Lawyer Edwin Lacierda teaches at the FEU Institute of Law. He is also a guest lecturer at the De La Salle University. Here are transcripts of my interview with him. Lacierda runs the San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet at lacierda.blogspot.com. Here are the transcripts of my e-mail interview with him.
Max: Professor Jay Rosen of the New York University said early this year that the question of bloggers vs. journalists is over. He says the “question now isn’t whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn’t whether bloggers “are” journalists. They apparently are, sometimes.” Do you agree with his statement? Do you see yourself as journalists in the mold of reporters producing original news content or more of opinion writers who comment on news items?
Ed: To the extent that bloggers have the necessary resources to carry out reporting and what would otherwise be the province of journalism, the answer is yes. In the absence of those resources, a blogger would probably be more comfortable being an opinion writer and rely on the broadsheets for the newsfeed.
An interesting development on this point, while not necessarily tangent to the question, is Yahoo’s announced foray to news reporting. It has decided no longer to just get news from the broadsheets but I understand that it is going to venture into news reporting as well. This, it can do because it has vast resources.
Max:Editor Scott Rosenberg of Salon says: “journalists need to move away from the notion that journalism is a mysterious craft practiced by only a select priesthood – a black art inaccessible to the masses. We forget the derivation of the word journalist: someone who keeps an account of day-to-day events.” Do you agree with him? Do you think blogging has shattered that perception of a select priesthood that defines what is newsworthy?
Ed: Yes, I do. But you must remember, it is not blogging per se that shattered that perception. It is the fact that the internet was such a medium that tremendously liberalized the spread of information that blogging, as a consequence, just naturally rode on. Since the internet had no editoral controls or one main filter to speak of, blogging permitted the licentious spread, if you will, of personal journals and information. While the mainstream media can still define what is newsworthy, the reactions of bloggers on certain news items ultimately define what newsworthy is. That is the reason why Inquirer or the New York Times rates their most read online article. Why else do you do that if you want to know what were the most newsworthy items in the paper?
Max: In a blogging conference early this year at Harvard University, participants agreed that “The acts of “blogging” and “journalism” are different, although they do intersect. While some blogging is journalism, much of it isn’t and doesn’t aim to be. Both serve different and valuable functions within the new evolving media ecosystem.” Do you agree with this? Do you see this happening in the Philippines or will blogging still be in the fringes of that media ecosystem because of the low Internet penetration in the country?
Ed: Since blogging is a necessary adjunct to the internet use, blogging will be confined to availability of internet access. But that augurs well for a possible explosion of blogging. The spread of the Internet is inevitable. Blogging will rise as costs and access as barriers to entry will descend. To that extent, the rise of multiple telcos in the country will enhance a competitive spirit to bring the costs of internet access down. We are now seeing that. Even the cost of purchasing a PC has gone down considerably as compared to 5 years ago.
That said, I think we will know that blogging has arrived if and when (1) the public will not solely rely on the editorial opinion of the broadsheets or mainstream media; or (2) the opinion writers themselves decide to venture on the blogosphere realizing that there is an untapped audience there who would rather comment anonymously than bother sending a comment to the newspapers; (3) when the mainstream media or the broadsheets would quote from the bloggers, either for their opinions or their comments. Then, you will realize that blogging is beginning to have an effect on the media ecology as Marshal McLuhan puts it.
Max: Tom Curley of the Associated Press says there is a huge shift of balance of power in our world, “from the content providers to the content consumers.” He says “professional journalism is no longer sovereign over territory it once easily controlled” and that its influence in the public discourse is no longer singular. He says: “When 90 percent of the op-ed style writing was done on actual op-ed pages, editorial page editors had sovereignty over that region of public dialogue. With blogging and the online space generally, that rule is gone. Opinion in reaction to the news can come from anywhere, and the bloggers are frequently better at it than the sleepy op-ed page ever was.” Do you agree with him?
Ed: Yes, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. The editorial board is no longer the one-eyed king. It is the bloggers.
