That’s what Ong Sor Fern wrote in the Straits Times yesterday. Of course, you can’t read the article ‘cos they charge you for to access their site. And their archives only go back seven days. Hey, a newspaper has to make money, right?
You can guess that Sor Fern didn’t have many positive things to say about blogs and bloggers.
[J]ust like there are good journalists and bad journalists, there are also good bloggers and bad bloggers. For every book like the Cult of the Amateur (current Amazon rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars), there are dozens if not hundreds of books and other forms of less traditional media celebrating the new, open-source or Web 2.0 culture. Bubbles have burst before, but that’s part of the experience of entrepreneurism.
Siva makes two pertinent points, highlighting the importance of information literacy and the fact that journalists can be as inaccurate as bloggers when it comes to scientific and technical topics:
[H]er disdain about blogs is the view most scientists hold about journalism efforts here. Colleagues in the community never wanted to talk to journalists during a crisis, for most that we encountered were poor at handling the facts or understanding context.
Over time I have learnt to be pleased when they get it mostly correct and have exercised great patience when they struggle with the facts. The good ones shrug and explain about editors, deadlines and diversity.
Ivan brings up three points, the most interesting of which is his final one, where he questions the method(s) Soh Fern derived her conclusions:
[T]he most telling was the opening statement — where the writer proclaims she has never read blogs.
I’m asking myself this: “If one has never read blogs, then how would one know that the quality is poor?”
Hear-say? Third-party information?
I thought part of verifying information was to check facts for ourselves.
It is a pity that Sor Fern will never read these responses to her opinion piece since she doesn’t read blogs. Perhaps that is another shortcoming of traditional media. It is largely one way. It’s not about conversation. It about people on pedestals telling us what’s good for us because they know.
Newspapers are not blind to this disadvantage. Hence, you have STOMP.
My two cents?
She mentions that the world will be worse off if Web 2.0 replaced print.
I can assure her that there is ample space for newspapers, books, magazines and blogs to co-exist. One of the things we are taught in media studies is that news editors have to constantly leave out content from newspapers due to space and time constraints. No such issues exist with blogs.
Radio didn’t kill the newspaper, television didn’t kill the radio, video didn’t kill television (or the radio star either) and the internet didn’t kill any of the preceding media outlets. Each time a new media form came up, there was a re-negotiation of roles and an re-examination of functions.
In pointing out her reservations about the democratization and proliferation of publishing capacity, Sor Fern pontificates about intellectual property:
The idea that anyone can be a writer/artist/critic is a seductive one, as Keen concedes. But the grim reality, he points out, is closer to 19th-century evolutionary biologist T.H. Huxley’s infinite monkey theorem.
The theory states that if you provide an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, one will eventually produce a masterpiece to rival William Shakespeare.
The problem is, of course, trying to find that one talented monkey amidst the cacophony.
While Web 2.0 businesses are busy building more typewriters for more monkeys, it is also tearing down the infrastructure that used to support the William Shakespeares.
The idea of intellectual property, which Keen points out has sustained culture creation in Western civilisation for 200 years by paying people for their creative output, has been pulverised in the new information age.
Students plagiarise chunks of writing for their essays. People steal music and movies online. So-called citizen journalists do armchair reporting by cobbling together tidbits from legitimate websites.
I won’t take issue that she implied that I am a monkey with a typewriter. I will take issue with her poor understanding of intellectual property. This highlights what Siva pointed out about journalists not being entirely accurate with technical details.
- “The infrastructure that used to support the William Shakespeares” ironically did not exist when the bard was alive.
(If you don’t trust the preceding Wikipedia links, purchase Free Culture by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig for an overview of the history of copyright. Or you can download a pdf of the entire book for free.)
- People have created stuff from the beginning of time. Just because. The human drive to create pre-dated copyright law. Copyright served to give authors temporary monopoly right over their works so that they could get a fair return on their intellectual effort. This has temporary right to profit been grossly bastardized by the current copyright regime.
- Her final statement would make teachers of logic cringe. How did she jump from plagiarising students (not unique to the digital age) to people stealing music and movies online (behaviour that has been around since mix tapes) to bloggers pretending to be journalists stealing content from legitimate websites?
- What is a legitimate website?
- Bloggers comment on articles as there is limited space in the forum pages. Also, there may be vested interested in not publishing certain responses. Is there anything illegal about this? Is that considered stealing?
- What about when “legitimate websites” steal bloggers’ content? (Credit to Gwynne Lim for pointing this out.)
Okay, that’s all. To think I started out only intending to highlight a few points from my friends’ posts. I guess that’s what happens when a monkey starts typing.