Bloggers or journalists: whose opinion writing is better?

Are bloggers writing better commentary and opinion than journalists? According to Troppo commenter Alex White the best blog commentary is more valuable than the best commentary in the mainstream media. In a response to my post on the blogosphere’s delusions of grandeur, he writes:

Most mainstream commentary about politics … is tedious, biased echochamber nonsense from pundits with no other life experience than mooching around the Canberra Press Gallery.

Alex argues that the commentary and opinion appearing in newspapers like the Age and the Australian: "is not of any higher quality than the average tertiary educated blogger."

I don’t expect we’ll ever be able to settle this question to everyone’s satisfaction, but maybe we can make a start. Here’s what we’ll do:

  1. Go and find your favourite examples of opinion and commentary from an Australian newspaper or blog
  2. Post the title and a link in the comments thread. If you like you can also explain why you think it’s a good piece of work.

For this exercise, let’s not get into a discussion about what’s wrong with mainstream media or start criticising particular bloggers or journalists. Let’s concentrate on trying to find the best examples of good writing.

When we’ve got a decent number of examples I’ll create a new post and comments thread so we can compare notes.

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[…] back over to Club Troppo, where Don Arthur has put up a challenge to find the best political commentary to compare – blogs vs mainstream […]

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

A quick moments thinking gives me two examples.
last week, Ross Gittin’s understated, decent commentary on relative poverty.
Last of the Summer Wine.
agains that, mass audience “60 Adverts” on nine, where an audience discovers that the keystone of the visit to Gillard and companion is to do with the eventual popping of the “Love Question”.
??????

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Better still tonight. SBS gave us Dateline in America on corporate malfeasance likely of the type perpetrated by Norton Thyrcol and the crashed space shuttle back in the ‘eighties, the example tonight involving involving Boeing and contending that the problem is a massive time bomb of disaster awaiting.
Also, a poignant story from Palestine, of a chap assassinated at the borders of the two communities there, for trying to bring the two sides together. Following that, a visit to Fukeshima with an offshore recue team- a place that actually resembles Hiroshima.
Malcontent that I am, I should not have been watching these things, it obviously indicates I am a socialist.
I should have been be watching whatever the modern version of “Brady Bunch” is, so I’d not be troubled by reality and later yield my earthly treasures to consumerism, like a Friesian dairy cow yielding up milk.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

I’m sticking to this weekend i.e. 11 and 12 June because I can’t be bothered scanning back any further in my feed reader or back editions of MSM.

I can’t find anything particularly worth reading from the more than 300 Australian blogs from the last 2 days (except for Don’s 2 provocative pieces here). However the weekend tends to be a quiet time for political blogging. If I did this exercise over 2 weekdays I would expect to find 2 or 3 wortwhile posts perhaps even more.

In the MSM I really like Peter van Onselen’s article Rampant untruths kill asylum debate. It points out important untruths or distortions by both parties on the asylum issue in an essentially non-partisan, critical, analytical way. I suspect most people who read it with an open mind would learn things. Sadly very few people DO actually read such articles with an open mind.

I also didn’t mind Shaun Carney’s piece in The Age titled ALP machine pays price for insisting on robots (although it is just a well written piece of standard footie commentary political journalism whereas Van Onselen’s article analyses and critiques policy as well as the day-to-day political circus.

PS I hadn’t checked the arts blogs. I like Ben Peek’s cartoon blog Hug a Climate Scientist.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

That’s the one.
I weep at the gradual falling away of this sort of commentator or commentary.
Yet the furthest the media can go as to the wide range of the political spectrum, in mass media, is running a few and declining, number of token centrists.
Left of centre- no representation. We just saw what they’ve done to Pilger, for example.
Hard right (IPA with Chris Berg with his mindless dismissal of people who are dubious of junk food as “Culinary Luddites” is today’s example), let alone all the hard Thatcherist/Abbottist/ zionist pro US press release pap stuff they carry.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
10 years ago

I’m on both sides of this fence, so I guess I can claim neutrality. Like others, I enjoyed Ross Gittins’ piece. I just came from a nice piece at LP about the point that the NBN was effectively locked in. The Fin made the same point, but not quite so pointedly (ahem).

I have to confess I’m a bit disappointed in the way that the blogosphere has (not) developed in the past, say, five years. The blogs I read are much the same as then. Actually the same is true for opinion columnists. Maybe there’s great new stuff I’m missing – I’d be glad to have this pointed out.

