To blog or not to blog? That was just one of the questions posed by moderator Rachel Hills to a panel of bloggers, journalists and one burnt-out ex-journalist at a Sydney Writers' Festival gig on Sunday.
The panel consisted of former Sydney Morning Herald scribe and Webdiary founder Margo Kingston, blogger and author Anthony Loewenstein, blogger and tabloid opinion editor Tim Blair and blogger and former editor of Girlfriend magazine Erica Bartle. Their task was to test the following proposition:
If bloggers are all wannabe journalists and journalists are all complacent hacks, why do so few manage to cross over?
The discussion was fairly free-flowing and surprisingly civil, given what one participant has written about two of the others. I'll summarise in "first person" what each speaker said at various points.
Kingston: Paul McGeogh kinda pushed me into citizen journalism via what was once the Herald's Webdiary, and I'm not sure whether to thank or sue him. The interaction with readers was the best thing that happened to me in journalism. Webdiary contributors included concerned expats and rural readers. Journos often put on a persona of detachment because they don't want their own personal failings exposed whilst quite happy to expose the same failings in others. Many future blog-related jobs will be about moderating comments, and those employed have a high burnout rate. Currently sub-editors do this.
Loewenstein: Why can't journalists also be advocates? Many effectively advocate despite the veneer of objectivity. Studies have shown that the vast majority of media stories are generated from one source or press release. Journos rarely talk to real people, content to talk to each other. In many non-Western countries, bloggers are the only source of non-state information and take enormous risks, many jailed and tortured.
Bartle: There are no rules in blogging, unlike journalism. Blogs provide a superficial readership experience. I rarely spend an hour online reading a feature article. So much womens magazine journalism is just googling or desktop journalism, with not enough going out into the "fashion trenches". Rarely do magazine writers speak to people beyond fixed contact lists. Journalist hopefuls should be careful with what they put online as potential employers may not like what you write even if it's well-written.
Blair: I started blogging after a long career in journalism for Time Magazine and the Daily Telegraph. I'm somewhat lazy and the short form of blogging suited me. When you write a blog post, you can't help but tell something about yourself (perhaps something like this?). Blog journalists are surprisingly thin-skinned. I encourage young upcoming journos to blog. It's like an online CV. In these recessionary times, blogging can lead to employment. The Daily Telegraph doesn't have paid comment moderators (Yep, we can tell).
And what did the chairperson have to say? My notes show Rachel Hills saying she only found a few bloggers in mainstream media interesting enough to visit.
First published in Crikey on 25 May 2009.
UPDATE I: A regular commenter on Tim Blair's bog recently commented on the SWF discussion here. Tim leaves his own comment. Readers can draw their own conclusions.