Will blogging be the undoing of lobby journalism as we know it?

The benefits of blogging and the information with which it brings to the Internet public are extraordinary in terms of the speed news items can be circulated and accessibility (regards to cost to view blogs – free – and the written style which they normally take, chatty as opposed to formal and so on).

This has provided certain challenges to usual print media in both content and access. Lobby writers and the mainstream press such as the Guardian or the Times rely on what communications officers want them to hear, unless those newspapers want to spend enormous amounts of cash and time getting some reporter to sniff around dodgy dealers with dodgy information (as can be seen recently with the News of the World/ Andy Coulson case and his dealings with the murky underbelly of journalism).

Bloggers can overcome this. Firstly they don’t have to be obliged to pay lip service to any political party (its supposed that one of the reasons why it took so long for Andy Coulson’s implications in the News of the World scandals – now settled by a hearing – to get into the press is because Coulson is now in charge of communications – i.e. what goes to press – in the Conservative party, thought to be leading the next government. Newspapers upsetting the Tories may not favour them when they want their stories in the papers) therefore not under any blackmail from whoever is in charge of press releases in government. Bloggers also have the option of anonymity. Though this hasn’t always safeguarded bloggers.

Anonymity has its own risks. Leading blogger Guido Fawkes had his identity revealed, however this has not seemed to stop his style of political gossiping. The same cannot be said for NightJack, the resident police constable blogger who had his identity revealed and was found breaching certain privacy laws. Google were recently ordered by a judge in America to reveal the identity of a blogger who had been “talking trash” – by the blogger’s own admission – about a New York fashion model. So it is not all secure.

The Internet is a most popular and important source, proven by the view of Gordon Brown that all children should have it at home. One benefit of blogging is that it is a purely internet-based phenomenon that is readily available to those who pursue it. Search for anything online, and you’re almost certain to be led to a blog within the first few results. But lobby journalism has taken note of this, particularly Rupert Murdoch who wants to move it all on the web – and charge! The Guardian have dismissed plans to have a members-only online paper, though it won’t be long until something like this does arrive. The Independent and the New York Times have taken advantage of iphones by designing an app that allows you to download the day’s newspaper on to your phone in minutes, giving you the ability to read it offline (say on the tube, or out of wi-fi areas). The domain of the blog is in battle with the mainstream press, but will the difference between a fee and no fee in the future be its saving grace?

Squiffy writers, cui bono?

Work might be the curse of the drinking classes as Oscar Wilde opined, but for writers it is an apparent remedy. Just search for writing drunk and see what comes up in support of it. It helps expand the mind is a popular position. It limits inhibitions is another. Was Shakespeare an alcoholic is a question asked by one study.

The writer and notorious member of the drinking classes, Christopher Hitchens, wrote enthusiastically about a report that portended to show drinking alcohol as an advantage to ones health, significantly reducing the risk of heart attack, just as a clove of garlic a day was once seen as helpful to a tight prostrate or as smoking good for developing short term memory.

In the same article Hitchens takes on the view of Tom Dardis who’s work “The Thirsty Muse:  Alcohol and the American Writer,” blames drink on the undoing of such writers as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Eugene O’Neill. In their defence Hitchens notes that what Dardis cannot account for is the fact that “they did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wine.”

Hitchens clearly has a high regard for drinking etiquette as well. Writing in Slate, with extreme arrogance unlike any other I’ve ever seen or heard of, he castigates waiters who share out a bottle of wine between a gathering of dinner guests in the restaurants they are waiting in. “The nerve of it,” he yammers. He styles out the rest of the article saying perhaps female drinkers don’t want to drink the same amount of wine as him, but given his anecdote at the start, what this really means is that he doesn’t want to share his wine. What a big sod.

His brother, the columnist Peter Hitchens probably doesn’t take the same view – as with pretty much everything else. But the proof of this is a little nebulous. This Hitchens took issue with fellow writer and columnist Nick Cohen, when Cohen attended the George Orwell Awards shortlist debate. Cohen was, its fair to say, a little squiffy and poured scorn on Hitchens, prompting Hitchens to poke fun at Cohen’s drunken state. But here we must throw up the notion of cui bono, or for whom did Cohen’s drunken stupor benefit? Who came off vindicated by his performance, Cohen or Hitchens? Judge for yourself, the video of this became rather popular overnight, but what seemed interesting was that Cohen’s lacking in reserve not only made his argument in good humour, but also arduous, simultaneously.

Amusing that three years previous Cohen had written on the subject of drink in a style that suggested his seriousness as a journalist and intellectual obligated him to abstain from such Dionysian lark. Cohen writes;

I’m a mere journalist and don’t drink in as many pubs as Oxford dons. I visit them occasionally, however, when my editors insist I must, and see that a lot of the old culture survives.

That ‘old culture’ refers to the certain etiquette that is unwritten, yet utterly expected in English pubs that distinguish them from wine lodges or continental styled bars. Cohen notes that this ‘old culture’ sums up “the British way with alcohol that Charles Dickens or George Orwell would have recognised.” So perhaps there were more clues when Cohen shouted down the choice to include Peter Hitchens in the shortlist for the George Orwell prize; he took no risks in his journalism, and he knew nothing of the drink etiquette.

So one possible argument to draw from this is that drink removes those boundaries making debate seem effortless, and the downright clownish persona with which the squiffy employ makes it very difficult for ones sober opponent to garner those real intellectual punches. Cohen, irrespective of the point makes it virtually impossible for his adversaries to get a word in edgeways, and Hitchens by hogging all the wine at dinner parties means that the only person who might interrupt a good anecdote is the waiter himself. So is it true, can a drink really be an egg in ones beer for writers?

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