institutional implications.

    Power does not come from the barrel of gun. The role of the media, has been to control the dominant story on a number of levels. They assume the role of centralized, multi-level gate keepers. The appointment of Governor Palin, as the vice presidential nominee is an interesting case study. Read what Mudflats has to say, or any of the other blog writers, often as expert or more authoritative than any media commentary, and whatever else is true no editor, or set of editors, framed what is said.

    The other factor it seems to me is both the speed and reach of information. The printing press might have arrived in Western Europe in 1465, but it took 500 years for universal education to be established, and on that foundation the internet speeds like a bushfire.

    We are best informed by conversation, and it is the educative role that blogs can be players. Conversation and disagreement is fundamental and necessary to the democratic process. The function of gatekeeping is to control the conversation and exclude other voices.The case study approach allows us to observe the relative performance of the MSM with respect to its upstart competitors, that is, those voices that otherwise would never be heard, or if heard, whose time would be controlled.

  6. #6,
    Mudflats perpetrates what was plainly a takeover of the Daily Kos by a troll. The Babygate story is a total fabrication. (but I love the masthead! I wanna go to Alaska).
    Your next link perpetrates the other myth that nobody knows anything about her. If I live in Sydney and I know something about her, how come nobody in America does?
    I wouldn’t want to argue, however, that the media is any better.

  7. Melanie,

    The real issues are raised by the apparent absence of background checking, and the placement of people, as has apparently occurred with respect to supreme court nominees. Mudflats suggests that Governor Palin supported the bridge to nowhere. On balance I would support her on that, rather than have the money wasted in Iraq. Perhaps the issue there, is not so much the allocation of money, but the responsibility for ends and outcomes.

    In the event that McCain were to win in November, Sara Palin would be next in line. What we do know now about Mrs Palin is that she is a religious fundamentalist and by implication a climate change denier,which given the critical nature of the ‘air pollution problem” faced by the Globe, makes her potential election more important than that she is female, a mother, or that the selection is a particularly clever political ploy.

  8. The real issues are in your second paragraph, not in the vetting or otherwise. There are a lot of other stories floating about – e.g. the so-called Troopergate where she forced the police commissioner to sack her ex-brother in law because he had Tasered one of her nieces or nephews (I forgot). People have actually said she shouldn’t have done that!

    Fortunately, this morning (Oz time) the real story behind the Daily Kos rumour has come out – her teenage daughter is actually pregnant NOW. The daughter is living proof of the stupidity of the fundamentalist policies. Yet somehow the blogosphere managed to turn a story about a stupid policy into a typical sexist slander against one of those “tricky” females.

    I guess I’m just saying that the blogs come in tabloid versions too.

  9. I agree Melanie that blogs come in “tabloid versions” and I try to avoid them as much as I mostly now avoid the MSM, particularly television, although I look at, and quote from, the websites of major newspapers. I am not less interested, I just want content and commentary that is a good as I can get elsewhere. The better “blogs” by their intelligence and expertise challenge the control of the discourse of the media monopolies by invalidating there assumed gatekeeping role.

    I read that the Republican base of fundamentalist Christians has been energized by the Palin nomination, and I am wondering whether they are observing the effects of responsible parenting. In these matters, rather than lose fervor and have an ideology disabused, I put a lot of store in cognitive dissonance.

  10. Is this a reasonable thread to mention the article by Brad Norrington, 3/9 Oz media section;
    ” Fairfax pushed to reinstate Mike Carlton”?
    They have reneged on a written “no recriminations” agreement
    and have Devine scabbing at Carltons old spot in the Saturday Herald.

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