Wednesday 25 March 2009

Citizen Journalism- Why We Need An International Blogging Trade Union

The blogging recession.

Of course it is.

All bloggers have noticed it.
Notice I don't say we. Because that is part of the problem. Part of WHY there is a 'blogging'recession.

But yes, there is a recession in logging. Some link it to the other recession.
They are wrong. Surely the existence of the other recession should mean the internet is awash, the hits of bloggers are up, because now, in these hard times, the citizenship of the globs do not trust the MSM longer so they now, finally, turn to us.

But they have not done so.

Put blogging in perspective, hasn't it?
Just a 'hobby'.
Just a bit of fun.

I run through the posts in Google reader every morning and the proportion I mark as read without reading increases. I see '109 unread posts' and once I mark those I know aren't worth reading, it's 19.

It didn't used to be that way.
That's why it's a blogging recession.

How do I distinguish between those worth reading and those not worth reading?

I read the posts that show Citizen Journalism.

Posts that bloggers should write.

As I often say, it's a new medium.


And for it to succeed, it needs to get it's head round this; it's virtue is in making the personal political.
It's vice is making the political personal.

It really is the future of human interconnectons, potentially.

But it had it's birth in communications by being born within- the dross of humanity. How else can one say it nicely? There is no other way.

People give credit to MPs and politicians discovering blogging, discovering the net and giving them full marks for understanding its power.
And I agree.

The internet- and blogging- is the biggest advance, the biggest positive shift in human interconnection ever.

But blogging has a major problem.
How it was born.

It is a simple fact of human history that the internet- once- was the preserve of, well, the dregs.

When I was a student, we had access to the internet at Uni. In those days, chatrooms existed.
And at 3 AM we'd stumble into the University Computer rooms stoned to our eyeballs and trawl for porn.
And go into chatrooms. For a laugh. Take on screen names like 'Ho Chi Minh' and wind up American Students.
But- that's all we used it for. For a laugh when very stoned. That was 1996.

And for the first few years before and after that, if you used the internet as a means of meeting people and interacting- chances were, not being funny, you were the dregs of human existence.

It wasn't the way people with normal human interactive skills communicated.

When I discovered blogging in 2004, things were very different. The internet as a means of communication had opened up.

Because of its potential. But that potential has not yet been realised.

My mate's stepdad said to me on hearing about my blog 'Isn't that like an internet diary? I wouldn't have thought that would be you!'

This is it's problem. People in real life look at me and wouldn't think 'Bet he's a blogger'.
But if I said 'I DJ, you know' they'd say 'Yes, that makes sense'.

But that's what blogging could and should be. An intellectual version of DJing. Iain Dale meets Paul Van Dyke.

Not one up from a chatroom. Not a public version of Facebook. The Blogopsphere needs trendsetters, it needs idols, it needs to be on the pulse, it needs to be not just catching public opinion, it needs to be hitting ahead of public opinion.

The public perception of blogging needs to change and that is up to us.

It's how we interact.

How we handle things on this medium.

The fact this medium began as 'weblogs', an outgrowth of reject misfit culture, has created a puzzle.

Because actually, this medium now has the potential to be the best thing that has happened to humanity within this generation.

If it can truly free itself from being just another form of 'social networking' and truly become 'Citizen journalism'.

But to do that- and this is harsh- we have to free ourselves from the debris that came with its birth. Those who spent the years prior to its birth in chatrooms, in Triv rooms, thinking it normal to form romantic relationships via the internet. The misfits and fruitcakes that hang on the butt hairs of blogging, basically.

Because they are what puts off the people who blogging needs, from blogging.

It's an irony, I find. Many normal rounded people now regularly use the internet as a means of communicating. I find my Facebook message box is filled with plans for gigs, Dance Music sets, demonstrations, etc. From people who- should have blogs. But don't. Because it's never occurred to them. They're not 'net people'.

