I have written the following article on blogging for today’s Business:
"All over the world bloggers have toppled leading politicians and journalists. Businesses are the latest targets of their campaigns. Disgruntled customers know that a rubbish reply from a plc’s customer relations department is no longer the end of the road. They can start up a free weblog to highlight experience of a shoddy product or poor service. If that experience strikes a chord, hundreds of other disempowered customers are only a Google search away.
The empowerment of the little guy is one of the most powerful and most democratic benefits of the internet age. The trade press is no longer the authority on the quality of a product. Conversation about politics is no longer monopolised by politicians and journalists who lunch together. The cosy and complacent relationships between big media on one hand, and big business and big politics and the other, are coming to an end.
Glenn Reynolds, author of America’s Instapundit blog, captures this phenomenon in a brilliantly titled new book. An Army of Davids warns complacent goliaths that unhappy consumers, voters and viewers are marching towards them. Their slingshot is the internet and its ability to mobilise people of like mind for next to no cost.
Lazy journalism by CBS was exposed in the 2004 presidential campaign. The anchorman of CBS news had to resign after bloggers proved that his anti-Bush feature was forged. A senior executive of CNN was forced to quit a few months later after he made unfounded allegations about US troops operating in Iraq. Establishment journalists had ignored their peer’s error but unbiddable bloggers were unforgiving.
Canada’s conservative bloggers noisily exposed the corruption of the then ruling Liberal party while the established broadcasters kept silent. The Parisian political and journalistic class were hugely supportive of the EU Constitution but their monopoly of disinformation was broken by “les bloggeurs”. I used my own blog to help initiate opposition to Michael Howard’s unsuccessful attempt to disenfranchise Tory grassroots members in the choice of his successor.
Compared to the mainstream media, blogging is faster. Bloggers don’t have to wait for the next day’s newspaper or even the six-o-clock news bulletin. They post their thoughts whenever they occur to them. But the principal benefit of the internet, in general, and blogging, in particular, is not speed but interactivity. Television is a passive medium. It feeds pre-packaged reports to a largely docile audience. Homes in which television is dominant produce less civically-engaged citizens. Web-logs are a different form of media. They are like the town hall meetings of old but they assemble expert rather than geographical communities. The best blogs encourage comments from their readers. Some of these comments are almost inevitably unreadable but many visiting commentators understand more about the subject under discussion than any generalist TV reporter could ever know.
The superior knowledge of blogs is part of the phenomenon that was documented in James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds. It argues that large groups of people almost inevitably know more than expert classes. Surowiecki cites numerous studies to back up his case but the British television quiz Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? offers his most compelling proof. He shows that the votes of the studio audiences are consistently more likely to produce the right answer than those given by the contestant’s “phone-a-friend” expert. “All of us know anymore than any one of” is Surowiecki’s simple but powerful conclusion.
Another principal advantage of the blogosphere is diversity. BBC Newsnight only finds 10 minutes for one spokesman from the main parties to dissect the political news of the day. The web accommodates every opinion and discussion can last for hours or days. “Unfortunately, we have to move on to the next item now” may be the favourite phrase of the Today programme but it’s not in a good blogger’s phrase book.
Some fear the blogosphere will be anarchic. They worry about the impact of ordinary people publishing widely-read observations without having been trained at a media college or under the eye of a sage editor. But bloggers don’t just hold media goliaths to account. They fact-check and criticise each other. Bloggers who post nonsense can lose the trust of their readerships at least as easily as CBS, CNN or the BBC. Forward-thinking leaders will seek to benefit from the wisdom of the online crowds. Businesses should create online communities of customers and seek their opinions on product improvement. News programmes should ask viewers for the best questions for that night’s interviewees. Politicians should invite voters to help them develop policies and roadtest how they can best be sold.
The successful businesses, broadcasters and politicians of tomorrow won’t fear bloggers. They’ll embrace them."