The parish of Tuppenceworth has seen it’s best writing, and best thinking, in 2009. Unfortunately for me, all of it was produced by Fergal. I have bumped along, the Bez to his Ryder, cheerfully waving my maracas whenever I thought anyone was looking.
But that isn’t to say I abandoned the web this year. In fact, I probably have more posts with my name beside them than ever. They just all lived on my primary 2009 project, Liveblog.ie. That site is now 13 months old and I have some thoughts about what I think I’ve learned from it along the way. But, as the nature of Liveblogging is collaborative, I’d invite you to give your own considered observations below and on your own sites. I’ll copy a sample up into the post as you do. This is the first part of a two part extravaganza.
Part One: Why bother?
Firstly, Liveblog.ie was always an experiment. I started it after a few tries on Tuppenceworth. Here’s the first outing- a drifting solitary meander around John Waters. Hardly a liveblog at all- I’m on my own, talking to myself. Or Fergal may have joined in too. ScribbleLive at the time didn’t indicate who’s said what.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed it enough to do it again. There was no appointment to watch yet. I was just typing about whatever was on the television in front of me. As the technology underlying the ScribbleLive platform developed, so did my use of it. A core group developed, some of whom were unlucky enough to be pinned to a table in real life and who listened to me as I wrestled with what this funny new kind of webpost might do. Those people- Suzy, Alexia, Mark Coughlan and Cian, amongst the many others who joined in night after night setting the medium’s tone- shaped and added to my mental image of liveblogging’s potential. I don’t want it to seem as though I’m claiming any part in their work- a liveblog is a collaborative act. Imagining them was likewise.
As a medium, liveblogging is still only a shadow of what it could be. But even still, the faint sketched in lines are becoming clear. And, as usually happens with an internet technology, I think the real impact of liveblogging will be felt in places the inventors didn’t expect.
Since doing the Paper Round with Fergal and Ger, I have been struggling to absorb the meaning of what we found. Newspapers are failing. This is important because they are the primary source of original information for and about Irish society to allow it to understand itself. We regularly read references to the pressures on their business model- how ads are melting away. But Paper Round was done at the peak of a decade long advertising boom. It wasn’t a shortage of money that was killing the newspaper as a socially valuable medium.
They had simply forgotten what they were for.
Press Releases masqueraded as news stories. Property Developers had verbatim PR pufferies about their wives’ dresses printed in multiple newspapers to drown out unwanted actual news from An Bord Pleanala. The readership was forgotten- taken for granted as the dumb swallower of all the paid for placed guff and uncritical relaying of untruths. If advertisers abandon a newspaper, it can tighten its belt. If readers abandon it, it dies. Sooner or later, readers will abandon newspapers full of empty stories.
When I eventually realised that newspapers were going to fall, I was concerned. With them would go the possibility they could improve. The Irish Press waxed and waned in quality and influence, but when it was gone, it was gone. Replacing newspapers as a whole class of information source will be impossible if we simply attempt to recreate what was there before.
You might argue I’m being sentimental. Why worry about dead trees and their inky pulp when we have the bright world of broadcast and online news?
Well, if you think print is dead, you’ve never seen the production office of a radio or television current affairs programme. They are the initial source of almost all the discussions and debate you hear throughout the day over the airwaves. And as any one honest will confirm there is no Irish online only news source with the capacity to replace the entirety of even the weakest of newspapers.
A democracy, and a society, must have a way of reporting on events and their meaning to citizens if they’re to make informed choices about what direction it should take. If you work from the position that newspapers will vanish from Ireland within 6 years you’re immediately confronted with the problem of how to replace them.
So, I started with the intention of seeding, exploring and perhaps helping to nudge into creation something which could, in a basic way, meet some of that need after newspapers. That was a greater success than I’d even hoped for. Check out the coverage of the Party Conferences last Summer, or the Local Election counts to see the ‘mirror ball effect’ at work, reflecting and highlighting hundreds of different points of view at once.
The cash resources required to produce these excellent rolling reports- running live over multiple days and nights in some cases- was negligible. That’s because the medium allowed us to ape Wikipedia’s harnessing of the knowledge (I don’t go quite as far as wisdom) of the crowd. As citizens we weren’t told by a central source what was happening. Instead, with only gentle touch moderation, we told each other what we knew. The broader picture grew out of those individual tales.
When, (or if, should you wish to remain cheery), I am correct and newspapers shut their doors we will have built a safety net.
In Part Two: What Next? I hope to show that as a medium, liveblogging is already showing signs of becoming more than just a replacement for traditional media. It may yet turn out to play a part in refreshing our political system and breathing life into the stale world of Irish television.