And yet a good quarter- if not more- of those who blog, shouldn't. Precisely BECAUSE they're 'Net people'. They should piss off back to Facebook or Twitter.

I'm not saying blogging isn't social networking. Clearly that is part of it. But it's not social networking just for its own sake. If that's what you want to do, you shouldn't be blogging.

We as bloggers need to start seeing this medium as 'Citizen journalism'.

Or it will die.

It's that simple.

Only it won't, of course. The logic of Citizen journalism is so powerful, it will win out. It's just how we, who are here now, adapt to it.

Citizen journalism can not work by simply seeking to do what the MSM do.
Nor can it work by doing what can be done on Facebook or Twitter.

Blogs that simply seek to regurgitate what can be read on MSM blogs, serve no purpose at all.
Yes, blogging can make MSM largely irrelevant, if it succeeds.

It can make the long articles and commentary of the MSM irrelevant. But not the reporting itself. How can it? None of us are Reuters.
But blogging can mean that if it succeeds, it sidelines news at ten and means that we- not just you an I, but everyone out there- gets the facts on MSM blogs, then goes elsewhere for a bit of comment.

But there's no point trying to outdo those paid a salary to be on the ground getting the facts. Every singly blog out there which simply grabs a headline and adds their own twist, is wasting their time. The competition is too tight and they'll never outdo those paid to do it. Because they got the story first. Any such post is simply regurgitation.

So Citizen journalism should leave certain things to the professionals. What we should aim to do is what they never can. Offer a perspective they don't. That's why I think this blog is right to try avoid current affairs.

The other extreme which I think fails, is writing posts that really are just a diary. Why that fails is- no one cares if you went to the shop. And one liners which might be witty- Facebook exists for that. My Facebook status at the moment is 'This week is 'Make love to as many random strangers as you can' week. It's for charity. Get busy'.

Yep, this is the sort of stuff Facebook is for. And I stick endless sets of music there too. Three, four Youtubes at a time. That's what Facebook is for. To amuse people who know you.
Hell, I've even started a group on Facebook the sole purpose of which is to wind my mate the Chimney Sweep up every time Tottenham Hotspurs lose.

Now, there are many ex bloggers who have moved their energies over to Facebook for that reason. More than one of my earliest blogging friends have now stopped blogging completely. Because they don't want to be 'Citizen journalists'. What they want from the internet, is there on Facebook.

Facebook actually, is a great thing in that way. My mate the Baker, for example, who frequently gets mentioned on this blog. Not someone who would ever blog. But he enjoys Facebook. A lot to be said for Facebook, actually. Far better than text messaging. If I could only train my Gran to use it, I'd never have to take any phone calls outside working hours ever. The private messages thing is a godsend. I'm far more likely to answer that, than my mobile.

So for a blog to really hit the right spot, to really BE 'Citizen journalism', it needs to be doing something that gives it a certain value.

In a recent post for a blogging organisation I am a member of, I listed a few members who met that criteria in my book.

But I'd like to list a few others I read that hit that spot, and why.

The most obvious one that springs to mind, mainly because the I used the word spot and it made me think of spot, is X-dell at the X-spot. It's not hard to see why this is Citizen journalism. Just take a look. It's obvious investigative journalism.
Stuff that is lucky normally to get an editor prepared to publish it. Unless its relevant right here, right now. This stuff is quite obviously worth time putting on the internet and worthwhile people reading. But there isn't enough of this sort of stuff published by people who have to stump up money to pay for it. So this is stuff that ONLY the blogosphere can do.

Cat at Wait! What?
Why? Because it can only be done, BECAUSE it is anonymous. It's actually an insight into the day to day life of a family which is tearing apart at the seams and the woman who holds it together. It is actually an everyday story, in many ways. But to see into it with that clarity, is a gift. It's not stuff people would ever tell you, nor could you read about it anywhere else but the blogosphere. That level of honesty would not be possible if the Cat's anonymity was not treated as sacrosanct. She is honest about her own fears and shortcomings. And even when she just feels like throwing in the towel. Yes, it's Citizen journalism.

