Decades of illustrations in our archaeology, anthropology and zoology text books have led us to the erroneous belief that human (indeed all) evolution is some kind of progress via improvement towards perfection. There is no evidence at all for this.
Evolution is a process by which species adapt to circumstances – often (but not always) to do with climate change. We stood upright on two legs originally in order to see approaching sabre-tooth tigers over the savannah: thankfully, the process is probably irreversible. So just because the sabre-tooth has disappeared, it doesn’t mean we’re going back onto all fours. That’s a problem largely conined to Sun readers.
There are many theories as to why our brains are so big. Here too, the assumption made by many people is that this is all a planned intelligence programme along the road to becoming Gods or bankers, whichever comes first. The evidence here too doesn’t support that over-arching theory. It seems that one or more of climate (thinking ahead), social competition (outwitting gene opponents) and escape flight (sabre tooths again) led to brain development as a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself.
The parallel of this in news reporting is that of the reaction to the biggest global development since the printing press – the internet. Pieces online are shorter, writing styles vary massively by whether the site’s content is niche or general, and – since the onset of blogging – the tone of content has become more vicious, shrill, committed, fearless, paranoid, clumsy, investigative, conspiratorial, cliquey, jokey and mordant.
This is a mixed blessing at least – and in far too many cases, a tar with which the more serious, analytical sector gets daubed as an innocent bystander. Sometimes this is accidental (the Guardian truly does not get the Web) and sometimes deliberate (Lord Manglesum, Alistair Campbum et al). But even accepting this, the reaction of the ‘traditional’ media set to the ‘blogosphere’ in particular and online writing in general is the same head-in-sand behaviour that saw its business model destroyed after 2004.
I’ve come to loathe the term blogosphere, dubbing it the blogosmear in most Slog columns where the subject comes up. Those who think the future is 3 billion self-obsessed pillocks yelling their heads off are….well, among that crowd. The future of the internet will rhyme with the past of the media we know already. Newscorp, AOL, Newsweek and NBC have already carved huge shares out of a cake which, while still expanding, will be close to saturation point in the developed world before too long. This is going to be the biggest element in the net’s future: if we don’t act soon to launch a large, independent online news group, it will be all of the future.
But although blogging is more or less approaching its nadir, it has and will leave its fingerprints on the history of news coverage. Online columnists should stop apologising for this, and see sniffy old hacks for what they are: people who can’t and won’t move on. As I wrote above, evolution doesn’t reverse.
What I think blogging adds to the sum total is along a spectrum one might loosely term ‘emotion’. As often as not the emotion involved is anger; this too is where the self-destructive yelling and profanity come from. But in its positive form, it has produced more action, scoops and effect (in terms of frightening the Hobgoblins) than the soi-disant mainstream media. For all the ghastly bits of his vainglorious personality, Guido Fawkes has outed more baddies in a few years than most press journalists manage in a lifetime. And The Slog too has revealed the unpleasant underbelly of people and institutions ranging from Gordon Brown, Tom McAvoy and Rebekah Brooks to Newscorp, the Secret Family Courts, private psychiatry corruption and the soccer Premiership.
The world is not the place it was, wherein you could have an effect on the decisions of an honest politician by reproving his actions in a dry, carefully modulated Times Oped. Feckless politics, banking graft, multinational skulduggery, idiotic business models, Russian market blagging, illegal privacy invasion, political corruption and unelected power are the daily currency of our increasingly distracted existence. Smearing, lying, dissembling, spinning – call it what you will: it is rife online and in televisual media generally….and it requires 24/7 vigilance.
The majority of ‘traditional’ journalists these days are not prepared to do that. Some genuinely think it impossible – perhaps it is – while others have been made lazy by the spin-doctored press releases that predominate in an age of increasingly generic and syndicated news. Others still are merely gutless and/or hopelessly biased. We need look no further than coverage of the Bin Laden killing in the big-title American press this past week for ample evidence of that. And finally, there is a tabloid group who (like their readers) are on all fours, yelling threats through celeb letterboxes. (This may indeed represent a reversing of evolution, and thus be worthy of investigation by a qualified social anthropologist).
