Sunday, June 01, 2008

Blogging vs. Journalism

This week Alex Fear won a round of beer from me when someone made the 250th comment on my post concerning a catfight two barmy1 Englishwomen decided embark upon in the blogosphere. In all the British verbal diarrhea, one recurring theme is the mistaken view that this blog -- or any other, for that matter -- amount to journalism.

This is now espoused by one of those immensely tiresome British commenters who asserts that she is a "journalist" and how dare I blog without reference to the canons of the trade to express compassion for Felicity Jane Lowde, a woman who obviously could use some. I strongly suspect the alleged journalist is none other than Rachel Whatszername, a celebrity victim du jour in Britain back in 2005, but that's neither here nor there.

No one who has actually earned money reporting facts in print or broadcast -- as I and my journalism colleagues do in our respective news journals and bulletins -- would confuse such work with blogging, essentially an unpaid hobby in which people "log" their thoughts in essays of varying length on matters large and small. Essayists are not journalists, any more than entomologists who write multiple scholarly volumes about insects are journalists.

Journalists who blog are not doing journalism when they blog; they are blogging. This is much the same as with entomologists, who are not engaged in entomology when they are bugged by bloggers.

Now it's easy to see how a Brit might be confused about this.

The British press treats facticity with a fair amount of latitude. Having had the temporary misfortune a number of years ago to work as a journalist in Britain, I discovered this the hard way. As in most of Europe -- Brits don't know they are European, so keep this on the Q.T. -- the British press is first and foremost opinionated.

The Times is conservative, The Guardian is liberal. The tabloids are mostly fascistoid, sexist and mostly devoid of truly useful or significant information -- like the telly2.

Much as with our own public lack of information in North America, the British public is grossly misinformed, but their disinformation arises out of corporate policy harkening back to forever (read Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop" for a time-tested sendup). Most newsrooms in Britain have a creature unknown in these shores, known as a "sub-editor" whose job is to make sure not merely that the syntax is correct, punctuation clear and word usage consistent with style, but also that the "editorial line" is reflected in the set of factoids conveyed.

As if this were not enough, since 1912 the Ministry of Defence [sic] has routinely issued something called a "D notice" to any journalistic scribe the bureaucrats want, without accountability or reason, let alone rhyme. Upon receipt of the "request" not to publish whatever it is officialdom wants not published for reasons of "national security" (no one has ever abused that phrase, of course), reporting ceases instantly.

Not only that. The British legal system is so tilted in favor of money that courts notoriously reward the most inane nuisance suits to the point that most British journalists are not allowed to mention a traffic accident without a police report to source it on -- no matter what they or other witnesses saw with their own eyes!

In brief, freedom of the press as we know it is nonexistent in Britain. The D-notice exerts what we in the USA regard as unconstitutional prior restraint, to which the practice of libel law adds an economic muzzle.

So, to the average Brit, your run of the mill blog is a veritable font of journalism. All you need is a typeface and -- presto! -- you're a journalist!

But wait! We haven't even examined the difference between opinion and reporting of fact. Of course not! The average Brit is utterly unable to distinguish between the two, given that he has been served up opinion as reportage all his life.

In sum, to all you Brits agog about Rachel and Felicity, stay after class and write on the blackboard 100 times: Blogging is just a hobby.

1 Britishism for "nutty."
2 'nother one, television.
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