My feeling is that Facebook and Twitter have sucked up a lot of energy that would otherwise have gone to blogs. Yhey have their merits obviously, but lifting the level of public discussion and debate isn’t one of them.

Stephen Bounds
10 years ago

Hmm … sometimes being “even-handed” can be just another kind of debating tool. Peter van Onselen slips in a nice sleight of hand in his article. Check out the difference between:

“…once the deterrent stopped the boats, the overwhelming majority (more than 70 per cent) of the 1637 people sent to Nauru … were granted asylum in Australia or abroad.”

and

“… the one-time trick of conning boatpeople that it blocks entry to Australia won’t work again, because it isn’t true.

Notice the “or abroad” bit slipped in for the first assertion? It’s used to make it seem that over 70 per cent ended up in Australia.

But Chris’s Bowen press release back in 2008 has the raw numbers and in fact only 705 of 1637 people (43 per cent) ended up in Australia. The others were resettled overseas.

So strictly speaking, you could easily argue that Nauru had the desired effect since a majority of asylum seekers did not achieve asylum in Australia. It’s a shame that this point is not addressed since it undercuts Peter’s key argument that Nauru couldn’t work if tried again.

D Mick Weir
D Mick Weir
10 years ago

I will daring (brave?) and suggest a post that is a reasonable response to the peeing contest that Don so cleverly inspired.

Fair and balanced discourse is that what we want

Whether it is ‘good writing’ or appropriate I will leave to others to ‘judge’

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

DMW

My assumption is that Don’s post(s) about blogs versus MSM are entirely separate from the spat about Hillbilly Skeleton’s blatant plagiarism. I don’t think the former issue has anything at all to do with any particular blog. Perhaps I unwittingly confused the issue by posting separately and disparagingly about the quality of writing and analysis at Political Sword (as with TV viewing, one can easily deal with one’s own reactions to a blog by simply not bothering to read it, a strategy that I have adopted both before and since my visit to check out HillBilly’s plagiarism).

They (and you) are welcome to construe it as a “pissing contest” if you wish. However, at least as far as I’m concerned the issues involved in analysing and understanding the relationship between the blogosphere and MSM are much wider and more interesting than whether anyone likes or dislikes any particular blog. That sort of argument just isn’t very interesting at all.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Prof Quiggin is right, we are a lazy, well fed lot with little inclination for departure from the Comfort Zone, so the conditions for subtle dumbing down have been right, also and this is working its way through society, like a sort of mild Alzheimers. “Death of Memory”, after Hobsbawm.
Some friends of mine actually argue FB is a better idea because there seems a little more restraint in stoushing, a good medium for seeing some thing different in human nature after the bruising adversariality of blogs, particularly when numbers participating seemed huge compared to now.
The system realised the best way to suffocate indie blogging was to pull the audience back to big media blogs and that did much harm to the ambience of indie blogs as the future of talk shopping and decimating their capacity to activate public opinion.
Also, the events post 2007-8 have proven a fearful anticlimax, after the illusion of change operated as a sop, earlier.
There seemed a window of opportunity for a new politics and poleconomics, yet wherever else it failed, the system was effective in clamping meaningful change and returning the local and global body politic back to an ideologically induced straight jacket, unlike in the Middle East, where economic conditions and political humiliation ignited a belated reaction to neo colonialism.
The Zombies won, without even actually being alive.
Prof Quiggin and a few others with the mental weaponry and physical vitality to defy the system have lasted. But everyday citizenry are eventually helpless in the face of relentless and subtle social inculcation from the system.Rather, There could be an impression forming, that though
People like Gittins, Steketee and Davidson, and the best bloggers, can explain the truth, but not change reality or drive what I’d call “reform”, as opposite to the neolib concept.
And when people found out, the impetus left as other distractions were dangled before us, in this age of Late Capitalism, consumer infantilism; subtle Repressive Tolerance.

Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
10 years ago

Don’s two posts on these theme have inspired me over at The Failed Estate

D Mick Weir
D Mick Weir
10 years ago

Ken,
others referred to it as a peeing contest, I found the previous posts informative and entertaining expressing some views that I sgree with but find difficulty in expressing well. Hence I read more than comment, particularly here. I am guilty of being a sheep following the peeing lead.

I lurk here often to broaden my knowledge and often find information I value but being underedecucated, having failed fourth year twice, I would be out my depth attempting to add valuable contributions to eurdite conversation that often occurs.

