Recent events have refocussed attention on new media and how political blogsites relate to conventional concepts of media. And the response by two different websites highlights some very interesting issues.
Over at Scoop former chief reporter Alaistair Thompson has either resigned or taken a sabbatical so that he can become involved in Kim Dotcom’s Internet party. The precise terms of his leave will need to be resolved.
Fellow Scooper Gordon Campbell has expressed sadness if it is a resignation and correctly describes Scoop as being “the flagship for alternative journalism in New Zealand for nearly 15 years”.
Campbell notes that Scoop has struggled financially. This appears to be a recurring theme for media, especially alternative media, in New Zealand. The market is just too small for most media to be profitable.
Campbell then says this:
For those of us connected with Scoop who watched the debacle unfold yesterday – and like everyone else, we did so by reading about it online – the details were alarming. It is painful to draw attention to them because Al’s entrepreneurial drive has been essential to sustaining Scoop as a forum of ideas ; but equally, it is impossible to condone a media outlet signing up the domain name of a political party, while reporting on political events. Al was an associate member of the press gallery. He also had an administrative role with Scoop that required him to generate new business for the site. Some hats that would be shared around in a traditional news organisation were worn by Al alone: such are the economic realities of Web publishing. These multiple roles always had the potential for conflicts of interest in both the political and business coverage.
For a news outlet however, a political client is not just another business client. Especially in an election year, any potential conflicts had to be identified and dealt with beforehand in a way that maintained the necessary distance. Instead, the boundaries in this case were actively blurred.
He concludes that the registration of the domain name for the Internet Party was indefensible and Thompson had no choice but to go.
Cameron Slater broke the news with his usual class. He stated that Scoop was no longer independent and said that both Martyn Bradbury and Alastair Thompson have “many questions to answer about their blurring the lines between media and political activism in such and egregious and underhanded way.” (sp)
I laughed when I read this. Slater’s blog is full of the most extreme right wing political views. There are various allegations about how he received funds to promote candidates seeking selection for National Party Electorates and there is that defamation suit commenced by Matthew Blomfield against Slater where he has alleged Slater published blog posts at the behest of a third party for money.
Interestingly Slater is off to the High Court next month to try and establish that his blogsite is media for the purposes of protecting the confidentiality of his sources. As a matter of legal interpretation I thought that his argument had merit and I was and am worried about the effect of the precedent. But the irony is strong. Slater has trampled on any concept of a blog site being politically neutral and it is rather rich for him to criticise Thompson and Bradbury for doing the same.
But this does raise interesting issues on the funding of blogs. It is clear that Kiwiblog and Whaleoil are well funded and resourced. Bradbury has been open about the funding for the Daily Blog. There are various conspiracies about how the Standard is funded by the copious amounts of money that the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement have spare and I wish this was true … The Standard is IMHO the product of a group of dedicated amateurs and if payments are being made then I want to know what is happening to my share! And this is the preferable model in many respects.
It is fascinating how Dotcom’s money is causing havoc everywhere it is spent. He has previously caused havoc amongst the ranks of ACT and National through his donation to Banks and now has caused significant disruption to the proudly independent Scoop media organisation.
In an ideal world ordinary people would be paid sufficiently well and would have sufficient spare time that they could meet and organise and fundraise and discuss politics so that the offer of easy money was something that could be declined. And independent media would be properly funded.