Sunday, June 13, 2010

Atomic Heels

You will have to excuse me; I'm on a bit of a roll. I figured as I'd done bugger all for most of the week and felt pretty uninspired, that even if my last couple of days before a return to work were spent in front of the PC, I'd at least feel as though I'd done something.

Sometimes it takes the smallest, subtlest thing to set me off; it's like a little connecting light goes off and suddenly, I see something spreading out in front of me.
It's just gone 11am on Sunday morning; I've avoided the sport papers - I'm a bloody football fan and I'm already getting hacked off with the World Cup and it's not even fully 3 days old. What with England proving yet again that we are stupid to raise our hopes; those god-awful vuvuzelas, which sound like nothing more than a swarm of angry bees, ITV HD's failure to televise the only exciting thing about yesterday's England v USA match and the fact that there's over two more weeks of it...

But that isn't what's set me off.

I read the Guardian and recently there has been a new journalist on the paper, a woman called Afua Hirsch. Now, I'd never seen or heard of her before and she has become almost as ubiquitous as Tim Dowling and Lucy Mangan in the paper's pages. Now, despite my supposed trained eyes of observation, I got this bee in my bonnet because Ms Hirsch appeared at roughly the same time as another Guardian Journalist, Hannah Pool, seemed to stop writing for the paper and I suddenly became convinced they were the same person. It had nothing to do with race or ignorance, just a simple case of me not reading something and extrapolating - wrongly.

So, I went on line this morning and put both journalists names into Google and realised that I was totally mislead by my own confusion. About the only other similarities these two had - both black, both women and both journalists, was that they both worked for the Guardian. However, it was during this bit of light investigation that I stumbled across something else; something I'd experienced several times in the last 10 years, but never realised...

Blog Snobbery is the neologism I shall adopt for this thing.

Afua Hirsch is a legal affairs correspondent, and I'm sure she knows her business; she might keep a blog of her own, but her columns are transplanted on the Guardian Website and unlike a newspaper, with its limited letters and comments section, the Internet allows reams and reams of reactions. In fact, the reason why suddenly news media is using reactions and comments from these largely anonymous web posters is because it is cheap and free copy. The reason the magazine I worked for introduced a column called Networks (back in the youth of the Internet) wasn't because we thought we were being cutting edge, it was because the two pages could be filled for virtually no cost.

BBC and Sky news both run tweets, texts, Facebook and comments from their own pages, just to fill the void. Virtually all of the daily nationals will feature comments, letters or bon mots from the net. It is now an acceptable way of padding out your features. And, I'm actually moving away from the main point because I'm giving you the reasons. It's all well and good having this constant flow of usable quotes, it also encourages vast tracts of invective. There is a certain percentage of Internet users who, for the want of a better description, just act like twats when they have the opportunity to comment. It has long been a recognised trait of the Internet that it allows mild mannered and passive human beings to become raging monsters, because no one knows who you really are.

I've done it myself. I'd be lying if I tried to cast the first stone. but, I have, at least, never been bothered about anonymity - if I feel something is worth saying, then I have no problem putting my name on it. Which is why I used to get so wound up in the past when people would accuse me of being someone else to get a point across - never been my style.

Anyhow, Blog Snobbery. There is probably a very good definition of Blogging somewhere on the net, but for me a blog is something personal, even if it is for more people than just yourself. The blog has become a 21st century partial phenomena, despite there being a waning in people actually writing them now. The vagaries of the boundaries between personal opinion and journalism have blurred, especially amongst more high profiled journalists; who have always been able to put their opinions in articles without too much criticism. If you read some of the BBC journalists blogs, it is interesting to note that despite these entries still being 'personalised', they still retain journalistic instincts and disciplines. They are, after all, written by professionals.

While following a link in my quest to separate ms Hirsch from ms Pool, I stumbled upon a column by Afua Hirsch. It was about a Beyonce concert at the O2 and her struggles with a slightly roguish ticket selling company. If it had been a letter from the general public sent to the Guardian's Consumer Affairs editor - Ann Robinson (not the same one, but does the same job!), then this would have been summarily dismissed by any reader not interested in it. However, Ms Hirsch was writing a column based on her own experiences; something that would have been classed as biographical once upon a time; but now isn't. It seems that Blog Snobs are oblivious to the facts that journalists or just keen and eager writers have themselves experienced life.

"What is this a blog entry or a serious piece of journalism?", some faceless wonder asks on the first comment. Later comments such as "abusing her privilege", "using her employer to solve her own problems", "I expected a serious column not a blog entry", in fact, of the hundred or so responses, nearly 20% of them were nothing to do with the actual article, but direct attacks on Hirsch for using her column like it was some knock off blog. Huh? I know I spent a lot of time being a pretend journalist, but I learnt enough to know that experience is a far better point of reference than research. Why do you think the media sends journalists to wars? It's not just about being there, its about being able to transmit the general feeling of being there. Football commentators tend to commentate from the ground rather than from a small box miles away with a mic and a screen - it adds to the general excitement and ambience.

But I've seen this a lot, especially in the comics industry, where opinions are pretty worthless unless you are someone, and then you can just about say anything you like and get away with it. Now, the beauty of blogs, especially ones that are read by a lot of people is that they will generate reaction and comment and this is good; however, it also brings the imbeciles and morons out of the woodwork; and I'm not just talking about the people who think they're funny.

Blog Snobbery is effectively the dismissal of a blog as nothing more than a... well... blog. The fact that someone has gone out of their way to produce something, whether its for their own consumption or anyone else's is immaterial, a blog is now an almost derogatory term, especially amongst those that regard themselves as the net's glitterati. Of course, you're only as big as the enclave you belong to and my experiences of this area of the internet have largely been based on my comic book involvement, but not exclusively - the snobbery is rife wherever you look.

The positive element is that this should mean little to those who are serious about either their journalism or their blogging - the two are inexorably linked now, whether the writer has never written a news story in his or her life. Blogging is immediate news, whether its personal and relates only to you or is worldwide and resonates amongst everyone. Blogs have revealed some big stories in the last couple of years!

Blog Snobs are on the rise, but fortunately so are the people who dismiss them with the disdain they deserve. Invariably, the target of a Blog Snob will be defended by other readers and instead of a healthy debate or discussion about issues raised, there will be entry after entry dealing with an unrelated quip or comment made by a fellow reader.

The snobs have multiplied purely and simply because the socially interactive side of the Internet has become so large and such a useful tool for the media. The best we can do is ignore them.

I have touched on the subject before: here, I got a bit silly about it here and I'm sure if you trawled through the many columns I wrote there, you can find something else that is related to this.

Blog Snobs don't just target blogs and the like. I've seen reviews of books that have been described as 'no better than a blog' or 'reads like one long blog entry' like blogs were the original and everything else is a pale imitation. My opinion is that anything you write is an expression and people should be encouraged to express themselves, regardless of what others might think. Above all else writing is a pleasure and those that spend their time looking at all the negatives are entertaining, in the same way as watching a dog drag its arse along the floor is. Like twats for next door neighbours, black sheep members of the family and workplace wankers; it's something we can't escape but grow to ignore.

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