Wednesday, November 15th, 2006
I really shouldn’t take the piss out of a British media icon, but in this case, it’s just too inviting.
Jeff Jarvis pointed out something in the Indy, in which they asked a bunch of British media heavyweights about the future of newspapers. Jeff pointed to Piers Morgan as someone who gets it and to the BBC’s John Humphrys, presenter of the Today programme, as someone who doesn’t. Jeff pulls out this quote from Mr Humphrys’ statement on why he thought it was preposterous to conceive of a society that functioned without newspapers:
And sooner or later we will explode the blog myth. The idea that you can click on to a few dozen blogs and find out what’s going on in the world is nonsense. It’s fun but that’s all it is. …
OK, let me explode the blog myth, not the myth that Mr Humphrys thinks will be uncovered but the myth that he and several others propagate about blogs:
- Myth number one: Most bloggers write about news.
As my friend Say Na in Nepal points out: 37% of American bloggers want to write about their lives and experiences, compared to 11% who write about politics. She’s writing about a Pew Internet and American Life study. The report says:
Most bloggers say they cover a lot of different topics, but when asked to choose one main topic, 37% of bloggers cite “my life and experiences” as a primary topic of their blog. Politics and government ran a very distant second with 11% of bloggers citing those issues of public life as the main subject of their blog.
…most bloggers are primarily interested in creative, personal expression – documenting individual experiences, sharing practical knowledge, or just keeping in touch with friends and family.
The news media provides disproportionate coverage of political and news blogs because that’s what they are interested in. They cover news, not the intimate details of people’s lives.
- Myth number two: Bloggers just want to become journalists or pundits
Again, as the study found out, most bloggers write for a small audience of their friends and family: “Most bloggers do not think of what they do as journalism.” They write for the pure love of self-expression, not for recognition or money. Mass media doesn’t really understand the motivation of most bloggers because they can’t understand publishing for a small audience for no money. (And in some ways, it’s one of the reasons why most mass media blogs suck. Most bloggers write about and are interested in their personal passions and interests, which is slightly anti-thetical to general interest publications like newspapers.)
- Myth number three: Blogging is all opinion
This is such a common yarn, but unfortunately, this view itself turns out to be only uninformed opinion. First off, see myth one. Most people are just writing about their personal experiences. Of course it’s their opinions. That is totally the wrong yardstick with which to assess blogs.
But more than that, it’s just flat out wrong. One of the blogs that I read when I want to know about what’s happening in the US Supreme Court is ScotusBlog, which is actually done by the Supreme Court practice of a law firm. It’s great niche coverage.
Dr Jeffrey Lewis writes, along with a number of other experts, the very interesting Arms Control Wonk blog. NKZone is a great blog that provides some excellent coverage of North Korea including translations of North Korean defectors’ stories, which are common in the South Korean press but rarely translated into English. I’m sorry, but that’s coverage that’s hard to find in the mainstream media.
But really the biggest myth is that these shifts in media consumtion are all about blogs. Blogs are just one of the little pieces of social software that knit my life together. Flickr, instant messaging and Skype help too. I often say that my network is my filter, and whether it’s on friends’ blogs, via e-mail or via IM, I’m constantly getting a feed of information that is more relevant to my life than the crap that passes for ‘authoratative comment’ - as Simon Kelner Editor of The Independent called it. What a load of self-important tosh.
Mr Humphrys admits to ‘being an old fart’ and still loving his news in print. I’m sorry, news on paper, non-time shifted radio/TV and, to be perfectly honest, radio presenters like Mr Humphrys don’t really have much of a place in my information diet. By the time Mr Humphrys has let his first guest get a word in edge-wise, I’ve already skimmed a dozen feeds - some news, some blogs - in my RSS reader. On the Tube, I read through the headlines and some stories in the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post and The Guardian on AvantGo before I’ve gone three stops. Try struggling with all the print versions of those papers on the Tube, or better yet, try buying them at your local news stand in London.
Mr Humphrys might be suprised to find that for someone who reads and writes blogs, I value information over opinion. I agree with Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism, that media opinion really has a shrinking market. I can think for myself, and I don’t need some celebrity commentator telling me what opinion I should have. Comment will be free; but information to help me make personal, professional or political decisions might be a going concern.