Laurie Oakes is missing the point

Back in 2006 UK rumour-monger Guido Fawkes boasted that the news is no longer defined by big media. Laurie Oakes is afraid he’s right.

In his 2011 Andrew Olle Media Lecture, Oakes predicts that bloggers will soon be determining what is news. He says that political commentators like Fawkes "who happily runs stories without the kind of investigation and verification mainstream journalists are supposed to require", will break stories and scoop the mainstream media. Eventually the trend will spread to Australia and the result will be a race to the bottom.

In the US the panic about a race to the bottom set in after internet gossip Matt Drudge broke the story of Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Newsweek ‘s Michael Isikoff had the story, but the magazine decided to hold off publishing it.

That was in 1998. And as Jack Shafer wrote in the New York Times Magazine, critics in newspapers, magazines and television were quick to heap blame on the new media. Why was the criticism so intense, asks Shafer:

Perhaps because the new media exposed a wound. The real sin was that they laid bare, for all to see, how news is made. Like the preparation of sausage and legislation, the process can be ugly. Facts, rumors and hunches are collected and set down in the jigsaw puzzle of narrative. Editors and reporters move the pieces around to see if they form a pattern. Meanwhile, the competition is doing the same. The first organization to complete the puzzle wins the scoops and the readers.

Oakes is fixated on the scoop and that’s why he misses one of the most interesting ideas behind Fawkes’ post. Some people think that successful political journalists are the human equivalent of urinals; receptacles for leaks. Sources seek them out and direct their newsworthy information streams into those they feel are the most discrete, sympathetic and eager to publish. But journalism is about more than installing yourself in the right place and waiting for stories to come by.

Fawkes’ 2006 post is about a book by blogger and academic Glenn Reynolds called An Army of Davids. According to Reynolds, up until recently, the media "have set the agenda for public discussion and tilted the playing field in ways that suited their institutional and political interests."

Setting the agenda is about deciding what issues to pay attention to. And when political journalists become deeply enmeshed in the culture of the people they report on, they can lose sight of what people in the outside world care about. If blogs and Twitter start to determine what is news, it won’t be by getting to a story a few days ahead of Laurie Oakes, it will be by changing the subject.

10 thoughts on “Laurie Oakes is missing the point

  1. Journalists left room for bloggers to define the news when they stopped researching and analysing news and started plagarising press releases. Media organisations like the ABC are so bereft of journalists they accept propaganda from ‘think tanks’ like the Centre for Independent Studies which has strong links to the Liberal Party.

    I try to behave like a citizen journalist correcting the record via comments. My written English has improved, you should see how I used to write!

  2. Re: declining journalistic standards – I blame the twenty-four hour news cycle; blogs and the alternative media generally allow themselves time for synthesis and analysis, which, in our time-poor, data-rich environment, is what media consumers actually want and need.

  3. It’s true bloggers can and do post unverified stuff that mainstream media (at least the “quality” media) would not run. The absence of deep pockets in such posters generally protects them from defamation laws too. But because social media is SOCIAL then false rumours that take off tend to self-correct – there will be other bloggers who will want to discredit it, which is more than you can say for the newspapers’ meme-du-jour.

    And what billie and Dan said. Bloggers don’t face the same pressure to fill space with readable words every single day. I admire people who can churn out a readable daily column year-in year-out (yes, even Bolt), but am not at all surprised that a lot of the content of those columns is pure crap. It cannot be otherwise.

  4. Dan apparently 24/7 ‘news’ sort of started with the OJ Simpson trial, people could not get enough, it was cheap content and it sold advertising space like nothing – when it finished the media were thoroughly addicted.

  5. Really!? “Rich guy kills wife, hires good lawyer, gets off” is not my idea of a gripping narrative exactly, but there you have it I guess.

  6. Bloggers do have a big say in what makes it online and what is news or not news. However, i wouldn’t be surprised if the big news players started investing more in the small news outlets and niche blogs. At the end of the day, it is not about who writes what, it is about who reads what. So it is in the power of the average reader to shape the future of the news industry.

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