When media executives (and the occasional columnist on a deadline) talk about ‘the problem with the web’ they often revert to a series of recurring themes. In doing so they draw on a range of discourses that betray assumptions, institutional positions and ideological leanings. I thought I’d put together a list of some common memes of hatred directed towards the internet at various points by publishers and journalists, along with some critical context.
If you can think of any other common complaints, or responses to the ones below, post them in the comments and I’ll add them in. I’ll also update this blog post whenever I come across new evidence on any of the topics.
Meanwhile, here’s a table of contents for easy access:
Undemocratic and unrepresentative (the ‘Twitterati’)
The presumption here is that the media as a whole is more representative and democratic than users of the web. You know, geeks. The ‘Twitterati’ (a fantastic ideologically-loaded neologism that conjures up images of unelected elites). A variant of this is the position that sees any online-based protest as ‘organised’ and therefore illegitimate. Continue reading →
What accounts for this reluctance to run with stories that involve the highest circulation UK paper, the world’s biggest media corporation and a key aide to the possible next prime minister? First, newspapers prefer to ignore each other’s exclusives if they can. Second, they observe the rules of “mutually assured destruction”: like nuclear powers, they don’t attack the enemy for fear of retaliation. Indeed, News International and the Telegraph agreed a sort of test ban treaty in 2007 when the latter’s owners, the Barclays, withdrew a libel claim against the Times. Third, if Coulson becomes Cameron’s press aide in Downing Street, he will become a vital source of political information.
Above all, journalists prefer to keep the plumbing of their trade – the unglamorous details of how they obtain information – out of public scrutiny.
So while the ‘Fourth Estate’ holds power to account and has become increasingly powerful themselves in turn, this ‘test ban treaty’ not to hold each other to account has created a power vacuum of sorts – so it’s no surprise that blogs seem to have taken on the mantle of ‘Estate 4.5‘ with glee and no small amount of success.
And the complaints of some journalists when bloggers ‘Fact check your ass’ come to sound strangely similar to politicians that complain the media are undermining the public’s faith in democracy, or restricting their ability to focus on running the country…