MaltaToday | 9 March 2008 | Blog and be damned

NEWS | Sunday, 09 March 2008

Blog and be damned

To journalists, bloggers are self-appointed town criers who like the sight of their own voice. In this election however, they became the unstoppable outlet of political debate, and lots of shouting, virtual that is. By MATTHEW VELLA

Perhaps Jeremy Paxman was the one who most succinctly captured the spirit of blogs: “The web makes expensive, professional broadcasting a thing of the past, but the problem with blogs is the same as their strength – they don’t operate by conventional, journalistic rules by checking facts, and they are unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to the story. It’s a place where everyone can scream and no-one can shout.”
If blogs did this election any favour, it was that it took the discussion away from the censorship and selectivity of the printed media, and brought us a virtual 24-7 political titotla, with a fair share of gigabytes uploaded by the Daphne Caruana Galizia to boot.
But at that point it all turned ugly. Jacque Rene Zammit’s long-established jaccuse hosted the underbelly of the political debate: shorn of theatrics, voters from all political hues spilled their guts out as they were turned into hate objects by Daphne herself, now suspicious of whether anyone but Nationalist voters owns a central nervous system. Daphne’s commentary was ever-present before she belatedly created her own blog – she hollered about immature third-party voters, beckoned them to “grow up”, and checked a guy’s police record (for a lame joke about her dying… sigh). Her mission to make people vote PN incurred wrath for her endless name-dropping and political labelling.
Like the inexorable thirst for the printed media and news commentary during elections, the Maltese blogosphere followed suit, namely with jaccuse and The Malta Chronicle – a regular election blog with commentary from members of the Maltese blogosphere – becoming the virtual screamboxes of choice during 2008.
“Statistically the figures speak for themselves: from an average of 300 hits the graph shot up to an average of 4,000 daily hits. Remember we are not talking of a media website but of an individual blog without any marketing whatsoever,” Jacques Zammit, the blogger behind jaccuse and a co-creator of The Malta Chronicle said.
Zammit describes the spin-off that blogs and what was said in them became relevant in the mainstream media “is an important development. Blogs can no longer be ignored although I hesitate to use that word. The interest after the election will surely wane and settle around more moderate figures but the important factor that people are willing to confront new ideas and speak their mind will not change and will gather momentum.”
Like newspaper sales, the blogs will return to their normal selves once the election is over, although the mainstream media has had to reckon with the power of the web and the need to showcase its news stories to a new type of consumer, and open the channels to more debate by allowing a running commentary of reactions and threads to flow naturally.
“The mainstream media has adapted to this phenomenon and is beginning to appreciate the importance of real-time interaction that will slowly supplant the traditional letter writing,” Zammit says.
But what do they exactly achieve? The Times’ blogs have failed to capture the spirit of the blog itself – people’s comments are reportedly censored, never even published in the first place. And even if the mainstream media tries to include blogs, they are only secondary to reporting the news itself, a process which has to respect readers by subordinating the journalist’s role to the barest of its functions: reporting the news. Blogs, as Zammit notes himself, are at times little more than pulpits.
“The Times have their ‘blogs’ which are a far cry from The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’. Saviour Balzan too successfully introduced the comment section in a more open manner. Other columnists have shown that they are not too comfortable with debate and their input remained the ‘speaking from the pulpit’ style with little or no respect shown to people of a different opinion.”
No prizes for guessing who. But when columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia launched her own blog, just over a week ago, her blog turned out to be just as she portrayed her role in her internet guerrilla campaign on jaccuse: merely a “baiter and provoker” in her own words, with all the entertaining and thought-provoking outbursts left up to the “voyeurs” to swallow. Caruana Galizia had a lot to say about everyone, but failed to be her usual retching and verbose self, when it came to why Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had been so economical with the truth in the Mistra case.
With comments to jaccuse threads once even totalling an unprecedented 500 for a single post (but just one third representing rational tit-for-tat debate, the rest being disparaging marathons of sarcasm and swearing), there is no doubt that blogs were, as Zammit claims, “a prime mover in this new development in Maltese media”, representing a new outlook for real-time debate.
“Thankfully proper use of blogs will help bring about a change in this mentality and provide a forum for open, uncensored discussion where the main focus is on the opinions expressed and not on the people behind them,” says Zammit.
Then again, will the blog supplant the role of the mainstream media? Not in the near future. Zammit rightfully says that bloggers “are no heroes, and must maintain the humility of learning from the process.” But he also reveals what may be the crucial weakness of the blog:
“The most positive aspect of blogging is that it is a new medium that answers to only one person – the blogger himself. There can be no dabbling or censorship from parties or other interest except for that which the blogger himself allows.”
And that is the difference. Newspapers like MaltaToday are answerable to its readers: thousands of them every day as these last four weeks of electoral campaigning have shown, with MaltaToday’s electoral daily having been sold out on almost every edition.
It’s a sincere principle that sceptics and hardened newspaper junkies may not take seriously: but being independent, getting all sides of the story, and allowing readers to make up their minds without the arrogance or vanity of political bias, takes guts in Malta’s political landscape.

The Malta Chronicle

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



MaltaToday News
16 March 2008

Finance ministry to take up CO2 tax for cars as priority

Four illegal fireworks stores found in four days

Ghar id-Dud excavation folly approved despite warning of imminent collapse

Labour obtains absolute majority in local councils despite PN swing

Choosing an electable leader

Louis Galea: The rise and fall of a Maltese Christian Democrat

The Gonzi revolution

MaltaToday Surveys: Chronicles of a defeat foretold

AD voters show equal sympathy for big parties

Whistleblowin’ in the wind…

Go to MaltaToday
recent issues:
09/03/08 | 05/03/08
02/03/08 | 27/02/08
24/02/08 | 20/02/08
17/02/08 | 13/02/08
10/02/08 | 06/02/08
03/02/08 | 30/01/08
27/01/08 | 23/01/08
20/01/08 | 16/01/08
13/01/08 | 09/01/08
06/01/08 | 02/01/08
30/12/07 | 23/12/07
19/12/07 | 16/12/07
12/12/07 | 09/12/07
05/12/07 | 02/12/07
28/11/07 | 25/11/07
21/11/07 | 18/11/07

14/11/07 | 11/11/07
07/11/07 | 04/11/07

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email