One of the greatest components of the World Wide Web is that it has created a generation of writers. This might not sound too great to the non-writing fraternity but the many stifled and embittered writers, whose talents could easily rival and even surpass the columnists, writers and reporters of the newspapers and newsrooms, finally have a platform to enable their words to be read. The once fairly elitist profession of journalism has been opened up to a much wider and diverse segment of society, as the blogosphere increasingly continues to democratise publishing and empower the ‘little guy’.
But are the new generation of internet writers, commonly referred to as bloggers or content writers, really journalists?
The democratisation of conventional media models
In an essay in the New York Times Review of Books, journalist Michael Massing scrutinises a point that is frequently made about the internet that it has demolished ‘conventional’ media models. Blogs, says Massing, have torn down the power structure of old media. “Decentralisation and democratisation” are the law of the land offering “a podium to Americans of all ages and backgrounds to contribute.”
Massing’s words could not be more true, although it’s not just Americans that have been “given a podium to contribute”. My mind is quickly cast back to 2011 when a handful of bloggers and social commentators in the Arab world played a hugely active and influential role in the governmental protests, uprising and rebellions that spread across the Middle East. The name Wael Abbas springs to mind. The 36-year-old Egyptian’s blog Misr Digital (Egyptian Awareness) has brought global attention to the atrocities occurring in Egypt, such as police brutality and torture, sexual harassment and the rights of minorities that Egyptian state media has long overlooked.
Freedom of press
Is this man a journalist? Isn’t the whole point of journalism to bring freedom of press, to inform people of things going on in the world that they should be aware of? This was the reason why, in June this year, NSA whistleblower conspired with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald to reveal to the world that no-one is effectively immune to US governmental agency spying. This is also the reason why Abbas can be defined as a journalist.
Wael Abbas and other Arab bloggers accord to the ‘official’ definition of journalism – “The collecting, writing, editing, and presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines and in radio or television broadcasts.” The only difference between Abbas and the Fleet Street elites is that Abbas writes for his own blog instead of a multi-million pound media corporation.
As Aljazeera writes: “They [Abbas et al] are bloggers, activists and many of them train others in their community on how to find a voice on the internet, and become citizen journalists in their own rights.”
Of course not all ‘bloggers’ are as critical, influential and fearless as the notorious Arab Spring cyber-activists. We cannot ignore the fact the internet has also opened up opportunities for sub-standard, laborious and plagiarised writing. I mean how many times can, ‘Top Tips for Getting Pregnant’ or ‘How to Make Pancakes’ be rewritten?
Fortunately, Google has been working hard to penalise the badly written, unoriginal content that could not be further away from the important, interesting, informative and entertaining stories newspapers and newsrooms generally have always striven to publish.
Just like there are good plumbers and bad plumbers, good hairdressers and bad hairdressers, good teachers and bad teachers, there are good bloggers and bad bloggers. How can the good bloggers, the ones that cling to ‘Fleet Street ethos’ to produce stories that are informative, original, thought-provoking and entertaining not be regarded as journalists? The only difference really is the place where the stories are published. The publishing paradigm may have shifted with the arrival and phenomenal growth of the internet but that’s not to say the standards, objectives and principles have changed, at least among the quality bloggers. It could even be argued the journalistic attributes in the modern digital era are even more challenging than the traditional Fleet Street methods, because now we have to write with a global audience in mind that defies geographical, social and educational boundaries.