Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Difference Between Free Blogging and Commercial Journalism

This is a reaction to Journalists As Bloggers by Dave Dizon of ABSCBN News and a recent dustup between "old media" and "new media".

TAKE A GOOD LOOK around Philippine Commentary. Do you see even a single advertisement? Do you think I make a any money practicing my Freedom of Speech and Expression? NO! I most certainly do not. But also, what are my expenses for foisting my ideas on whatever hapless reader drops by, for releasing my memes into the blogstream, so to speak? NONE! On this single website and its obvious circumstances you can glimpse the economics of what I call FREE BLOGGING.

Now pick up a newspaper like the Philippine Daily Innuendo (PDI) or visit its website. Or better yet, take a trip to the ABSCBN complex on Mother Ignacia Street in Quezon City. Consider the economics required to produce either a single issue of the paper or evening news broadcast. Think of the huge organizations involved, the offices, printing presses, studios, electronic equipment, broadcast facilities and BILLIONS of PESOS involved in these fortresses of what I call COMMERCIAL JOURNALISM.

The differences between Philippine Commentary and PDI or ABSCBN News are huge and obvious. For one thing, Philippine Commentary can not and does not generate news as such, (that's why it's called by that name). I get all my primary information from the "old media". But I can publish my opinions at cost that is virtually nil compared to either of these two leading sources of the news, which of course have their own stable of reporters, pundits and "bloggers" whom they must support with salaries, benefits, facilities, etc. using their income from advertising.

This very simple fact--that I can express myself virtually for free about both their news and opinion content, yet potentially have the same audience as PDI or ABSCBN has several important consequences.

First, I am not beholden to the owners of these Main Stream Media (MSM). I have no editor, secretary or camera men to watch out for and work with. I don't really have to be sensitive to the commercial and proprietary interest that makes their work possible.

Second, and as a necessary corollary, my counterparts within these organizations are in fact constrained by those organizational, commercial and proprietary interests. Much as those writing for the main stream talk and brag about "Freedom of Expression", I can tell you with absolutely certainty that Free Bloggers are freer than them to honestly and forthrightly express their opinions and commentaries about news events and the opinions of others. Even bloggers (who are not attached to those media outlets) that carry advertising are freer than them, because usually there is a very different relationship between bloggers and the "advertisers" that magically appear on their sites.) In a way, commercial journalists can NEVER be the same as FREE BLOGGERS, even if they start to write and publish blogs, because the audience KNOWS they are part of a huge commercial, self-interested, self-protecting enterprise. The Philippine Daily Innuendo runs hundreds of blogs, but everybody knows they dare not attack the Sacred Cows of the Prieto-Rufino families that own the paper, no matter how its editors proclaim "Press Freedom."

Third, while the MSM conceitedly talks about having things like Codes of Professional Ethics, "editorial oversight", "vetting" and so on, these mechanisms are ALL nonetheless subject to the conditions of the commercial relationships that allow them to operate and do business in the first place. There is a carefully orchestrated balance between "Freedom of Expression" and the commercial and proprietary interests. Indeed, once you get past the front pages or top quality broadcast programs, and begin to consider the grand bulk of what is published in newspapers like PDI or broadcast by ABSCBN, you immediately encounter the main body of mediocre, venal, puerile and just plain mindless ENTERTAINMENT content of these media organizations, which cater to the lowest common denominator of society.

As a blogger, I do not have to address my work to the market in which Commercial Journalism operates. I do not have to pay reporters or producers to survive, or watch what I say because some pencil neck in an ad agency or the telecomms (which supply nearly 80% of the income of some commercial media) might not like my saying they belong to a cartel or sell some lousy or dangerous product or service. I don't have to worry that the owners of Google or Blogger (my hosting service) might not like what I say.

In the ultimate analysis, what is happening here is what I have previously called a Gutenberg Moment. Technology from the great bastion of liberty in the world is revolutionizing the way humanity shares ideas and opinions. It is as if I have been given my own printing presses and broadcasting stations with (potentially!) global reach which cost virtually nothing for me to operate.

That is a huge advantage over the MSM -- but only if my ideas and opinions are in fact somehow more appealing to the potential audience, if they have viral and memetic power.

What Free Blogging has done is to give Commercial Journalism real competition in the MARKETPLACE FOR IDEAS, unencumbered by special interests, unconstrained by the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to respect Sacred Cows, or suppress what we really think about things.

The World Wide Web of blogging levels the playing field, but only to the extent that Free Bloggers actually have better stronger, more viral ideas and fitter memes.

Welcome to the purest arena where Darwin's laws of evolution can operate to ensure the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.


ricelander said...

At least until mainstream media do not entice you to join them with an offer you cannot ever resist. Hit them harder still until they find you a dangerous competitor then we'll see. The playing field is new and more level, that's true. But have you read the news about newspaper advertising taking its steepest dive ever this year? Advertisers are moving over to cyberspace and they could be scouting for bloggers to piggyback on. You could be a candidate hehehe.

