Liveblog: Andrew Keen vs. The Internets

The room is full(ish). Andrew Keen and Richard Sambrook are seated on the regulation frontline brown leather chairs, glasses of white wine are filled and we’re off with a discussion about how the internet is, or is not, killing ‘our’ culture. Sambrook is setting the scene, there’ll be plenty of time for questions. I’ll keep updating this post as we go along with the interesting bits – hopefully there’ll be interesting bits…
A bit of background first, in 2004 Keen says he realised he “had been wrong all along” and goes on to read a passage from his book, Cult of the Amatuer, about when he was at Foocamp, a get together organised by media outfit O’Reilly in the US. “There was one word on everyone’s lips – democratization”… I can feel the cynic is beginning to growl, as he spits out the words “noble amateurs”… To add insult to injury, we’re also all infinite fillibusterers too, apparently. Keen is annoyed by the ‘fetishisation of the marketplace’. Web 2.0 is a fatal cocktail etc. etc… It’s all doom and gloom at the moment and nothing new if you’ve glanced through Keen’s blog or even read his book.
Sambrook replies, most things are additional, there’s no killing going on. Is it really that catastrophic? To which Keen replies, Mainstream media is stronger here than it is in the US. When do we intervene? Sambrook argues it’s just an economic shift, not to say that it shouldn’t happen. Keen says he wants to make people more accountable for thier actions. They think they can have Amazon AND their local bookstore. They think they can dowload their music for free. There are consequences, for not only what they do online, but how they behave online. The Interwebs, says Keen, is like a state of nature, you can take from it and give nothing back. We have to reveal who we are. We have to make an impact on anonymity. It is the key reason why the internet has descended into…. something not nice… didn’t catch his exact phrase, but it sounded good in a bad way 🙂
The real threat, says Sambrook, is not the pervasiveness of anonymity, it’s the opposite path that is worrying when related to facebook and Google et al. CitJ is a nisnomer, says Keen. A good journalist is not necessarily a good citizen, yadda, yadda… OK, we’re moving onto Trust and accountability. You have too much faith in traditional media, says Sambrook. Is there really such a great difference between trusting these different places?
MSM is not ideal, says Keen. He doesn’t have a TV at home… Woah…. he DOES NOT have a TV… Oh well, I have one, I just never watch it…
Keen thinks the real value of MSM is that it’s made up of gatekeepers, whose job it is to find talented people and whose job it is to find that talent and encourage it. If you do away with the gatekeepers the theory is the talent will rise to the top. However, the really talented are not doing any better using Web 2.0. The blogosphere doesn’t even have any professional journalists, says Keen. Sambrook says that you can’t say the whole of the internet is crap, just because a lot of it is crap… Woooh.
Keen retorts, but who is being trained in the blogosphere? Sambrook, quite rightly, says you can’t equate bloggers with journalists. Blogging is a supplement to MSM, nothing more – they both agree – ahhh, that was a nice moment. Keen says of bloggers, I have no idea who these bloggers are really working for. Then he gets hypothetical, if your kid came to you and said I want to be a journalist and asked you shall I do a blog, or study journalism? What would you say? Well, Richard, what would you say?
I’d say do both. Journalism in the end is about talent and blogging on the internet is a way of finding that talent. The fact that they blog alone is not enough, but it doesn’t disqualify them. You might learn issues about sourcing etc.
Keen is back on form, My book is a grenade… he says. Ahaaaaaaaaa…. there you have it THE TROLL has spoken. In America, they haven’t seemed to have noticed that as much as the British have, he adds.
Has the success of this book surprised you? asks Sambrook
I ruined my summer writing this book on my own. What’s surprised me is the repsonse overseas. I wrote the book for the American market. What’s thrilled me is the great deal of interest in the UK, Australia, Europe. It seems to have a struck a nerve. But, it’s struck a diffificult nerve, says Sambrook. I can’t remember anybody who had their book reacted to so hostiley…. sorry Englishy is slippingy…
I stuck a picture of Dave Winer on my wall when I wrote this book hypothetically speaking, says Keen. I knew who I was writing against, I didn’t know who I was writing for. The people who have responded positively, the cameramen who come up to me, teachers in particular come up to me. Kids don’t know the difference between Wikipedia and YouTube. Kids, the YouTube generation are gonna be much less successful reading through all this stuff. Keen relates a story of a teacher who says none of their students read a physical paper. They’re teaching media literacy. I want to encourage kids to know about media literacy.
On to questions from the hoi palloi – who let them in?….
Question 1 from Ben Harris, an “interested citizen” it’s a rambling one, but essentially…. errr…. The traditinal media is interested in the frivolities, rather than what’s going on in negotiations. The things you accuse the new media of are the same as you accuse old media of, innit???
Keen- There’s a profound difference between the NYTimes or Washington Post coverage of the Iraq war. When it comes to the really big stories, the blogosphere just does not have the resources – tell that to Zeyad and River bend – limted resources, but they got the word out Andrew…
The blogosphere doesn’t want to compete, says Sambrook. Will the Huffington Post grow the talent to become an effective online newspaper?
Show me a blogger who’s better than Polly Toynbee, says Keen. He seems to be quite into Polly put the kettle on
Question 2 – Why do you think of the blogosphere as a place? A blog is something that is unedited, says Keen. Huffington Post calls itself a blog. it’s a start up, it has millions invested in it. I am against unedited work, that is often published anonymously.
