Digital disruption has hit journalism pretty hard
Before the internet democratised writing, journalism was something of a closed shop. Without an NUJ membership card and a huge collection of phone numbers, there were very few opportunities for outsiders to join the huddles of sports-jacketed journalists in the smoky pubs near newspaper or magazine offices.
The advent of the internet changed everything. Suddenly anyone with a bit of cash and some basic computing nous could launch a website to espouse their opinions. Social media pioneered concepts such as microblogs and chronological story updates, while dedicated platforms like Blogger and WordPress.com provided blank canvases for budding writers around the world. It’s estimated that there are over a million new blogs uploaded every day, and these remain hugely popular despite a pronounced downturn in their perceived influence.
Blogging has always been the province of amateurs, and this has often been used as an argument against it. There’s little dispute that journalism qualifications impart skills few bloggers can boast, such as the importance of corroborating sources and developing interview techniques. Blogging is also generally an unpaid activity which can be hard to monetise, as huge numbers of people compete to retain audience figures in the face of countless alternative entertainments available online. Advertisers generally demand six-figure monthly impression statistics before associating even with a professionally registered blogging site, while a blogspot.co.uk address is strictly the province of amateurs.
Perhaps the biggest criticism levelled against blogging is that it doesn’t even pretend to offer three sides of a story. Seasoned journalists sneeringly condemn it as vanity publishing – opinionated ramblings that are rarely supported with hard facts or any attempt at research. Yet there’s no doubt that blogging has disrupted and affected journalism in all sorts of ways, with a few negative traits manifesting themselves alongside a number of laudable positives.
Firstly, blogging has dispelled the myth that a writer needs a university degree or a teenage apprenticeship in a local newspaper’s cuttings room. The white male hegemony of 20th-century journalism has given way to a rainbow of different voices, while the devaluation of union memberships and academic qualifications has allowed more people from poorer or less traditional backgrounds to write for a living. This has enabled some unique voices to rise up, offering informed viewpoints on everything from art and music to politics and science. A blog can provide a degree of information no advertising-funded platform could ever achieve.
It has been argued that blogging has lowered the standard of journalism, and there do seem to be more mistakes and errors on mainstream media sites than ever before. However, it could also be argued that blogging has forced professional journalists to up their game, by creating well-researched content to distinguish themselves from the opinionated amateurs snapping at their heels. Ironically, journalists with online media outlets will often engage with their audiences and update their own stories nowadays – just as some bloggers have always done.
The convergence between blogging and journalism is encapsulated in the fact that some of the best bloggers have become journalists, while others are now respected commentators in their chosen field. Good writing will generally be acknowledged, irrespective of its origins. After all, there is little distinction between a well-researched blog and a well-researched journalism article. When published online, only the web address can distinguish them.