Sparsely Kate
It's real. I actually had a look through some of the other commenters at her site- for the simple that most commentors stick to commenting at bloggers like them. Ones who write about the same things. I'm not sure I can quite put my finger one why Kate does it better, but she does. I guess she makes each post a story. There is a point in there. It's an observation on life. I don't think citizen journalism needs to be making a complex philosophical point. An observation is good. Kate's stories are often anecdotes, basically.

Princess Pointful

Interesting blog. With a very wide readership. Not that that always proves anything, but yes, it does say a lot. I think a good many of her female fans quite admire her, actually. She's intelligent, for sure. An air of mystique. It's well written, again mainly anecdotal. Observations on life.
I've just had a skim read through her last few posts trying to put my finger on her X factor as a a writer and I think it's this, and it's something I've said about other writers too. The mark of a good writer is the ability to convey your own personality without drowing your readers with authorial voice. The ability to convey your opinion without the reader having your opinion thrust into their face. So you know what they think, you got that from the post, but you don't feel hesitant about leaving a comment saying what you think.

I've marked these three as examples of what I see as successful blogs that do what only the blogosphere can do. They are successful in terms of being widely read with interactive writers behind them.

But there are also blogs I've come across which don't really get an airing. Which sit in my reader and perhaps go to bold once a month. Blogs where I feel the author has a lot more to say and it's a shame they're not more active in the blogosphere.

This one, the Public Intellectual, is excellent.

And this is one which raises some interesting points. Very good blog. High quality of thought. And yet- there seems some debate about whether the author is called Selena. Or indeed was likely to be christened Selena. Rumour has it the author posssess the wrong genitalia. This actually makes me a little annoyed. It's not anyone's business is it? I've seen some people getting excited by the idea that the author may have posed as a woman simply to get middle aged men to drool at her(?) site. Well, if (s)he did, more fool them. No sympathy for them and full marks to Selena. The drooling perverts in question would have done better to read her posts and stop wondering if the legs on her avatar were hers or not. I do know that the issue of Selena's gender did become a discussion at some point on some blogs, which I must say I found a little- unpleasant, actually.

The Moonshine Memoranda is an excellent blog, I link it in my blogroll, the author as far as I am concerned is Selena Dreamy. And it is a fine example of Citizen journalism.

I could go on all day listing good blogs. I simply wanted to give a sample of some very different blogs which made the grade, in my opinion.

The sorts of blogs the blogosphere is for.

But it's not just about posting.

It's about commenting.

Now you all know why I have comments moderation up- it's only to prevent one, maybe two, commentors.

And it is the likes of them that create the problem.

While people like them exist in the blogosphere, this medium can never truly become Citizen journalism. Ok, we can't stop ALL trolls. But we can stand up to trolls who have blogs.

Ultimately- we need some kind of Trade Union.

A Union of Bloggers. Not a club, a Union.
A Union to regulate online conduct.

The idea would be that any blogger could join, there would be no barriers to entry. And no obligations. Any member would be free to publish what they wanted.
What it would mean, however, is that members did agree ONLY to comment at the blogs of members of the Union.

Any member would be free to publish anything they wanted, as long as they adhered to professional standards of journalism.

By that I don't mean arbitrary standards of taste and decency. I mean professional standards in regards to having some ethics as to what they could and could not publish.

As in, immediate expulsion of any member who started publishing personal information of any kind about any other member of the Union without their permission, whether in posts or in comments.

It would actually be quite simple; unless a member of the Union is referring to an existing post by a blogger, if they want to refer to something a blogger hasn't put in the public domain, they need full permission in writing.

And secondly, trolling. If any member asks another member of the Union NOT to comment at their blog and then registers that with the Union, the next time the unwelcome visitor comments, they are expelled from the Union.

