Monday, 25 July 2011

Opine, repine, supine

When you think about buying a new car, don't they suddenly seem to be everywhere?  To me it seems to be the same with a blog idea, I have an idea for a blog and then mysteriously I see the idea in many places.  This latest idea centred around our right to express an opinion, our right to not like that opinion and to express that discontent and the need to overcome indolence and to raise a challenging opinion.

I read today on the comments field of the "Jack of Kent" blog that, like law, journalism is now not a profession it is a business. I understand this view and have much sympathy with it but I do believe that there are a set of governing principles and an expected behaviour that define any practice or profession. Perhaps the comment was more a wry statement of the extant philosophy adopted in the media rather than a de facto opinion.  

Previously I have commented on my concern over society's ability to learn how to play with it's new toys.  Johann Hari and the Independent for me are just the tip of the iceberg with journalism's failure.  Note I said "journalisms" failure, I believe JH has made mistakes from which he can learn and for which he can atone, but the failure lies in the system.  In general the news media don't seem to be leading and innovating with these radically different communication channels but perhaps that is the point.  For a while at least, blogs, podcasts, twitter etc are the antidote to institutionalised news.  Eventually though the lack of professionalism, the abundance of unsubstantiated opinion and the paucity of evidential facts will drive the users of these new tools to regulate themselves or at least find some way to evaluate the credibility of a blogger/twitter. 

These new tools do appear to give unprecedented access to the champions.  @daraobriain has just shy of 1/2 a million followers on twitter. Last Sunday at midnight, I responded to a comment by @billbailey where he expressed his opinion that The Apprentice was "a vortex of drivel" (a comment that has now been deleted from his twitter stream).  My comment was based on several opinions that I have formed independently of, but seemed at least vaguely consistent with, Bill. (1) Dara is a good guy, (2) Dara is a funny guy, (3) the apprentice is a lack lustre entertainment show that has taken a moderately interesting idea and bastardised it into something quite disgusting. These are based on (for 1) I feel that the "true" Dara is glimpsed on many of his shows but to me a splendid part of his nature was captured in one scene in Three men in a boat. There was a sequence where he was admiring a cottage, not far from me, with unadulterated pleasure. With his lilting Irish accent he exclaimed "would ya look at that house". Nice guy.  (for 2) I watch many of his comedy shows and laugh often. (for 3). I watched the first series and was entertained but felt slightly concerned that the programme was essentially a reality TV show, "I'm a pretentious wannabe, get me into here". I stopped watching and have caught some moments, especially salacious outtakes on other shows.  So this was my comment: "Bill, we know Dara has to pay the mortgage, let's hope he doesn't give too much of his soul away". Exaggerating for comic effect I thought. I don't believe anyone has a soul, if they did, Dara would have a big one, and would have to give only a tiny bit away to work on the show :-) . I also accept that he is a professional clown and must earn a living. In his shoes may be I would do the same, I don't know the full circumstances but the fact remains, if I could afford not to, I wouldn't diminish my integrity by being associated with The Apprentice. It's an opinion, formed on scant evidence - I haven't watched it for years- I accept I may be wrong. What is fascinating is that I got a response., "@Jim_McD Give my soul away? Hosting You're Fired? I'm a professional clown. Christ, some people take this shit waaaaay too seriously."  I'm not sure if the last statement was autobiographical but I certainly wasn't taking it seriously.  Good putdown, you have to admire him.  I can't help feeling though that I touched a nerve, still, the point that resonates the most is that a single twonk heckler in half a million audience got his opinion heard and responded too.  What power we wield with this new toy.

Another dialogue on twitter brought opinion into the fore recently when one of the other heros (@mitchbenn 25,000 followers) got drawn into a debate with a nobody.  Mitch was angry, articulate and right in the main.  He teetered on the brink of righteous and then made this statement, "2. But you DON'T have the right to criticise my working methods because you have no idea what they actually are.".  When someone says it tastes like poo, we all accept that this means it tastes like i imagine poo might taste - unless they said earwax, we all know what earwax tastes like, don't we?  Mitch went on to say, "You said it was sloppy and not thought through. How do you know how much care and thought goes into it? Are you there?".  Clearly, the heckler meant "it appears to have been" [that you didn't put enough work in].  He was wrong.  He expressed an opinion on scant facts.  Does he have a right to?  My view is yes.  Should Mitch have responded? well, I think yes; the visceral anger that fuelled his dialogue was intoxicating.  Mitch is a fabulous lyricist and has a wonderful way with words.  Does it matter that I don't agree with his defining point? I don't think so, I am starting to get familiar enough with these new toys to know that we get a very real response and occasionally, like real life, its not as polished as the old media.  We must all learn to relish in the experience of unadulterated (edited) human thought.  Go on, express an opinion, just don't expect anyone to agree.

Then the final piece that underscores but also threads through this soliloquy was @robinince 's  piece in The Now Show last week.  It seemed to be the essence of my own view on News Papers and all the News Media.  I haven't read a newspaper for over a year - if not longer - I found it more and more difficult to distinguish opinion from news or fact or evidence based commentary.  Robin's view; don't read a paper, read a book.  Don't be lazy absorbing other's opinions, form your own opinion based on facts. 

My view is additionally, once you have formed an opinion, don't hang on to it like the only piece of wood following a ship wreck.  Keep revising it, researching it, testing it and listening to other's views and don't fear using new communication channels to do this.