Max: While mainstream media can find good use for blogs to re-engage themselves in the community conversation, they should use it in a way to draw in more outside voices. Bob Cauthorn says mainstream media misunderstand blogs because they “simply further expose the staff members who are already well exposed to the public.” He says these efforts “scarcely register in the big picture because media company blogs adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.” Do you agree with this?
Ed: There is a new paradigm in the media ecosystem. Maybe, it is not yet felt but if they bother taking a look at Technorati’s numbers of bloggers arising on a per day-per hour basis, they might want to reshape their thinking.
Max: Mark Glaser, in a 2003 Article in Nieman Reports, says that “because of Weblogs, journalists are being brought down from their ivory towers.” He says that blogs provide an even bigger voice for non-journalist readers. He did say, however, that “the attention of bloggers can’t help but make journalists do a better job in their reporting.” Do you agree with him. Has this happened in the country?
Ed: This has happened in the States during Rathergate. Now, journalists need to be more accurate in their reporting because access to information is at your fingertips. Here in this country, giving comments in the blogs might still be far and few between but look at the hits that a blog gets and you will see that the public do read the blogs. It is an alternative medium that runs parallel to mainstream media.
Max: If not, do you see this happening soon? Did the “community conversation” in Philippine blogs on the Gloriagate scandal affect mainstream media’s coverage of the issue?
Ed: I do not think that the community conversation affected MSM’s coverage of the Gloriagate because I think they were mostly anti-GMA already. The blogs, I think, were an affirmation of the same belief of the culpability of GMA. I made an article on my blog regarding the absence of pro-GMA bloggers and according to John Nery of Newsstand, the government took up the challenge and the administration set up its own site, rationalsphere.blogspot.com to counter all the anti-GMA noise. If anything at all, the beginnings of the blogs as a medium of influence is affecting even the decision makers in government.
Max: In discussing the impact of blogging, Glenn Reynolds says “the realization that anyone (or lots of people, anyway) can report news or write opinion pieces just as well as famous people is likely to undercut the status of celebrity journalists and pundits.” He says that “most media celebrities became famous because other people lacked access to the tools of the trade. That’s changing now.” Do you agree with him? The Sassy Lawyer is an example of how mainstream media was able to recruit from the blog world. Do you see more of this happening in the country, that mainstream media look to bloggers to improve its current staff?
Ed: When the Manchus from Mongolia invaded China and toppled the Tang dynasty (I think), they were so awed by the Chinese culture that they were eventually swallowed by it and adopted Chinese traditions and protocols.
Perceptively, there does not seem to be any difference between opinion writers and bloggers but I think from among the mainstream media, there may arise what may be called, pardon my French, as “penis envy”. Sassy Lawyer is a trained lawyer but not a journalist. It is the MSM practitioner that has to live up to the fact that yes, the possibility of hiring bloggers to improve their current staff.
Bloggers, on the other hand, must be cautioned not to act like the Manchus, when they are already part of the MSM and not to forget their plebeian roots, as it were.
Max: Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University, sees the difference between traditional media and Weblog communities this way: “The order of things in broadcast is ‘filter, then publish.’ The order in communities is ‘publish, then filter.’ The filtering is done through a Darwinian system of good blogs flourishing because readers keep returning to it. Do you agree with this statement?
Ed: Yes, but however one puts it, Darwininian evolution is still at play even in the blogosphere. It is the survival of the best written blogs. And blogs are patronized not only because of the style of prose that may appeal to the readers but also, the originality of thought, the incisiveness of the opinion or analysis, the promotion of novel ideas and the invitation to the public to comment on the blogs.
Max: Where do you think Philippine blogs are heading? Do you see it becoming a major part of the reading diet of Filipinos or do you think that the low Internet penetration rate will hinder it from becoming that? Do you see Pinoy blogs becoming as influential to society as their counterparts in the US are?
Ed: I am a blogger and I think I have a jaundiced view of the bright prospects of Philippine blogging. It will become a staple reading diet because it is free, it is widespread and you can damn the government to hell while remaining anonymous and safely ensconced in your office cubicle. The blogs are as much an avenue for brave souls as much as it is a refuge for cowards. That is the beauty of comment blogging. Expressing yourself without disclosing who you are.