Heulyn Davies reports on a IWA debate about the increasing impact of the Welsh blogosphere
As the expanding Welsh blogosphere becomes ever more prominent, will it in fact supplement or even supplant traditional journalism in Wales in the near future? This was a question explored at a meeting this week of the IWA’s Cardiff and Valleys branch. More than fifty people met to hear a panel discussion featuring some of Wales’ leading bloggers – Peter Black AM (peterblack.blogspot.com), Lee Waters (Editor, thisismytruth.org), Alistair Milburn (effective-communication.co.uk/blogs) and Bethan Darwin (superwoman.org.uk) – and chaired by IWA Chair Geraint Talfan Davies (iwa.org.uk/blog).
Whilst the diverse background of our panellists – broadcasting, newspapers, politics and the law – ensured varied perspectives on the issues raised during the discussion, there was a general agreement that the Welsh blogosphere is currently proving to be both vibrant and informative – although possibly too male dominated.
Motives behind blogging ranged from the journalistic to the cathartic and even the confessional, but panellists agreed that blogs appear to play an increasingly important role as a forum of public debate with knock-on consequences for the media and politics in Wales. Discussion centred on the importance of blogging as a communication tool – especially in the context of political discourse – and we were soon reminded of its power in having already claimed its first Welsh political scalp.
Panellists commented that blogs often have a loyal and committed following – and a captive audience – but breaking out of small niches to find a wider audience remains a particular challenge.
It was agreed that the traditional media and journalism have entered a period of declining dominance in terms of news, politics and the provision of facts to public debate – and that this will continue unless new business models are developed. The hegemony of conventional journalism as the gatekeeper of news is threatened not just by new technology and commercial and community competitors but, potentially, also by the audience it serves.
This led our panellists to discuss the emergence of citizen journalism and its role in reporting local events. They acknowledged the difficulty of ascertaining the accuracy or even veracity of such reporting, especially when bloggers are pursuing causes. But they also acknowledged that this was also a problem in professional media where there is increasing and worrying trend simply to use or recycle press releases as copy.
Nonetheless, the panel welcomed the concept of citizen journalism as it directly challenges the media’s monopoly on what constitutes news and how it is reported. It was argued that this monopoly has finally been undermined by the opportunity for anyone with a laptop and the nous for a story to raise issues that the media often ignore – and even in some instances, set the news agenda in what has become a very short news cycle.
It was heartening to hear that our panellists (which included a politician and lawyer) do not feel too circumspect when blogging. Nonetheless, in the ensuing discussion the potential pitfalls inherent in this almost exclusively voluntary and part-time activity were clear for all to see.
The session concluded with a look to the future. The panel foresaw:
- A continuing media deficit in Wales – evidenced by the fact that nearly 90 per cent of daily newspaper readers in Wales are reading papers with no Welsh content.
- The spectre of state intervention.
- The potential for micro publications (possibly using the successful template of the Papurau Bro) and
- The advent of US style Clogs – Community Blogs.
- The development of hybrid media with a more systenmatic interaction between the professional journbalists and citizen journalists.
It is commonly asserted that the internet ‘changes everything’. But the general consensus was that nothing fundamentally changes the rules of the game, it just changes the way the game is played. And in a country like Wales, with its obvious deficit in terms of media plurality and news provision, this at the very least raises some interesting (and some might say worrying) questions.