Not a question this time, but a comment… from a media trainer in the audience. There is a need to separate opinion from fact. You would not belive the number of places in the world that don’t get that. In some places, like Armenia, you can’t do real investigative journalism unless you do it on the net.
Keen agrees, Blogging in China, Blogging in Iraq you’re right. I respect those people massively, says Keen.
Back to anonymity… Keen says of a conversation he had with folk at Yahoo! – When you are encouraged to reveal yourself, the quality of the conversation is better, it’s a much more meaningful experience – hehehe, he ain’t wrong, talk to the editors of Commentisfreethat’s something, they might agree about… Hitler… nazism… Israel… Palestine – it just takes ten comments and they’re off proving Godwin’s Law.
Sorry about this, had a mild blacout…. I missed the main question, but I’m back on it now… we’re talking about errr, journalism. The web can better inform journalism, in far more depth and far greater quality, says Sambrook. Hmmm, strokes chin. Yes, I agree – that bit was me, not Keen.
15 mins to go and 15 folk who want to ask questions. One of the founders of facebook (no? Really?) asks a question. if you were making a claim that talent was constant and MSM is on the decline and maybe it’s just taking time for these internet based media to get up to speed.
No-one is willing to put up with advertising, or to pay for it. The quality of the work suffers if there’s no money to pay for it. Either you pay for advertising or you don’t. I want journalists to be paid. You should be paid for your work, don’t give it away, says Keen.
Nico McDonald asks a question. People are less serious about news, newspapers like the Guardian have become more opinion based. G2 is basically a magazine, there’s not much news in there. We’re dealing with a cultural, political questions here tonight, we don’t need to get into one of these journalism vs. blogging debates.
Keen says, he’s struck by the change in English journalism. The Independent and the Guardian, they’re just full of opinion. they become more and more vulnerable to the Web 2.0 argument, he says.
You don’t have to buy a newspaper or watch TV to get the news these days, says Sambrook.
The theory of the wisdom of the crowd, the heart of the long tail. Web 2.0 crisis of authority
Jonathan Charles. No-one’s come up with a business model… Sambrook replies on revenues, the danger is that internet revenues which are rising, what happens if the mothership (old media) collapses before the internet (new media) has replaced it…. Hmmm, indeed…
Question from the floor about trade media. What’s the effect on the trade media. For those of us who writing about specific niche areas. Keen says, the trade institutions are lot less powerful. Web 3.0 is the rediscivery of skills. These tools are great when they know what they’re talking about. The most interesting start ups in Silicon Valley are those embracing expertise. We need experts to distribute this information.
Adriana Cronin-Lukas asks when blogging became mainstream after 9/11 Instapundit said “blogging beats shouting at TV”. It’s not causing the decline in journalism. We looked up to journalists in 2001, but it’s the likes of Polly Toynbee who made us change that.
Keen ain;t happy and he don’t like Glen Reynolds… This idiot libertarian, self opinionated moron – Ahaha… but what do you think Polly Toynbee is then?? says a member of the audience. Are you comparing Glenn Reynolds to Polly Toynbee? retorts Kenn. Adriana responds that he taught her how to show sources, how to link to sources. The web is a much better ecosystem for reporting says Lukas. Keen says there is no ecosystem. Then we’re onto the role of literary agents…. How does an agent polish my talent? asks Lukas. These people know what they’re doing says Keen. And, errr… we don’t I guess.
Lloyd Davies – troll killer – asks what do you want Andrew? I know what you don’t want, but what do you want?
I want a viable information business. An info economy that reports news objectively that can employ several 100 journalists, whether on the net or wherever, as long as it’s trusted. That’s what I feel is going away.
3 more qu’s to go…. First one, basically the internet forces out international coverage…. In the US, as the internet grows in popularity, so most of the provincial newspapers have closed their bureaus, these two points are connected, says Keen.
A Global Voices editor asks, have you applied your arguments to places where there isn’t so much of a good media tradition to destroy? I haven’t give it that much thought, says Keen – even though he’s written abook about the subject… He admits this is where the internet is much more interesting, much more exciting.
Last question from Euan Semple – the internet distributes the way you defer authority. Some of us trust these more than what you get on TV. I’m regretful that I paid for a ticket for this evening to see a person who admits he is a troll.
A troll… – there, the word that dare not speak it’s name hath been spake… – this book wasn’t written for bloggers… I don’t think bloggers buy books, says Keen with more tongues in cheeks than I can count.
Are you deliberately provocative for it’s own sake?, asks Sambrook. Absolutely not, Keen says. I think we’ve talked about some very important structural issues. Sambrook is winding things up, the final question is how much of this is polemic, could you have had the same impact without this book being so polemic
The books in favour of the internet are all polemics, the Long Tail etc. there is a need to write this book. to challenge these ill thought out pieties. I wanted to write a book to have an impact. It’s worth writing becuase it’s worth discussing. These are issues that aren’t going to go away. If you want to join the Web 2.0 crowd and congratulate yourself for being part of that, then fine….
And that’s it… I know I rambled… I rambled and rambled. Not sure live blogging is for me to be honest… NB: I came back and edited this into something slightly more readable, but not much 🙂