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.