22 Sept 2004

Its Time for the Straits Times to Wake Up

Although the blogging community in Singapore maybe small when compared to other nations, and even fewer bloggers in Singapore are political, the old media of the rest of the world are waking up to the irritant known as bloggers. South Korea's OhMyNews is a prime example of the use of blogs to question and check claims made in the national press. Singapore's discourse has been and continues to be dominated by a state controlled media. My reason for creating this blog was to engender open debate and discussion, I merely hope than others will join in the debate on issues that effect all of us living in Singapore.

Blogging on
The web is being used to hold old media to account

Victor Keegan
Wednesday September 22, 2004

The Guardian

CBS's admission that its story of George Bush's special treatment when with the Texas air national guard was deeply flawed is being seen as a key victory for the new "blogging" community of the internet against old media.
This is mainly true. Although papers such as the Washington Post were on the case, the retraction would not have happened when it did but for the efforts of an army of bloggers - writers of online journals - in exposing the documents as fraudulent, including some who authoritatively questioned the authenticity of the documents almost as they were released.

CBS was doubly at fault. It failed to appreciate the force of the thousands of voluntary fact-checkers out there on the web (let alone trying to harness their power in advance), while also failing to interview bloggers after the event as part of an ongoing story.

Newspapers often claim superiority because their stories go through a time-established filtration plant - professional writers, skilled subeditors, revise subs and expensive lawyers. This compares with the web's more anarchic processes, where brews of unfiltered stories, some highly speculative, are put into circulation, and cream sometimes rises to the top.

In fact, bloggers are often people very expert in their own fields who attract other experts when issues in their domain are newsworthy. Stories in old media can be fact-checked instantaneously and the journalists and their newspapers held to account.

At present this emergent "citizens' media" is reactive rather than pro-active, but things could change quickly. It has already happened in South Korea, where OhmyNews, which claims 33,000 citizen reporters, is highly influential and has a philosophy that in the 21st century everyone can write news stories and share them.

OhmyNews is not an aggregation of blogs, because stories submitted by citizens are edited by a small permanent staff. But it does give some idea of what the future might hold. One of the reasons for the explosive growth of blogs during the past few years is that they are almost childishly easy to install - requiring no knowledge of the internet - and are mainly free (blogger.com is one of the best places to start).

In the beginning it was just words, but now photographs have been added and video-blogs (or vblogs) are starting to appear as "bandwidth" becomes cheaper. It is not fanciful to suppose that a blog could soon become its own television channel.

There is no doubt that the tectonic plates of journalism are moving. There is awesome potential in the internet as a gatherer, distributor and checker of news - not least through instant delivery channels such as mobile phones. This does not mean old media will die. But it will have to adapt quickly to what has so far been an asymmetrical relationship.

Blogs have battened off newspapers and many newspapers, including the Guardian, have launched their own blogs. But most newspapers, let alone TV stations, have not embraced the blogging revolution as an essential part of the future rather than an irritant in the background. The CBS saga may prove to be the wake-up call they needed.

· Victor Keegan is the editor of Guardian Online



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