I agree with your comment that ‘… analysing and understanding the relationship between the blogosphere and MSM are much wider and more interesting than whether anyone likes or dislikes any particular blog. I attempt to follow the debate with interest.

Don,
I am in no position to judge whether Ad Astras post is ‘valuable’ and only stated that (IMHO) it was a ‘reasonable response’ to the peeing contest. The comments on the previous posts often said more about the commenters than about the post and oh well so what? Either way I was better informed by your posts so I thank you.

For what it is worth I found todays piece Far too much economic news for our own good by Ross Gittins valuable.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

D Mick Weir said something close to my heart. As an oik, it can be intimidating coming to some of the good blogs because they are run by some of the best and brightest; reputable, even iconic and public figures- what on earth could we possibly offer that could contribute to their store of knowledge or thought-processes? Goodwill, very little of anything more substantial.
We forget they might want feedback from the wider public in confirming or denying their own hunches or offering unexpected insights as to their research conundrums.
We also fail to appreciate the incredible power of vocation and commitment to its principles, with many middle class people. I found many uni academics very much the like your archetypal GP: its a cold night, but they’ll still get up to head off some where to bring relief to someone suffering who no-one else could be bothered with. Davidson and Gittins, seemingly opposed in mentality to the bankrupt mentality of the likes of Kelly, Milne, Savva, Sheridan etc, are also examples of c theimpact of some thing that is a calling rather than a mercenary job of psychic headkicking of opponents with quite often good cases to make.

D Mick Weir
D Mick Weir
10 years ago

Thanks Paul @ 12:42 pm,
you have encouraged me to think a little more about why I like some blogs and the writings of some journalists.

Why do I like Club Troppo and find it valuable?

Often posts here cause me to re-think my views on a particular topic and question why I choose to believe what I think I believe. (and mean it that way). At times I come across posts on subjects I would never have thought about so my view of the world is broadened. And mostly I find the comments informative and civil which I appreciate.

To move to another end of the spectrum, why do I value the Political Sword? I am able to comment there and not be derided or called a d*** head (well not too often anyway) and the banter is entertaining AND sometimes I am caused to rethink my views and I learn something. The conversations there are (mostly) civil even when there is disagreement.

In one place I am valued as a contributor in another I value the contributions of others.

The value I place on the various writings I consume has little to do with the ‘monetary’ value (though I hesitate to fork out on books that cost over $40) the value I place on them is more to do with my learning and discovery and how I percieve that I too may have ‘value’.

murph the surf.
murph the surf.
10 years ago

My only contribution to this debate is that from the beginning I’ve felt blogging has been stuck in an aged technology.
When considering the age profile of bloggers – I have few hard statistics but there are frequent declarations and denunciations about the reading audience being a lot of middle aged people.
On the few blogs I skate around very very few blogs have young contributors – even surfing blogs.
Mobile tech,SMS and twitter are the rage and the gravitas expressed hereabouts looks stodgy and unappealing by comparison to younger readers?
I know few young people who ever read a newspaper.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Murph, 19, that’s what the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “Death of (cultural) Memory” in the intro to “Age of Extremes”, his history of the twentieth century. Modern culture is ruptured; the old means for humans to communicate culture to new generations have been tampered with and broken by opportunists, in a fevered era.
D Mick, computers are a pain in the arse, yet isn’t it fun to go online and google up something you’ve always wanted to know about- it’s like a whole public library is there at your fingertips.
I think you are dead right to blog- if you don’t ask questions, how will you have an answer?
If only a few more would get off their arses.

Kevin Rennie
10 years ago

My little contribution: Tony Abbott’s Revolting Pug Politics It’s a mash but an original one. Perhaps not fair or balanced but it’s accurate and has attitude.

Dehne Taylor
Dehne Taylor
10 years ago

I suspect this will always be a chicken and the egg debate. Journalists have deadlines and need to respond to issues of the day in their areas of ‘expertise’, and do so within a time frame. Whereas bloggers can pick and choose their subjects and also the timing of their contribution. On the basis of such an advantage, you would expect bloggers to be more insightful. Clearly they aren’t always (e.g. see Kevin Rennie’s link above – a proud unionist, teacher and long-time contributor to NT educational outcomes – gee, hard to guess what his contribution is going to be on the subject of Tony Abbott).

Another issue is the decision by many bloggers to choose to hide behind anonymity (e.g. political sword/feral skeleton) – why do so, if you want to be a contributor to public policy? Anonymity implies – to my mind, at the very, least -immaturity.

