2 March 2005


I wasn't at the London School of Economics blogging debate with John Lloyd – on which see Slugger O'Toole here, Jackie Danicki here and Harry's response here – but I wish I had been. The impact of blogging on journalism fascinates me because (1) I'm a journalist, (2) I'm a blogger and (3) I train wannabe journalists at City University in London.

My take is simple: bloggers are part of journalism, whether they want to be or not, and whether established journalists want them to be or not. I encourage my students to blog as journalists for one reason: it gets them into the habit of publishing. Blogging is no more than serial self-publishing, which is what started journalism off in Britain in the 17th century.

And it doesn't matter that blogging is derivative: so too were the pioneers of opinion journalism in the early 18th century – think Swift and Defoe – who relied almost entirely on received intelligence for their polemics.

Most important, it's by no means unusual for established journalism to be challenged and changed by upstart outsiders: the unstamped press of the 1830s, the Daily Herald in its first syndicalist incarnation, the alternative press of the 1960s and so on.

Of course, bloggers are of variable journalistic quality. Some of them are very good: brilliant polemical writers and editors, serious gossip-hounds, relentless investigators. But most of them are rubbish. Plenty can't write grammatically, let alone coherently. Too many mistake lazy prejudice for analysis. Most don't think about their readers before posting. Many could benefit from basic journalism training.

But so what? The blog scene is new and raw. There are loads of ideas that haven't been tried that might just work, plenty that are hopeless, a few that might make fortunes for sharp businesmen. And it's open politically. In the US, where blogging is most developed, it is overwhelmingly and hysterically right-wing, but there is no reason to expect it to go the same way everywhere else.

Yes, as Lloyd argues, bloggers need to get smarter in terms of basic journalistic standards – and, yes, there will always be a problem for any isolated individual doing journalism without the resources of a massive international news organisation (or even a small-circulation magazine like the New Statesman). But the solution is for bloggers to get together and create collaborative blogs that have serious journalistic credibility. Who knows? – such projects might one day attract serious investment.

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