This is not to decry the sterling efforts of those outstanding investigative journalists who still ferret out dirt without resorting to Dirty Tricks. I may not always agree with Dan Sabbagh or Jon Pilger, Martin Hickman or even Ian Hislop – possibly one of the rudest men in England. But they have balls of steel – and this is, above all else, what is required in order to bring the superego gargoyles to boot.
It saddens me to observe this, but ‘serious’ columnists in general are laughable to the bad guys in 2011. There is a small but powerful City-blagging team of Russians at large in London, for example, who sneer at anyone from what used to be Fleet Street. These gangsters also giggle at policemen, Heads of State and celebrities. An arid opinion column is the least of their worries – a tiresome fly to be swatted at will.
Only politicians take our physical media seriously: because they too have no real power any more – and purely for their own nefarious ends much of the time. Bankers, security service personnel, top multinational corporates, online ISP crooks and spin-doctors are rendered uncomfortable today by only two things: peaceful, direct action online, and the uncontrollable wildfire of global opinion that a well-documented website story can generate. Without that help from Slog readers over the last few days, there is every chance I would’ve been quietly removed from the blogatariat. I think it highly likely that AOL backed off because of the stream of complaints they received about banning me, and I thank all those who helped in that effort.
In such a ruthless context, more of the same isn’t going to cut it for those who see the World as a dangerous, out-of-control and ever more oligarch-ridden place. It explains why the reporters in that space are angrier, more vicious and generally more ‘committed’ than their press counterparts – committed in an apolitical good v evil sense, rather than the blinkered commitment offered up by the Guardianistas.
And of course, to reprise, lots of Old Holborns and Dizzies and Slogs aren’t going to suffice either. What we are facing here is not a conspiracy, but merely the inevitable result of allowing the disturbed and obsessive globalist movers and shakers to get their hands on the switchgear of electronic communication. I’ve blogged about Net neutrality until I’m blue in the face, but the US authorities have caved in to the obvious alternative: a news ‘class’ system controlled by the multinationals. The Beijing regime already applies this approach as a matter of course. It used to be called censorship, but this form of it is also a genus of deliberate truth-sabotage based on varying levels of access and ‘lane-speed’. Failure to grasp the ramifications of this strikes me a hard evidence of braindeath, but ignorance about it is very widespread – even among the senior political ranks.
I would try and forge an alliance with the media old-guard (for one thing, they’re more my age-group) but apart from two cases, my experiences in that sector have ranged from bad to worse. The Guardian and the Mail are pernicious, the Telegraph odd, and the Times controlled by the Antipodean phone-nuisance. The Sun is the same, the Mirror is Old Labour bonkers, and the Express directionless in a way you’d expect from a geriatric. Only The Independent is a curate’s egg containing some really good eggs – and it too now has a Russian oligarch owner.
But the fundamental problems with such an alliance with the old media crowd remain the same: a lack of principle, and lack of reliability when push comes to. Cynicism in our current world is, I’m afraid, an extreme form of naivety. One senior Fleet Street figure (for whose mentoring help in relation to journalistic style and method I will be eternally grateful) sent me an email this week; it was in answer to my appeal for help in the face of naked bullying by AOL, the owners of Huffington Post. This was what I got as a response:
I gt yr fone msg.
I’m going to stay out of this. It’s a squabble between amateurs, amateur writer and amateur run outlet. I think you are paying the price for the ridiculous style of your writing. I have told you countless times what I think about it. You have no proper grasp of presentation and seriousness. I don’t expect you to change so please don’t expect me to. I really only want to hear from your site when you have something interesting to say in a measured way.’
I could spend all day deconstructing this point of view, but it would be a fruitless exercise. The important parallel here is that, when playing a very dirty game of football, the last thing one needs is bellowed advice from know-all spectators who last played in 1961. And an ally who runs from the sound of gunfire is of no use whatsoever.
I remain of the opinion that we desperately need an alliance of courageous and professional online investigators, commentators, and bollocks deconstructors. I think some form of mutualised partnership would be the best way to ensure high standards and reader involvement. I have no idea how it would work precisely or what it would be called, but at this stage that’s not important. The need is for an independent and influential online organ whose exit strategy is not based on selling out to the Moonies, and whose writers are not motivated by rigid political agenda.
If you are genuinely interested in being part of this in any shape or form, please contact me in strictest confidence at email@example.com .