A field guide to the po­lit­i­cal bl­o­go­sphere

The Rise of the Fifth Es­tate: So­cial Me­dia and Blog­ging in Aus­tralian Pol­i­tics

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Matthew Lamb

By Greg Jeri­cho Scribe, 320pp, 29.95

THERE’S an ap­par­ent irony in a blog­ger turn­ing to print to write a book about the virtues of the bl­o­go­sphere. More so that the re­sult­ing book would be re­viewed favourably in the main­stream press, and in par­tic­u­lar in The Aus­tralian, which is it­self not so favourably re­viewed in the book.

But to fo­cus on these ap­par­ent ironies would be to miss the un­der­ly­ing ar­gu­ment that Greg Jeri­cho is at­tempt­ing to make in The Rise of the Fifth Es­tate. Ex­am­in­ing the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween blogs, Twit­ter and the main­stream me­dia, which is short­handed as MSM, Jeri­cho’s main point is that these dif­fer­ent fo­rums can and do work to­gether to en­hance the over­all cov­er­age of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics.

Jeri­cho tries to over­come the no­tion that pro­po­nents of old and new me­dia ought to be in com­pe­ti­tion. There have been some ter­ri­to­rial con­flicts, some piss­ing con­tests, but mainly gen­uine at­tempts by all pro­po­nents of the me­dia, new and old, to ac­com­mo­date them­selves to the new me­dia en­vi­ron­ment.

Some jour­nal­ists ar­gue that blogs don’t add any new con­tent but are merely com­ment­ing and crit­i­cis­ing the work pro­duced by the MSM, while some blog­gers act as if they are some­how su­pe­rior or are try­ing to re­place the role of the MSM. But Jeri­cho thinks oth­er­wise. He ar­gues that a hy­brid ap­proach to the me­dia, bring­ing to­gether old and new, is what works best.

The division of labour he seems to sug­gest is that the MSM is es­sen­tial for po­lit­i­cal re­port­ing — which is a weak­ness of the bl­o­go­sphere — while some blog­gers are of­ten bet­ter equipped for po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis.

Jeri­cho doesn’t ar­gue that the MSM should avoid po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis. It’s just that many of the lim­i­ta­tions placed on its prac­ti­tion­ers — time con­straints, com­mer­cial pres­sures, party or­gan­i­sa­tions grant­ing or with­draw­ing ac­cess — are largely ab­sent from the bl­o­go­sphere.

Many within the bl­o­go­sphere, and many more out­side, don’t re­ally have a han­dle on the con­tours of the en­vi­ron­ment within which they op­er­ate. But Jeri­cho makes a good at­tempt at map­ping the land­scape of po­lit­i­cal blogs in Aus­tralia, of which he iden­ti­fies 324, as well as their po­lit­i­cal lean­ings and af­fil­i­a­tions.

What he finds is that most of them are left­lean­ing. That may seem un­re­mark­able in it­self. But what is in­ter­est­ing is when this is com­pared with the British sit­u­a­tion, where most po­lit­i­cal blogs are found to be rightlean­ing. Why is this?

Jeri­cho’s sug­ges­tion, which seems

plaus- ible, is that in both ter­ri­to­ries, the rise of po­lit­i­cal blogs hap­pened in re­ac­tion to the gov­ern­ment of the day. In Bri­tain this was dur­ing the Blair Labour pe­riod, while in Aus­tralia it was un­der the Howard Coali­tion.

That is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it is about those out­side the main­stream of the day try­ing to find a voice inside. This may also go some way to ex­plain the chap­ter called The MSM v Blog­gers. Os­ten­si­bly this is con­cerned with ex­am­in­ing the crit­i­cisms that some colum­nists from The Aus­tralian, from about 2007 on­wards, have lev­elled against the Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal bl­o­go­sphere.

The Aus­tralian, how­ever, is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole of the main­stream me­dia (al­though it cer­tainly looms large). And the par­tic­u­lar blog­gers Jeri­cho ex­am­ines are not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all blog­gers.

He ex­am­ines a small group who are aca­demics or from an aca­demic back­ground, all po­lit­i­cally left-lean­ing (al­though most po­lit­i­cal blog­gers in Aus­tralia are left-lean­ing, they are not all left-lean­ing aca­demics, a spe­cialised sub­set). The con­tent of their blogs, and the par­tic­u­lar posts that caught the ire of some at The Aus­tralian, com­plained of what they per­ceived as the right-wing slant of its re­port­ing, par­tic­u­larly of Newspoll re­sults.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, The Aus­tralian re­acted against the left-wing bias of these crit­i­cisms.

In this con­text, the re­sponse of jour­nal­ists, when they con­de­scend and dis­miss the blog­gers on the grounds that they are mere blog­gers and they should ‘‘ let the pro­fes­sion­als do their job’’ (the sub­ti­tle to this chap­ter), is clearly a ruse to avoid en­gag­ing with the con­tent of the crit­i­cisms lev­elled against them. But it is as disin­gen­u­ous as Jeri­cho’s own mus­ings to the con­trary: Are me­dia out­lets so sen­si­tive that they can’t cope with any criticism, even from a blog read by as few as 1500 peo­ple? Are they so in­tim­i­dated by the writ­ing of some­one

Greg Jeri­cho

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