As this election campaign began, Manchester Evening News chief reporter, David Ottewell, wrote a piece I meant to blog agreement with about the role of the internet in the election.
Ottewell argued that the internet is essentially an immature place filled with nasty people mounting vicious attacks, protected by anonymity. Such an environment is off putting to most people and so the internet would only serve a minority with views already set in stone, Ottewell argued. Perhaps that overstates the case a little, but I found myself nodding in agreement.
But now, with polls opening in a couple of days, I’m more shocked by how poorly this election has been served by the traditional media. I’ve written elsewhere of the blatant partisanship of the Evening Standard’s Paul Waugh and the Daily Mirror’s pathetic chicken man.
Today the Manchester Evening News has its chief reporter hyping an online readers poll as if it were as reliable (I took part a couple of times myself) as something commissioned from one of the major polling companies. Polls like this are just for fun.
Meanwhile, as the same newspaper has been relentlessly hyping an ordinary voter confronts the PM story as if it were something new, Ottewell ignores a very real financial scandal involving the two Lib Dem MPs on his patch fighting marginal seats. A story first broken on a local blog.
David Ottewell’s opening challenge to the internet – ‘come see how the professionals do it!’ – has proved empty. The traditional media has reported nonsense, manufactured nonsense and hyped nonsense. It has shied away from reporting stories that might be resource hungry or attract legal challenge, preferring to leave (admittedly partisan) bloggers to do that work. Bloggers risk becoming the media equivalent of the canary in the coalmine; first to break the difficult, risky stories and eager to pass their work on to a professional to share with a wider mainstream audience.