Monday, 17 November 2008

We are the angry mob, still baying for a credit crunch blame figure...

So Sergeant hangs up his ballet shoes on the same day the BNP's Christmas card list is made public; it's a wearying sign of the times. I don't just mean the irony that a political editor should be wrestling for top news billing with something he'd once have reported on. No, it's that the revolving doors of the angry mob seem to be lubricating themselves and gathering alarming speed.

As one door of common protest closes, another opens its bulletin boards for the daubing of discontent. John Sergeant's 'undeserved' place in the finals of Strictly Come D-listing has been fueling the messageboards for weeks (in perfect synchronicity with some similar kerfuffle on X-Factor). Now he's decided his day job was less fraught with civic obligation he's waltzed off home. Never fear though, there's a whole cauldron of finger pointing and placard waving to be had with the BNP. Here, mainstays like civil liberties and free speech are spiced up with a bit of social gollygoshing- "OMG one of them was a vicar?!" On the other channel, if human interest is more your blame-game can of worms then there's still Baby P / Shannon Matthews to play pin-the-tail-on-the-devil with.

The issues behind each of these are obviously starkly differentiated rings of hell, though they are linked by our love of scalp-hunting. We've always loved a good old fashioned witch hunt, but ever since our money disappeared it seems that current affairs has become more a pantomime than ever. Blame is the damp firework left behind by the financial crisis and now it's going off in our face. There was no one to hold responsible for credit collapse - the blacked out windows sped away from the City and mammon's architects disappeared in a cloud of 'shhhh'. I guess there's always those who took out their 128th credit card squealing 'free money!' - though the angry mob never points its finger at itself. Basically, unless one of the head gloaters at Goldman Sachs turns out to be on that BNP list, a period of sustained shadow-chasing awaits...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Who Asked You?

At the risk of provoking the yawns of literally tens of readers, I feel some sympathy for Ross / Brand in their Week of Reckoning. Not that I wish to add my lowly voice to the wealth of comment already; aside from Daily Mail enthusiasts every news fan has a deeper and more complex appreciation of this matter than those lost hours staring blankly at fiscal hieroglyphics. No, I may never have slept with Brand - and let it be said I'd never initiate coitus with a man with a more virile, unruly mop than I - I do have a slightly personal involvement with the story.

Well, that is to say, I was the victim of digital hate campaign wherin a groundswell of criticism of my art resulted in my removal from the BBC's list of preferred suppliers. No I'm not Max Gogarty, but I am Sophie Hammer, the girl who's audaciously verbose review of the Ting Tings provoked a backlash from the 'online community'. Read it, consult your dictionary if necessary, then scroll down for the insults. O.K, so scale is important here - I was paid a very modest sum to write the review and the story didn't make News At 10. However, in the same way as Ofcom officially view one complaint as important as thirty thousand, it is the principle that is important.

The unswerving adulation of garnering 'the people's opinion' by online media has to stop. It is responsible for the distortion of public feeling and destruction of professional respect. Giving too much credence to the unedited and spontaneous reactions of readers to any event or piece of writing is to dangerously prioritise the amateur - a.k.a the half-baked. That's not to say community engagement isn't important - in fact it is vital for the future of online media. However, standards must be ensured. Given that those of us who work for established media outlets are trained in our craft, in what world should this feedback fraternity get more attention from our employers? Most of the time they can't remember to put spaces between words. It's the kind of inverse-snobbery-born-of-jealousy that they drawn upon when asking why it is us on the stage rather than them. Yet it is the same splutter of bitterness that can be heard when the frustrated and ignorant view Rothko and deride: 'My 5-year old could do that'. If that's reasonable attitude, do you really want your next electro-pop review written by the kind of person who claims: 'ive bin rejected from the bbc to write stuff, yet they post this shit. I dont geddit?! lol!'

The floodgates open when comment is solicited and all sides have to work harder to ensure quality of debate. Moderators, editors and the common sense of the community should be deployed. Badly spelt, offensive or baseless rumours shouldn't be approved out of hand by moderators; editors should keep adding back into the debate with their own comments to give balance, answer accusations and keep things moving. Those writing comments should think harder about their input - if writers can't use anonymity to hide behind lazy assertions then why should the audience? If web 3.0 is to really take engagement to the next digit then the community must respect and be respected. Two sides ganging up against each other will only produce more Brands, Rosses, Gogartys and - since I don't plan on shelving my thesaurus just yet - more Ting Tings moments.