Sunday, September 23, 2007

'Bloggers don't read'

I recently started this blog after months of postponing, thanks to encouragement by Dr Peter Verwey, a digital journalism lecturer from Ultrecht University in the Netherlands.

Once it was up, I thought of congratulating myself until I read a review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur. You can read The Guardian's review here.

Keen argues that citizen journalism is a "dictatorship of idiots" and garbage. In the long run, "bloviators" will be responsible for the collapse of newspapers and could drive book authors and investigators out of work.

Strange as it may seem, I agree with Keen's argument on citizen journalism. I pretty much advanced the same argument during a radio interview with SABC Africa about two weeks ago. A colleague who was supposed to be on the program volunteered me to be interviewed on the impact of new media on journalism. Specifically, the presenter asked me whether media convergence compromised quality and professionalism.

I said I thought it did, with news editors and news managers overwhelmed with news from a million sources but also under much more pressure to deliver. Other panelists, Steve Lang and Joel K, a Ugandan journalist, felt citizen journalism improved rather than impinged on the quality of journalism. A number of callers agreed with my opinion.

What has this got to do with Andrew Keen? A lot, it seems. Whenever journalists are faced with tough or unfamiliar questions, say how earth tremors are classified, they often report to Google first. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes so when it ends there. Few bother to call the Geological Institute or the local university professor, for example. All they place in the story is a rehash f Wikipedia content.

I would go Verwey's way, which is to "think first as a journalist." The professor of computer-assisted reporting at Ulrecht University in the Netherlands wants journalists to ask what they would do had there been no internet. Verwey also lectures part-time at Rhodes University, South Africa. They'd probably first call someone at the university or at the metereological department. As Verwey argues, the internet may help but it is not the whole story. Indeed, you may get conflicting or outrightly wrong answers from there.

Do I support citizen journalism? Well, to an extent, but I do not mistake it for professional, mainstream or 'traditional' journalism. Do I think it should continue? Yes, but we must know there is a lot of garbage on the net. I can't say with certainty that bloggers don't read, so I hope to get my hand on Andrew Keen's book soon and find out why he said it.

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