DJB Rizalist said...

Haha! This site will never carry advertising. But even if it did, whatever I say on this blog, Google Adsense will simply find me advertisers that want to be on this blog because of what I say and the audience that comes. The MSM does not have that luxury. And if they come online, that's fine too, but they won't have the distribution advantage of controlling every newsstand from Aparri to Jolo, or the airwaves with monopolistic franchises.

Herson Juego said...

Sometimes I get to think that a reader, to a certain extent, can serve as an ombudsman to a blog post, or even a blog. That, of course, depends on the willingness of the reader to post a comment and to try to sort things a bit.

That aside, if indeed old media dies---a natural death, perhaps?---sooner than we think after failing to evolve, would bloggers take the place of contemporary news reporters? Then again, given the fact that "old media" is a lucrative enterprise (what with all the advertising jammed between the front page and the op-ed sections, and between the op-ed and the last page), it might be that they are moving towards the virtual realm to seek refuge there. Which is perhaps why indeed blog advertisers have sprouted like mad across the internet, because the playing field has now become virtual, or more like it.

But I guess old media won't "perish" quite easily even if it fails to evolve just as yet. Even if there are about 2 million bloggers out there (as reported), and even if there is an increasing use of the internet in the country, this nation is yet to abandon print media. I came across the front page of PDI a week ago or so, and it speaks of a stronghold in readership, with the Phil. Star and Manila Bulletin (I think) just trailing a few notches behind. And even if the public abandons the old media for "new media", it won't happen overnight. It might take decades (or centuries, perhaps?). It'll take a long stretch of time, like Darwinian evolution.

Nevertheless, we all know that the mere presence of bloggers indicates the fact that some things have already changed. Indeed, "the World Wide Web of blogging levels the playing field, but only to the extent that Free Bloggers actually have better stronger, more viral ideas and fitter memes."

Gabby said...

color me blind -- what is an example of a prieto-rufino sacred cow?

DJB Rizalist said...

The Catholic Church is one. The other is the price of newsprint and the ecology of printed newspapers.

DJB Rizalist said...

Add please the Blessed Virgin Mary and anything to do with that.

DJB Rizalist said...

Also the CPP NPA...they've had that tiny little story about Joma and some sexy actress dancing attached to their editorial website for nearly 2 years!

Dave Llorito said...

hi dean: im not really inclined to accept fully the so-called mainstream media versus social media (new media)dichotomy. in reality social media actually "feeds" on the mainstream media. in most cases, we bloggers simply scan old media and pounce on it when we think they got it wrong, facts or opinion wise. thats healthy because and it sure does take away the supposed "arrogance" of the old media. if old media watches the goverment and business (the so-called "fourth estate" role)bloggers/social media watches the old media. so its an added layer of check and balance that should boost democracy.

Jego said...

You know how I think mainstream media can 'revive' itself, whether they stick to print or go online? Get rid of all pretenses to objectivity. State clearly that THIS, whatever it is, is their position. "This paper is socialist, secular, progressive" or "This paper is pro-business, pro-capitalist, pro laissez faire economy " or "This paper thinks youre stupid"... If readers know exactly what theyre getting, they will come, whether to heckle or to applaud.

Dave Llorito said...

jego/dean: its not entirely accurate to say that newspapers are doomed. recent reports in the US (try reading the indepth report of playboy USA in june 2008) indicate that some newspaper groups' circulation are recovering. while the big names like washington post are bleeding circulation wise, some of them are now making money off its online versions. so the future of print journalism might be a combination of print and online versions to make them profitable. newspapers in the US used to earn 40% return on investments; now the figure is down to 8-20 percent. these profitability figures suggest that its still a money making business. no wonder guys like rupert murdoch are still buying newspapers around.

and by the way, newspapers in countries like India and China, especially the english language versions, are enjoying rising circulation.

DJB Rizalist said...


News outlets most definitely are not "doomed" -- in fact we should expect them to thrive going forward.

It is the distribution model based on printed paper versions that is doomed, by economics, ecology and technology.

But that is what is significant for opinion making since online transaction costs are nil, they no longer have a "voice of omniscience" as they once had and on which they based their power.

Of course we are dependent on the main stream for news, but that may change in a while too since competition will surely increase.

Bloggers are merely the Comment Thread of the Main Stream and each other.

That is more than enough for me, because I believe the cream rises to the top, and now it really can, as far as memes and ideas go.

Jego said...

I didnt notice the new blog title, DJB.

I dont think the MSM is doomed either. It'll adapt. The big papers will still be there, but media companies will realize there's money to be made in smaller niches with overtly biased views (or at least easily identifiable biases) that people can discuss thru their blogs. It's not an us vs them thing as dave llorito said.