Andrew Marr, the BBC’s lanky former-political-editor-turned-presenter-and-author, was recently invited to talk at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. I imagine in his role of author of books and not presenter of television. During what appears to have been some sort of Q and A session, Marr came out with the following pronouncement of wisdom:
“Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all. A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people. OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. Most of the blogging is too angry and too abusive. Terrible things are said online because they are anonymous. People say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.”
Well, I can only assume from this little speech that Andrew is choosing to read some of the worst blogs. I am happy to confirm that as a blogger, I’m neither pimpled, single, bald, or cauliflower-nosed. I can at times be slightly seedy, but that’s another story. I don’t write in my mother’s basement. It’s really damp and cold down there. And there are spiders and that. Plus she lives 300 miles away from me, so it’d be a right pain. I am rarely drunk when I write, though Thursday nights after Question Time will usually find me quite rightly tipsy. It’s the only way to get through that show. I always try to give my ‘spewings and rantings’ a bit of structure and, thanks to Hopi Sen, am too busy watching shopping channels late at night to write.
That said, I can’t really attack a lot more of what Marr has said in Cheltenham because, Dear Reader, he’s not altogether wrong. Yes, he makes some rather gross generalisations. Ok he commits the heinous sin of using stereotype and cliché. But, be fair, he’s only a journalist. And other than that, his point stands.
However, he shouldn’t differentiate between citizen journalists and plain old-fashioned actual journalists. The point that needs addressing isn’t who has the best skin or whether they’re writing in a plush purpose-built newsroom at White City or in a basement. It’s the standard of writing being published, whether by bloggers or professionals.
Try this little exercise. Replace the word blogger in Marr’s little speech with ‘the press’ and see what happens.
“Most of the press is nothing to do with journalism at all.”
“A lot of the press seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed … and ranting. They are very angry people.”
“Most of the press is too angry and too abusive. Terrible things are said … things … they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.”
See what I mean? So did Marr go too far? No, I don’t think so. He just didn’t pick on the right target. And obviously, as I already said, he lowered himself to crass generalisation and cliché to make his argument. Marr might think the worst of bloggers, but his anger is slightly misdirected, in this humble citizen journalist’s opinion.