Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Cult of the amateur -v- the tyranny of the guilds

There was a provocative article in last week's Observer on Web 2.0 and blogs (Enough! The Briton who is challenging the web's endless cacophony, David Smith, technology correspondent
Sunday April 29, 2007 The Observer).

It gave (unnecessary) publicity to Andrew Keen's forthcoming book on "digital narcissism" (laughably entitled The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy).

However, it did provoke an interesting response the following week from an academic who sees blogging, social networking etc. as continuations of an earlier radical tradition of published dissent from formerly marginalised voices (e.g. The Black Dwarf). Here's the response in full:

Don't bash bloggers

In his rush to dismiss bloggers, Andrew Keen ('Enough!', News, last week) seems to be unaware of the very history of journalism. We need only to consider the English radical press of the 19th century to find powerful examples of writing that can be thought of as the precursor to social networking on the web. The 'pauper correspondents' of political newspapers such as Black Dwarf were not professional journalists, but members of communities who found their rights threatened. In similar fashion, the citizen journalism of the present day offers those who find their voices marginalised or misrepresented by the mass media the opportunity to speak in their own voices from within their communities (think of South Korea's successful OhmyNEWS).

Keen's desire to separate the author from the audience also flies in the face of the practice of journalism. I first read the work of music journalist Paul Morley in his self-published fanzine, Out There. It is as a fan that Morley, like so many amateur and professional journalists, remains a member of an audience, of a community. It is when we lose touch with our communities that we begin to lose our humanity, and our writing loses its relevance.
Dr Chris Atton
reader in journalism
Napier University, Edinburgh

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