Many in the established media are lamenting what they see as the end of media as we know it. Although I suspect what is really being mourned is the slow demise of the not so heavily fortified structures of gatekeeping.
After all, those who work in the professional media may not necessarily be more talented at writing or at analyzing events than those outside.
The difference is, those who call themselves professional journalists do so because of their chosen career path. They do not hold some esoteric skills or gifts unavailable to others.
The reality is, there are many gifted writers and thinkers who are not professional journalists.
These people have always existed outside of professional journalism. They are not a new phenomenon or subspecies although perhaps through the advent of Web 2.0, these writers, thinkers and analysts now have the moniker of “blogger”.
As such, we live in exciting times.
These times are made exciting through the Web with its endless avenues and boulevards of new forms of communication.
With this in mind, let’s not be pessimistic about the future and dwell on what we have lost. And, yes, we have lost something with the demise of traditional newspapers, but equally, we have gained so much more.
No longer is information in the hands of a few.
As such a whole new world of who can communicate and changes in styles of communication has been born.
And that’s incredibly exciting.
Blogging is one example of communication opened up to the masses. Often, what we’ve found in the blogosphere are intelligent, witty and impassioned voices presenting the world in new terms .
A blog that I avidly read is www.crankpunk.com.
Crankpunk is a widely read and well respected blog on cycling.
It is serious and sometimes intense when it is required to be and it can be humourous and quite off the cuff at other times.
It mixes opinion with funny quirky anecdotes from life in the Asian pro-peloton as well sharing in the history of the sport and sharing entertaining aspects of life on two wheels.
Its founder is Lee Rodgers, a British expat living in Asia who reignited his passion for racing his bike in his mid-30s by turning pro.
Crankpunk is a website with a strong anti-doping stance but it’s also much more than this.
It is a passionate blog about cycling, why people cycle and it illustrates the sense of community that can come from being a cyclist or a fan of this magnificent sport.
For freelance journalist, Rodgers the blog started in between jobs. He says, “I just felt like there was so much going on in the world of cycling and I was missing being part of the communication process.
I ended up starting Crankpunk cos I just wanted to keep my hand in it. It was exactly the same time the Lance Armstrong thing broke.”
It’s hard not to speculate on the extent to which Lance Armstrong has influenced the content of Crankpunk.
Rodgers is fiercely anti-doping, a stance that I suspect exists aside from Armstrong. However, the Texan and his ‘legacy’ casts a long shadow over cycling and may well do so for a long time to come.
A key aspect to Crankpunk’s anti-doping stance is to magnify the extent to which doping cheats clean riders and robs them of their careers.
It’s hard to believe, but when you think about it, when doping is reported, there is rarely any reference to the clean athletes who have had their dreams stolen.
There’s often excuses, lies, hints of corruption and a vague sense of the disappointment of fans, but somehow the villains are cast as victims.
One aspect of Crankpunk is that it shines a light on those who choose to destroy the careers of others by doping.
Crankpunk is a reminder that sport blogs also serve an important function in seeking transparency in sports journalism.
As Rodgers notes, “Maybe when Armstrong was around, when he first started becoming really successful, maybe if the blogging sphere had of been stronger or if there were more independent people who had better access to cycling fans and had this space which we have now started to generate, maybe Armstrong wouldn’t have been able to get away with as much as he did.”
There is no way of knowing if what is widely called, “the biggest fraud in the history of sport” would have been limited by a larger blogosphere, but it’s an interesting point to think about.
“Maybe he would have had to answer questions and the groundswell of public opinion may not have been on his side”, says Rodgers.
This the raises the question, “Do blogs have the potential to produce the kind of public sphere that German philosopher Jurgen Habermas envisioned with his public sphere theory?”
One of the interesting things about Lance Armstrong and his modus operandi, was his willingness to undertake legal action against publications that questioned the authenticity of his performances.
He successfully sued The Times in 2004 after journalist, David Walsh wrote an article raising such questions and his take down of former Irish pro and now journalist, Paul Kimmage at a Tour of California press conference in 2009 is legendary.
Blogs have the potential to enhance concepts of the Fourth Estate and through this, it’s clear that bloggers are not the enemy of journalism.
Rather, bloggers are also communicators using a different medium to traditional news and a different writing style, but they are no less informed to pass comment.
When asked what blogging is to him, Rodgers says, “It’s contributing to the debate that’s going on whether you agree with what I say or you don’t.
The fact there are opinions on there, means it’s contributing in some way, whether it be negative or positive or in the middle.”
In terms of defining blogs and their contribution to public debate, he goes on to add, “Don’t think of yourself as a blogger”, is one thing.
I think that we need a new word for it because the people that are writing these things that we call blogs, their opinion is as valid as the people working for newspapers and magazines.”
This last point is key and one that those in the information or communication business need to embrace.
There’s plenty of room for everyone.
The Internet provides us with the space for multiple voices to be heard and for new styles of presenting alternative voices.
It’s understandable that those who are losing their tightly held monopoly on information feel threatened by new forms of communication.
But blogs and those who produce them provide informative and often starkly contrasting voices to many important debates.
These new voices with their alternative methods of communication should be embraced and not seen as inferior or lacking the authority to comment.
As such, the future of communication isn’t all doom and gloom. Rather, it may offer an avenue to a new public sphere.