In my view, there is also a global issue here (possibly reflecting our small population), but I find (to use but two examples of blogs I frequent) the UK blog Stumbling and Mumbling and the European blog voxeu to be more thought provoking than any Australian blog I have come across.

Kevin Rennie
10 years ago

Dehne

It’s good to know that you can work out my contribution before reading the piece. You might like to read some of pieces on the PM eg WikiWobbles: What is Julia Gillard Thinking? or some online historical research such as Australian Cablegate November 1975 Style. I call it the way I see it – it’s not partisan in the propaganda sense. If it provides balance to the right wing MSM all the better. They clearly don’t have enough time.

A real gap in the Oz blogosphere is the voice of the right. Apart from the usual suspects at Menzies House, Catallaxy and a small number of others, the right mostly repost others’ pieces especaily from the U.S. You’ll find many of these quoted in my GV posts which try to find a range of voices. Right Jab is an example. Much of the debate happens in common-interst forums such as 4WD clubs or quilting clubs .

My comment on Failed Estate seems appropropriate here:

Bloggers do whatever we like. We are their own publishers and editors. There seems to be a very limited view, by some, of what reporting/journalism covers.

I suggest that they spend an hour or two digging around in Global Voices to expand their horizon.

PS We are proud of the 13 students who completed their NT Certificate of Education in Maningrida in 2006.

PPS Tend to agree with you about anomymity but some bloggers I know use pseudonyms for personal safety.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
10 years ago

My impression is the same as Professor Q’s – the blogosphere has at best stalled and probably gone backwards over recent years, hit by both Facebook/Twitter and MSM opening itself to comments.

But as Don says, it has valuable niche markets and I am still finding new blogs that I think are interesting, eg Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Corin
Corin
10 years ago

I think it is comparing Apples and Oranges. The best blogs for considered writing are the rigorous ones, like Andrew’s, John Quiggin and Troppo. However if you want to participate, then LP and Catallaxy are fun sometimes, but are simply talkback radio as was suggested.

In my view, one should always consider these things from the commander’s intent perspective, what has the blog set out to achieve. In my view, it’s the reason that publishing in a newspaper – i.e. which one – is also down to what the writer’s intent is.

For me, publishing in The Australian was a choice based on pragmatic intent, as I formed the view that it has the most widely considered following, unlike say the AFR. That isn’t to say it necessarily is a better newspaper but I think it is more influential even though in academic circles the AFR is generally the choice they seek. Perhaps there is a parable there.

Blogs are also such hard work, when they are the Catallaxy and LP kind that it is not surprising that Jason Soon and Mark Bahnisch don’t do as much of it now. In my view Catallaxy has become the idiot’s bastion without Jason and Andrew who always brought some rigour. Take it back guys, it is a daft blog full of dunderheads now.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

Corin

I think you’re being a little unfair to LP at least. It certainly has an overt left-leaning bias but there’s nothing wrong with that per se, as long as authors bring something extra to the table in terms of thoughtful analysis and critique, not just hackneyed partisan propaganda. I think LP authors do that enough of the time to make it an engaging read. It’s one of the blogs that I read frequently, unlike Catallaxy (these days at least) or Political Sword.

I think Tim Dunlop had it pretty well summed up way back in 2003 when the blogosphere was still young:

It’s this sort of detachment I’m rejecting (and argue that blogging rejects) and replacing it with an understanding that sees the intellectual as involved, not detached; committed not neutral; and where transparency of interest is more important than independence and objectivity. …

The blogosphere can be vitriolic, petty, unfair and mean. But I really don’t want to say that as if it was altogether a bad thing. Democracy needs a bit of amateur rough-and-tumble to get its juices flowing, and in an age where politicians increasingly hide behind media experts and image consultants, where media people themselves have been co-opted by business and political machines and by a star system, where key journalists are spoon-fed press releases and background material by faceless partisans, where almost the ultimate affront is for a journalist to ask a probing question, and, worst of all, where so much decision-making takes place behind closed doors, something had to give.

The trouble is that, 8 years later, the blogosphere hasn’t disturbed that status quo at all, it’s been assimilated by the MSM which now exhibits the qualities Tim identifies to an even greater extent. Moreover, I agree with Andrew’s observation that the blogosphere has in many ways gone backwards. To me the essence of blogging is real conversation aka dialectic between people with different ideas and orientations. That seems to me to have largely ceased. Bloggers and audiences have retreated into their own comfort zones, hermetically sealed ideological groupthink precincts where one’s prejudices are soothingly reinforced rather than challenged. I quite liked it when Joe Cambria and even Tim Blair used to pop in for a stoush every so often. At least Sinclair Davidson still pops in occasionally, probably more often than I visit Catallaxy.