If we had this Union, and we had these rules in place, and we all stood by the Union, the blogosphere would work. Of course, non membership wouldn't mean your blog wasn't read, it just wouldn't get comments from bloggers who were members of the Union.

But if the Union worked, which I think it would, eventually, the vast majority of bloggers would join. And the more bloggers joined, the more their readers would join.

We badly need this Union, as bloggers.

It really is the only way we can regulate online behaviour and raise the standards of blogging to what it should be.

Not just for that, we need a common voice. To stand up to governments, stand up to state interference, stand up to Google or other internet platforms. We are at their whim. We as bloggers need to be in a position to organise mass action. Every time Blogger or Wordpress or whoever fuck around with bloggers, we need to be able to respond on mass.

We need to defend this medium properly, have an organisition capable of co-ordinating the online equivalent of strikes. We need to be able to literally force Google to respond to the needs of the blogosphere. We want it to be the blogosphere deciding what does and does not happen online, not a corporation. As it stands, we're at their mercy. We need a front who negotiate for all bloggers direct with Google and other providers.

But more than that. Think of how bloggers have been sacked from their jobs for blogging. Imagine if we had a Union- and every time a blogger got sacked from their job for blogging related issues the entire Union sent a single e-mail- just one mail- to the company or institution concerned, imagine the difference that would make.

A Union would mean that the world at large took blogging seriously. Not any longer just a form of social networking. Citizen journalism.

We need a professional Union.

Until we have one, this can never be Citizen journalism.

I have not written this post because I am founding such a Union. I am writing such a post because I think such a Union should be founded.

I am writing this post hoping that people reading this will agree and that somewhere along the line enough people will start to see the logic of this and over time gradually, things will coalesce in the direction of such a Union getting off the ground.
And when that happens, I will certainly join such a Union.

As of now, I have nothing to offer but a possible name and a possible slogan;

International Federation of Citizen Journalists- Defending the Right to Write.


Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Wow. That was a long post, but you made some good points. I think some of the problem with blogging is people sort of give up the will, especially if they are busy.

I think it seems to them that no one is paying attention.. except maybe people who agree with them alredy. ^_^

Someone I know who is really insightful spots things that are really not obvious has practically given up blogging and it is a shame.

You are right that people will often say or reveal stuff in a blog like they will in a diary. In a blog because it is anonymous, in a diary because they figure no one will read it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Moggs. Some people just give up. It is easy to get lost in the crap blogs.

And I really think that it is long overdue to monitor behavior in the Blogworld. As with any social setting...a certain amount of decency should be expected and agreed upon. A blogging Code of Ethics.

This is an excellent idea Crushed! I hope it catches on like wild fire.


Electro-Kevin said...

You're such a reactionary, Ingsoc.

I used to live near Tooting Common - it was more of a patch of grass to tell you the truth. Wolfie Smith lied when he told us there was a pond there. There isn't.

BTW. Who is Moggs Tigerpaw ?

Grrrr ! I saaay !!!

Steve Hayes said...

Actually the internet was the elite, and the dregs were found on Fidonet and other BBS networks. Usenet newsgroups had a very high quality of interaction, and so did some Fidonet conferences, with suitable moderation. The rot set in when commercial ISPs let in the hoi polloi, about 1993-4. That was when spam started on Usenet, and spread to e-mail.

And suddenly the situation reversed. BBS netowrks because civilised, because they required more intelligence to use them, and that lasted until 2000 when a lot of BBS software was struck with Y2K problems, and the developers had moved on to other things and couldn't be bothered to fix the problems.

Reeny's Ramblin' said...

Little bit of blogging snobbery going on ;) Not all of us need to be citizen journalists. There are plenty of good blogs out there that aren't venturing to be part of an online movement. Mine is basically an online diary, I keep it for myself. Took a little bit o offense to this post. Not enough to lose sleep over but a little none the less.... :)