Monday, 21 June 2010

How do you consume news and comment? The enrichment of bloggery

My parents always took a newspaper. When I was young it was the Manchester Guardian, for instance, though their reading matter drifted more right wing with old age. It was absolutely assumed when I was at school that one would take a paper - there was even discussion about the merits of different rags as a part of setting us up for life. But I never have.

Don't get me wrong, I buy newspapers, but on an ad-hoc basis. If I've got a bit of time to spare, as a treat. Actual news I get from the TV and the interweb. In fact I think it's time we examined just what news is, and how best to get it.

Just as it's being suggested that banks are split into two parts - the high street, basic banking functions and the speculative, risky actions, perhaps it's time we more explicitly divided our consumption of news. Part of it is reporting on what's happened (or in the case of Radio 4's Today Programme, speculating about what will happen later today). Part is opinion. Traditionally these have been packed into the same bundle, but it's a bundle that is coming unravelled. Perhaps we should accelerate the process.

When you think about it, isn't a paper document published the next day a pretty terrible way of getting news? It is, after all, out of date before it's printed. So why bother? How about, instead of newspapers, selling commentpapers. Okay, you could have a one page summary of the news, but the rest would be just comment, opinon and analysis. We've already had the news the day before from broadcast sources, let's enjoy some risk and speculation, just like that second arm of the bank.

This is also where blogs come in. They are the comment section alongside online news services - and already run separately. Although I do buy newspapers, I much more regularly stock up on comment from blogs - and I think every sensible reader should be.

If you aren't doing this already, the two essentials are to get holder of a blog reader, and to get in a habit of making a note of blogs you come across that are interesting.

For blog readers I'd recommend starting with Google Reader, as it's simple and easily accessible. Just go to Google, click on the little drop down at the top that says 'Reader' and you're there. Once you've set it up you will see the latest posts from all your favourite blogs, so you can have a quick 10 minute boost of opinion and comment whenever you fancy it.

Of course, just having the reader is no use without selecting content. You might want to search out a few blogs to add to begin with (including this one, of course). But then, just add them when you serendipitously come across them. You might be directed to a blog from Twitter and find the post interesting, for instance, or see a reference from a news item. Try for a mix of blogs - some on general topics, some matching your own areas of interest.


Add the blog. With most, if you are using Google Reader, this is as simple as clicking on the Add to Reader button, often found under a 'Subscribe to Posts' widget or similar, like the one to the right of this blog. If there isn't such a facility, just copy the URL of the blog, the pop over to the reader, click on 'Add a subscription' and paste the URL in.


If after a few weeks you find you are skipping through all the posts from this blog, simply weed it out of your list. (I would leave it a few weeks, because any blog can have a run of a few poor posts.) That way your list evolves, always interesting, always expanding on your current interests.

I'm not saying abandon newspapers - but it is worth thinking a bit about just why you read them and what you get out of the process.

4 comments:

  1. Print journalism, while not exactly dead, is fading fast, which is something not easily said as a former newspaper journalist. Recent figures show that all but one or two national papers, both dailies and Sundays, are in decline. It's no surprise, really.

    I get my news online, occasionally from the TV, and never buy a newspaper, unless it's a local paper because someone I know/relative is featured.

    I get all my news, initially, via twitter - and then go to the weblinks that interest me.

    The quality of journalism is another major factor - I despair at most of the crap printed in tne name of 'news', but then online content can also be highly dubious.

    I think one of the factors behind the decline is the rise of blogs and the comment facility on online news - every man, woman and dog has an opinion, and they can now voice it quite easily.

    The problem is that most people comment on issues without fully understanding them; knee-jerk reaction to a sensationalist headline (put out there by the media to provoke a reaction...), and they lay into an individual/organisation.

    It's far from ideal, but it's a system that seems to be here to stay, so what can you do...

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  2. True, John. I think while it's true that many bloggers spout random knee-jerk rubbish you can find a set you feel are worthwhile, which arguably is better than relying purely on the comment columnists in newspapers, some of which are certainly in the 'don't understand/knee jerk reaction' bracket.

    I'd be sad if newspapers died out - it's whether they can continue to function as they do in a world where they aren't really a source of news. Perhaps we will see some turn into Spectator/Economist style weekly comment publications rather than remain as dailies.

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  3. The problem for newspapers is that a lot of bloggers have more expertise in their subjects than journalists have.

    For instance, when Blair once announced that the whole country was going to be covered by broadband by a certain date, almost no journalists took a hard sceptical look at it. Only someone at The Register pointed out that BT already had a programme to roll-out to 99% of the population by that date anyway.

    And where blogging works is through people's networks of blogs. Someone might post something of value, other people pick up on it, and soon it's spreading around the place.

    What the newspapers aren't telling the public is how much of their content and ideas actually springs from blogs and independent web sites. It's often the blogs who are sitting down and poring over pages of government reports, not newspapers. The newspapers then just report the best bits of them.

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  4. Good points there, Joseph. There's certainly no reason for print journalists to feel superior to bloggers in quality of information/depth of reporting.

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