Saturday, July 08, 2006

WHEN BLOGGERS ENTER MSM, PART 3

In my previous post, I wondered what the government's statement on mrbrown's Today column would mean for the national newspapers' attempts to borrow the blogsphere's appeal. The government seems to be saying that alternative is alternative and mainstream is mainstream, and never the twain shall meet. If so, I am increasingly of the view that the biggest losers this past week are the mainstream mass media. The online protestations notwithstanding, there is no evidence (yet) that the government's statement represents a crackdown on blogs per se. Instead, it is a crackdown on mainstream editors who are trying to increase their newspapers' appeal by co-opting celebrity bloggers.

Newspaper editors know that their pages must reflect at least some of the buzz that's going on online. If they don't, they risk losing some readers entirely - readers who feel quite at home online, and for whom the online experience is part of daily reality. If newspapers don't respond to this, they will seem like an alien landscape to such readers. Even if they continue to read The Straits Times, Today and other papers, they will read them as foreign newspapers: informative, entertaining and educational as The New Straits Times or the New York Times are informative, entertaining and educational - but not as "their" newspapers.

Society will also lose if the Singapore mediascape has a great wall between mainstream and alternative. We need bridges between the two. The alternative media fulfil the roles of self-expression and identity formation for individuals and groups; the mainstream media help people figure out their common interests and shared problems as a Public. Both types of communication are important, but shouldn't take place in complete isolation.

Therefore, newspapers should continue to give some space to the kind of communication that takes place online. But, after the government's statement, can they? I think it is possible, using certain journalistic and design conventions. The trick is to signal clearly to the reader (and the government) what kind of editing standards are being applied to an article. Newspapers always apply multiple standards. For example, the Straits Times applies a higher standard to its op-ed Review pages than to its Forum or YouthInk pages. It is clear to readers that a piece published in Forum or YouthInk won't necessarily have the same authority or level of argument as a piece selected for Review. When ST carries a piece in Review, it is implicitly saying, "Here's an article that we the national newspaper think is important, well-argued, and contributes to policy and intellectual debate." On the other hand, when ST runs a piece in YouthInk, readers know that it is saying, "Here's a contribution that's interesting because it shows what young people are thinking, even if wouldn't pass muster for our more serious, grown-up pages." Similarly, I think it should be acceptable for national newspapers to carry articles like the one by mrbrown, if editors signal clearly the standards that are being applied. This is pure speculation, but I think Today's mistake was to give mrbrown's column the same "look and feel" of its more elevated columns, thus apparently giving the editors' stamp of approval to mrbrown's arguments. In the government's eyes, this would "confuse" the public, when the national newspapers are depended on to provide clarity and not contribute to the alleged confusion. Would the government have tolerated mrbrown's column if it was labeled "A partisan blogger's view"? I think it is possible, but we shall never know.

13 comments:

haveahacks said...

I don't see how much difference in look-and-feel one can possibly achieve in a newspaper format. In any case, no opinion piece can be deemed to have a newspaper's "stamp of approval", since part of the function of the newspaper is precisely to give different (sometimes contradictory) views an airing. The more esteemed a newspaper, in fact, the more true that is.

Not sure where you got the last line about labelling critical pieces as "partisan blogger's views". That's asking the newspaper to label a column as partisan when it is critical of the govt and non-partisan when it supports the govt. Which is exactly where we started.

The other curious thing I noticed recently was the sudden change in tone of the LTA's recent replies to the press. From being an agency which was the most arrogant of all govt agencies (and in S'pore that's saying a lot) to suddenly praising letter-writers for their thoughtful critiques of public transport (e.g. Today July 6 & 7) is equivalent to the sun suddenly rising in the west ! Change in management at LTA, or a concerted drive to educate Singaporeans that there is a "right" way to raise complaints and a "wrong" way ?

Elia Diodati said...

I second haveahacks. This whole notion of a "correct" way to do things really bugs me, and just about every govt communique seems to work on this notion as an axiom that is too obvious to even state openly.

Readymade said...

Hmm... I think I can see where you're coming from: to try to create the kind of space in a newspaper where the PAP can apply the same kind of rules regarding "political" content that it applies to online content? I'm not confident that this will work though, because the PAP will still be riled by the fact that blog contents are still printed in the paper, and because that section will probably end up being self-censored anyway.

Anonymous said...

PAP is trying discredit blogs and fourms and wants to brainwash Singaporeans into believing so.

PAP is testing the OB markers of Singaporeans as well

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I think I can see where you're coming from: to try to create the kind of space in a newspaper where the PAP can apply the same kind of rules regarding "political" content that it applies to online content? I'm not confident that this will work though, because the PAP will still be riled by the fact that blog contents are still printed in the paper, and because that section


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