THIS BLOG, such as it is at the moment, warmly welcomes back Mark Brentano's blog to the internet. If there is a more entertaining commentator or better writer of English currently being published on paper in England, or indeed western civilisation, I do not know about them. I missed it during its interregnum.
Mark has opened up batting with a good whack at Andrew Marr, in response to the broadcaster's dismissive comments about bloggers, made here.
I agree with practically all Mark has to say on the matter, but there are a few thoughts I'd like to toss in.
The real reason Marr has taken against blogs is because the ones that have caused ripples and crossed the divide into the mainstream media have generally been those that have criticised the pinkish political, media, legal and administrative class which runs the country and which Marr belongs to and thinks a very good thing indeed. These blogs are what the Guardian would call 'rightwing'. Sure there must be left wing blogs by the thousand and by the end of Cameron's period in office I would imagine we'll have a left-wing version of the right wing tattle site Guido Fawkes. Indeed, new Labour stooge Derek Draper tried to start one a couple of years ago when he realised the game was up for that government.
If blogging were dominated by a mentality that a champagne cultural Marxist like Marr could get on with then he'd refer to the activity as the People's Journalism or some other predictable bit of Mandlesonese and would pat them on the head in print, saying how wonderful puff-pieces on diversity and graffiti art in inner cities are. It's the lack of control which horrifies Marr and all the many others of his ilk. The unmediated thought that is baldly said. His generation have been extraordinarily effective in creating an alternative reality in a very short time simply by playing with words.
Despite his preoccupation with pop festivals*, a libertarian is the last thing Marr is. There is no cast-iron way, as yet, that the internet commentariat can be politically corrected and superinjuncted. The political, media, legal and administrative class (lets mint a bit of Newspeak and call them the polmedigad) do not like this and will, if we are not careful, in due course take steps to see that it is.
But there is another side to this. The real problem with blogs is that they are, as Mark Brentano says, for the most part journals and therefore the product of journal-keeping, which is halfway between diary-writing and op-ed. It is punditry not reportage. A pundit, from the sanskrit pandit for learned man. A source of opinion but not necessarily a news gatherer. The feeling I get from blog-browsing is that reportage, which what real citizens' journalism would be, is far too much like hard work. The blogosphere is rather like the Observer used to be about 20 years ago, ten per cent news and ninety per cent opinion columns. Opinions are like arseholes, everyone's got one. That's the trouble with blogs. In the blogosphere, I don't particularly like that word but we're stuck with it for the time being, hard news is hen's-teeth-rare. Bloggers don't appear to go in for the cold-calling, interviewing, document trawling, FoI-ing** and on-the-spot reporting that constitute active journalism.
Of course, many paid journalists are now mere churnalists, recycling press releases. Then there are the platoons of journalists handed stories from the PR men and women in politics, showbiz and sport. However, even within the editorial preoccupations of any given newspaper/TV channel there will be real news stories broken along with those copped from other organs or the wires. Bloggers don't generally do this.
They wait for the stories to be supplied, then comment on them or speculate on new angles and motivations within them. There is nothing wrong with this at all. It allows the publication of sometimes gloriously spot-on reaction that would never be allowed in the mainstream media. However, it does mean that blogs are something that can be taken or left, like op-ed in a newspaper. They are not essential and that is their flaw, if you are putting them up as an alternative to mainstream media. Internet media briefly became essential recently when it did something that the mainstream couldn't do: name public figures whose sex lives had been kept secret by law. It started to break stories the press and tv could not break. I wonder if bloggers learned from this important moment the sheer value of new information as opposed to opinion given about new information or opinion which says new information is not true information.
If blogs are to go on and become something to rival the mainstream media, as opposed to their current situation, which is closer to myspace or facebook, they will have to join the hunt for new information and then comment on it as well. When that day comes, Andrew Marr and his class will come to fear and respect them.
*In his TV history of Britain he looked down on the Glastonbury pop festival from a helicopter and spoke an encomium to the event, calling it 'microcosmic society', which are exactly the same words as Mick Jagger used in the film Gimme Shelter to describe the Altamont rock festival in 1969, and we all know how that ended up. In a way of course Marr was right: hundreds of thousands of people all pissed, talking platitudes while listening to rather rubbishy music high on drugs IS a miniature version of the country, or parts of it.
**Submitting Freedom of Information Act requests.