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.


Alex Fear said...

You have just killed off my dreams of being taken seriously as a journalist.

I think there's a bit of star-crossed eyes involved on behalf of the Brits.

For example, one thing you didn't include was the Brits fascination with celebrity, which is more popular than politics, war or green issues. The most important thing happening in the average Brits life right now is not the price of fuel, it's what are the Beckhams up to?

Thus, celebrity endorsement is gold to politics, marketing and green issues.

Because of this, American bloggers, some of whom have achieved some notoriety have spurred on a select few Brits to try to achieve the same.

And when anyone raises above the average joe to find themselves on some Z-list, they find themselves adored and revered by Brits who are obeying an instinct to celebritise people who are really not good at anything.

Big Brother, Peter Andre and Jordan, and Gordon Brown are all examples of this.

Geneviève said...
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Cecilieaux said...

Alex, the Princess Di phenomenon completely baffled me about you lot. It's as if the whole island has disposed of the stiff upper lip and all that.

I suppose celebrity is the new nobility. I recall arguing with common folk in pubs not that long ago that, no, the nobility are not another species. No one believed me.

Re Gordon Brown, I thought even his party is thinking of dumping him. He seems to be the classic instance of a perfectly suitable cabinet member who should never be at the head of the table.

Reminds me a bit of George Bush (Sr.) in that he has obviously fought the good fight and done good work (from his standpoint, that is), but he's not the kind to galvanize the electorate. And, of course, just as Bush had to pay the bill for the Reagan fiscal orgy, Brown now has to clean up the spoor left behind by Blair.

Anonymous said...

Even FJL realises you are an impotent troll.

"Do I? You are unendingly printing your nonsense interpretations and advertising stupid abuse of me written by those abusing me so you can improve your stats."

May you receive her wrath, you deserve it, you arsehole.

fjl said...

Hi, okay so my critique of this post was a little petulant. Everyone's entitled to a bad day :-).

It's good on the whole, but try not to refer to British women as 'barmy', it is not a quaint little word in Brit-speak, it has quite different conotations.


Anonymous said...

Good post.

Shocking, isn't it, how this thing can just go on and on and, well, on.

Rachel Whatzername does seem to have a problem with differentiating between opinion and journalism (even when something is actually stated as opinion).

Maybe it is the newpapers' fault for the Brits inability to discern fact from opinion? Or, maybe the Brits just don't get it?

Geneviève said...

Bloody Hell! God save the blogosphere! The two Untamed Shrews and their cortege of fans are back! Cecix, Cecliax, Cecilaux,Ceciliaux, what have you done?

fjl said...
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Anonymous said...

I tried to tell C that he was swimming in shark-infested waters!

Geneviève said...

Anonymous,probably that C. loves strong emotions! And I am having fun improving my English vocabulary that the nuns have not taught to me. The problem is I don't know whether the words are Brit or Rican, neither whether the spelling is right. (conotation? connotation?)

fjl said...
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Anonymous said...

Genevieve, it's admirable that you want to improve your English vocabulary. But to be called a "cantankerous old bat" shouldn't have to be part of the instruction - with or without the love of strong emotions. E-groups used to be a lot more civilized.

Geneviève said...

Really, Anonymous? I find the thing very fun, it made me laugh hard:

"Main Entry: can·tan·ker·ous
Pronunciation: \kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs, kən-\
Function: adjective
Etymology: perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention
Date: 1772
: difficult or irritating to deal with a cantankerous mule"

" Main Entry: bat
Function: noun
Etymology: probably alteration of Middle English bakke, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Swedish nattbakka bat
Date: 1580
: any of a widely distributed order (Chiroptera) of nocturnal usually frugivorous or insectivorous flying mammals that have wings formed from four elongated digits of the forelimb covered by a cutaneous membrane and that have adequate visual capabilities but often rely on echolocation "

Now, I was a bit surprised -not to tell shocked - to be called "Gen". Only my mother,my sister, my husband, and my one best friend call me so. Even the few lovers I had never did.

This being said, I shall shut up, as required, I do not want to pollute even more the owner's blog.

Cecilieaux said...

Just back from Boston to discover that, once again, the crazy Brits have offered irrefutable evidence of the bleakness of their characters, their lives and their concerns. Pity them, Genevieve, and do not stoop to their level.

fjl said...
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Felicity aka fjl said...