Blogging about articles about blogging is like screaming at a steam train

In a week when DrownedinSound.com ran a news story revealing that

“Professional opinion is being ignored by eight out of ten consumers who are favouring online reviews from music stores and social networking sites for the latest reviews of albums and gigs.

E-commerce firm Avail Intelligence conducted this latest Trust Index research which showed 40 per cent of respondents preferred information sources such as the iTunes Music Store and the iLike Facebook application.”

It seems perverse but somewhat timely that the Guardian should also run an article on the subject, singing pretty much from the same funeral hymn sheet. The article questions whether the web and the blogosphere in particular, is killing the need and want for the professional opinion of journalists, whilst also embracing some of what traditional media has been replaced by.

‘Is it curtains for critics?’ raises many of the points which have been stumbled upon and mulled over in recent fearmongering times, not least in Andrew Keen’s book Cult of the Amateur. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture for those who expect(ed) to be paid for a lifetime of living and breathing their specialism, because the web offers more opinions, which are often snappier and more divisive. Not only that but the web offers a new super-niche media, as well as a super-niche Google-monopolized marketing options, which, by my numbers, only offers just enough revenue to pay someone with 20,000 readers, for a day a week of their time or about what the jobbing journo might currently expect from a weekly column (and who’s to say despite a publications distribution numbers, that many more than 20k eye balls are reading?). So that’s at least 100,000 readers a week to pay one salary. Who on earth can expect to dedicate the time to launch’n’develop a media brand, especially in such crazily crammed’n’fractured times, to reach those numbers, let alone write well researched articles and employ the team of people (let’s say 5 people, so that takes required audience up to 500k) it would take to compete with the Guardian’s and BBC’s of this world. Don’t believe the hype about web start-ups, least of all blogs-turned-“pro”.

However, something people seem to constantly overlook, especially when talking about the demise of the music magazine, is that the web with all its new fangled technology, has taken away the need to read-before-you-buy and simply to listen and like/hate something. Those who once would have once chosen to read an article, about a band they’ve vaguely heard of, are now getting that thirst for the new fed by recommendations from Last.fm or Amazon and downloading the bands entire discographies, within a few clicks, in a single torrent, and in far less time than it would’ve taken to have popped to the shops (or what record shops we have left…) to pick up a copy. Who wants to spend time reading an article by another person with another opinion, with tastes and experiences likely to be differing from your own? Especially those of a 30-something journalist talking down to an enthusiastic 18 year old. The more worrying state of affairs is that I don’t think kids today, care to or can differentiate from the opinions of established media and that of a blog started yesterday by a school friend. The playing field has been widened beyond any comprehensible horizon, the oceans that were the mainstream have flooded them but there’s less than a centimeter of flood water, with fish left flapping as far as the eye can see…

The thing that most worries me, is that lost in this new equation, is the aristocratic elite’s ability to champion and translate something, from their well of knowledge, which is worth a moment of your time. Perhaps, in the case of Terris and Coldplay, that’s not such a bad thing but strangely, gone are the days when a record is shoehorned onto the map by arbiters of taste, or rather, hello the days when a large cluster of of-the-moment-opinions become buzz, become hype, becomes so-last-week-next-please… The fact that press-faves My Bloody Valentine failed to sell-out all of their shows is an interesting symptomatic of a modern age. So too is the flurry of bands splitting after just two albums, failing to gain the same over-enthusiastic attention which their debut singles, let alone debut albums, garnered. Shouldn’t a more professional media, be less fickle and less led by the noise of a million voices, blogging online, talking all over each other?

Although some good things come out of the new democracy of an ‘informed elite’ (metacritic, hypem.com) and a similar cluster of people (last.fm, amazon, http://music-map.com/), which make it easy for anything popular by some, spread, it makes it increasingly hard to break the glass ceiling of this new elite. How can anything universally praised, translate to all those people who now don’t read the press or follow the crowds. Especially those who don’t even have their own niche and relied on moments like ‘Thriller‘ to discover pop phenomenons. It’s a sad state of affairs and probably more damaging to independent music/culture than mass marketed tosh, where much like film posters, which just say “amazing” [some tiny font], the prestige and impact of the media is long gone. Add to that, the fact the more informed about music are the ones more likely to be informed about how to get hold of anything for nothing, then you’ve got an equation that has been troubling an industry preaching to the press.

All of this could be easily surmised from an on-stage comment made by Emily Haines, lead-lady of blog-faves Metric: “You know that guy at the end of the bar, boring you to death with his drunken opinion. Well that guy, he is now sitting at the end of the bar, using someone else’s free wifi, telling the world his humble opinion…”

Anyway, here’s an overview of what the lengthy Guardian article had to say:

[…] Don’t even mention the need for the democratisation of opinion to Brian Sewell. ‘I do not believe in the democratisation of opinion. I believe in benign authority. And if we undermine the authority of critics then we shall descend into mayhem.’

Our own Philip French, film critic for The Observer for 30 years, is a little more accepting of the challenge from the bloggers. ‘People should have the right to express their opinions. The right to free speech has been extended, but you don’t have to be elitist to say that not all opinion is of equal value. There is good criticism and there is bad criticism. The risk is that bad criticism will drive good criticism out of business by sheer volume.’

{…] Michael Billington, the Guardian’s theatre man for more than 35 years, allows that there is a new accommodation to be made “…we have to accept that the printed word no longer has aristocratic supremacy.’

[…] But, she says [Lynne Hatwell who does book blog Dove Grey Reader], the project was personal. In the first year she spent more than £2,000 on books. But publishers set up Google alerts, which mop up any mentions of their titles online. Soon she was receiving emails offering to supply her with details of new publications. She now gets nearly all the catalogues and free review copies of books from most publishers (except, curiously, Virago, which ignores her – but probably won’t after reading this). ‘I’ve realised that I could be used as a marketing tool, and I have to resist that. A fundamental rule is that reading still has to be a pleasure.’ Also, she doesn’t do bad reviews. If it’s on her site it’s because she likes it. ‘It’s about my emotional responses.’

[…] I wondered if my sometime dining companion Simon Majumdar agreed. When his last employer went bust he decided to explore the world’s eating opportunities. He came up with an idea for a book, Eat My Globe, which is out next year. He is now a paid food writer. Does he think the democratisation of opinion is a good thing? ‘You can get as many opinions as there are arseholes. Everyone’s got one. There are some good writers out on the web. Then there are some who shouldn’t be allowed to write an address on the front of an envelope.’

So the professionals still have a role? ‘I like reading you all but I don’t think any of you necessarily know more about food than I do. I read you for entertainment. If you’re not entertaining, however informative you are, there’s no reason for you existing.’ In short, he says, we can claim authority only by being good.

Read the full article over at Guardian.co.uk

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Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I’m pretty sure that the continuing desperation to tread down blogs and ensure that there are ‘professional’ journalists are all coming from the worlds where people have a vested interest in those things.

    The democratisation of opinion and more pertinently, criticism is both effective and exciting. It’s incredibly easy to find the niches you’re interested in and have them catered for in incredibly exciting ways.

    What people seem to forget though is that it’s incredibly easy to ignore the drunk opiniated guy on the internet. Certainly a lot easier it is than the guy in your local.

    The sooner those who are desperately sticking to a non-digital world wise up and exploit it in new ways (no blanket marketing, no desperate push, just quality product) the sooner we can all stop suffering these predictable, rehashed blogs that do little to suggest change or progress, merely decry the current climate for being not what it was.

    It’s really, really sad.


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