Corin
Corin
10 years ago

Ken, that is fair enough, I like LP, but probably because I’m a ‘liberal’ in the English tradition of legislative reform on social issues. I do however think it is often a news follower. In the sense that it discusses polls and daily politics incessantly.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

LP is the strongest of the lefty sites because it has been collegial, a group of people to take the strain rather than one benighted leader who is eventually weighed down and crushed by the burden, as happened with Margo Kingston and perhaps the small group at “Road to Surfdom”.
At the mo, the academic year is well underway, some of them are academics and their attentions are likely distracted from the blog aspects of their live because of their workloads.
Mark Bahnisch, for example, is sociological/cultural in much of his blog work rather than political, in that sense there are going to gaps while this sort of person is fulfilling other duties or researching new projects of their own.

Corin
Corin
10 years ago

LP is a bit of a sacred cow it seems. I think its election coverage was very poor, only polls, polls and polls. I mean really, is that what the blogs are about? Any idiot can read a poll. The real importance of blogs is to analyse deeper. The Possum poll analysis is very good, but that is all you need. I don’t need some endless commentary on whether Newspoll is analysisng the ‘vibe of the ground’ correctly. It is a bit like a collective psychoanalysis of whether ‘my experience’ accord with the polls. I think LP does do a better job when it is less close to an election, but I think a blog should be at its most incisive when events are happening, not merely being a herd animal following every polling release. It’s like everybody wants to be Alistair Campbell or James Carville, or in the Australian context, Arbib or George Wright, but only a few guys get that cockpit view. Blogs shouldn’t do seek to be a poor man’s cabinet in exile/ alternative political machine.

paul walter
paul walter
10 years ago

Yeah but its a bit like the ABC or SBS, where else do you go when the only alternatives are tabloid?

D Mick Weir
D Mick Weir
10 years ago

A piece of writng that I found interesting informative and probably important

Media fever: infecting the political landscape In the age of soundbites and short attention spans, Tom Valcanis discusses why ‘media viruses’ are crucial to electoral success.

Hat Tip to Lyn @ Political Sword for pointing me to it.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I think that I am in agreement with Don Arthur and KP.

Blogging’s relationship to journalism is symbiotic as KP puts it. Blogging, especially political blogging, feeds of MSM coverage – whether complaining about it, agreeing with it or rejecting it. The US is slightly different with a bigger blogosphere and candidates like Sarah Palin, but in Australia, that is the case.

The MSM meanwhile benefits from blogging – the breadth and depth of blogging analysis are made available to the MSM, MSM-blogging increases their engagement with readers and advertising revenue, and finally, even for those MSM writers who are epistemically fused shut the critical analysis and scrutiny of blogs does far more than any public editor to push them back to real and not imagined facts. Bear in mind that no matter how bad you think the ‘lamestream media’ is today, it would surely be worse if not for the internet generally and blogs specifically.

The relationship is in a way even closer. As demonstrated by, eg, Michael Totten on one hand (‘journalistic’ blogger par excellence) and the plethora of MSM blogs on the other, blogging and ‘journalism’ are just segments of a broader spectrum of ‘open’ communications. Some blogs/blog posts are what we think of as journalism, others are detailed research pieces like we (once?) expect(ed) from the New Yorker, others are merely critiques and yet others are industry or issue journalism. Then others yet are a more recent form of discussion, a modern version of pamphlets.

But what matters in each case is what the publication/blog/piece/post is intended to do, what it purports to do, how closely those are related and how well it does them. Surely?

PS: I didn’t find that media fever piece informative at all, mainly because the author seems convinced that there is something new going on but seems to describe something very old – I do believe that slogans existed in Ancient Greece, ffs!

D Mick Weir
D Mick Weir
10 years ago

Patrick @ 32
Fair call that you didn’t find it informative which only proves that my edumification on the topic is not as wide as yours.

I must, however, pull you up, or at least question you on historical accuracy:

I do believe that slogans existed in Ancient Greece, ffs!

Surely slogans have been around since Adam was a boy. Think Don’t touch Apples. If I understand one version of history correctly Adam was a boy a bit before the Greeks were invented.

btw I am also again a bit better edumicated have read the rest of your comment. thanks.