[iDC] Another (Scottish) reply to Andrew Keen and his critique of Web 2.0

pat kane scottishfutures at googlemail.com
Mon Jun 25 17:49:42 EDT 2007

Hi all

I know it's well after the discussion, but I thought this might be of  
interest - a mail I sent to Andrew Keen, after a five-minute  
discussion we were due to have on the BBC's News24 rolling satellite  
channel got cancelled at the last minute, because of some regional  
flooding in the North of England... There's yer quality media for ya,  
Andrew!?! His argument about how Web 2.0 is destroying the precious  
existing ecology of 'quality journalism' (among other things)  
prompted me to recall my own career in the field:

"Andrew, I've been involved with newspapers, one way or another, for  
20 years (even helped to start one up in 1999, called the Sunday  
Herald in Scotland (www.sundayherald.com, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ 
uk/273216.stm). I know well the precarious balance between breaking  
news stories/investigations, and the 'leisure narcissism' of consumer  
journalism, and how advertising is always happiest with a weighting  
toward the latter. We started our paper ostensibly as a defensive  
action against a competitor (the Scotsman) whose Sunday paper was  
hoovering up ad dollars - but the cultural moment was that of an  
aspirational Scottish bourgeoisie, post the Blair victory and the  
arrival of a Scottish Parliament, who would pay something for a  
quality journalistic option on their day of rest. For a good 6 or so  
years, the tension worked - but rather than some spurious  
objectivity, the journalists of the paper knew they were articulating  
a liberal, modernist Scotland. Yes, all the investigations and  
agendas were conducted with absolute journalistic probity - but you  
know your epistemology (good Scottish word), the truth is where you  
have a hunch it's hiding, and that hunch is never completely  
disinterested. I think you over-esteem existing journalistic practice  
- the joy of a Sunday paper was that you could exercise some  
discrimination over the barrage of press releases that daily  
colleagues seemed happy and lazy enough to print up, without much  
'investigation' at all.

"The Sunday Herald has problems now, as Gannett took it over, and  
their ROI conditions are punitive, to say the least - not so much  
about web 2.0 crowding it out, as a rapacious quarterly-driven  
shareholder management philosophy. Ownership structure of old media  
has always been an incredibly important determinant of quality -  
you'll know the reason why the Guardian has so much ability and  
innovative freedom to blend old and new media (and I'm a blogger  
there, http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pat_kane/)  is because  
it's a trust, not a publicly-listed company.

"We've just had a collective experience in Scotland where an  
independence-minded party (the SNP) has formed a government after an  
election, but in a press climate that (until the very last moment)  
allowed very little credibility to the nation-state option for Scots.  
The UK constitutional bias of Scottish papers has been long analyzed,  
in defiance of a 30-35% of Scots who regularly support the  
independence option. And Web 2.0 did play a role in articulating a  
civic nationalism in the run up to the election, one that the  
'gatekeepers' did not respond to at all adequately - see http:// 

"I set up a blog after the election, Scottish futures  
(www.scottishfutures.net), which was aimed at providing a different  
kind of space for ideas-and-policy people in Scotland - a place for  
columnists to get more serious and extended than their papers allow,  
and for them to have dialogues with academics, or access to  
scholarship relevant to Scottish development, in a one-stop portal.  
Yes, there's a gap between what the blog can do with my (and some  
pals') donatory labour, and what even the political-journalism rump  
of a national newspaper can do - but I'm getting print journalists  
placing valuable pieces with me because they can't get past the  
'gatekeepers' of their own papers.

"Two bits of 'regulation' that I'm interested in (and I know you're  
interested in some regulatory response to web 2.0). Ofcom in the UK  
are talking about setting up a Public Service Publisher - http:// 
del.icio.us/theplayethic/publicservicepublisher - where net/game  
endeavours can make a bid for public money, if they can prove that  
they are serving a public good. Lots of people who want to do good  
work with Web 2.0 and games are getting very excited about this. Is  
this so weird? The Swedes subsidise their newspapers, in order to  
preserve press diversity. I know you like your Habermas - let me post  
you this extract from my Scottish Futures blog :http:// 

".....Take this startling article by the German social theorist  
Jurgen Habermas, published in Die Zeit this May. Observing how the  
successful Süddeutsche Zeitung is still finding itself prey to  
upheaval and financial takeover, Habermas explores the role of the  
'quality' press in maintaining the health of German democracy. Could  
we extend the same regulations that protect the rights of the citizen  
to be informed in broadcast media, to newspapers? Habermas writes:

Public communication [Habermas's catch-all term for the press] is a  
force that stimulates and orients citizens' opinions and desires,  
while at the same time forcing the political system to adjust and  
become more transparent. Without the impulse of an opinion-forming  
press, one that informs reliably and comments diligently, the public  
sphere will lose this special type of energy. When gas, electricity  
or water are at stake, the state must guarantee the energy supply for  
the population.

Shouldn't it do likewise when this other type of 'energy' is at risk  
- the absence of which will cause disruptions that harm the state? It  
is not a 'system failure' when the state tries to protect the public  
commodity that is the quality press. The real question is just the  
pragmatic one of how that can be done best.

Incidentally these aren't the wild, untested notions of a famous  
intellectual. Sweden has a Press Subsidies Council, whose explicit  
brief is to ensure diversity of opinion and ownership in the Swedish  
press, through managed subsidy of title..."

I know this is a bit far-away from Bay Area excitedness, but thought  
you might be interested."

I hope the iDC crew might be interested too...

best, pk

Pat Kane

All mail to: patkane at theplayethic.com

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