Interview with John Waters on Blogging (from 2006)

In 2006 I undertook a thesis on the issue of new media and citizen journalism. As part of this process I approached a number of people in the mainstream media who I knew would have a strong opinion on the matter, one of whom was John Waters who was (and assumedly still is) a self-confessed neo-Luddite.

Below is a full transcript (typos and all) of the interview; which was conducted via email. As you will see his scepticism towards blogs is consistent with his recent outbursts however here he also sees blogs as a potential source of talent; something that he now seems to completely disagree with.

The questions were put to Waters on the 1st of May 2006 and the answers were received on the 5th of May 2006.

Q: Do you think that blogging is something that will influence the traditional media (print, TV and radio) at all, or do you believe that it is a passing fad? While some would believe that blogging has the potential to replace existing media others have a more reserved belief that it will work alongside it. You yourself said that you don’t see it becoming any more than a sideshow; do you think that it is possible for blogging and print to work together perhaps in the way that the Guardian newspaper has been welcoming blogs through its “comment is free” section online and the daily run-down of discussion usually printed on their second page?

A: I regard the printed newspaper as an almost ideal format. It is compact, portable and extremely flexible. Nothing in the development of technology in the past three decades or so has indicated that a more adaptable format is on the cards. I therefore see the Internet as an interesting but essentially overrated channel of information, most of whihc, by definition, lacks the credibility of that published in an old-fashioned newspaper. I’ve no doubt that blogging will provide material and talent for traditional media, but I don;t see it supplanting any of the traditional forms.

Q: Do you think that print, tv and radio need to adapt to concepts like blogging, or perhaps adopt some of its merits in order to stay on the cutting edge? Obviously print newspapers report on a daily basis while blogs have the potential to report and comment constantly, this means that something printed in a newspaper could be outdated by the time it goes on sale while blogs can stay on top of things at all times; for that reason do you think newspapers could take better advantage of their websites? Rather than using it simply as another place to publish what is available in the shops they could use it to report breaking news, have extra comment, extended interviews etc.?

A: I think this typle of question presupposes that media are consumed by people on a more or less non-stop basis, whereas most people use the media in quite a controlled manner, focussed within particular periods of the day – morning and evening predominantly. Blogging, to my mind, is a preoccupation of media and political groupies, who are far from typical of our societies. I believe there is a disproportionate emphasis on the innovations represented by these styles within what is essentially a marginal idiom. I’ve been listening since the early seventies to discussion of how the Internet is going to supplant the traditonal newspaper. Certainly, the Internet has made certain forms of information widely accessible, but this has not meant that people have less need or apppetite for more traditional forms.

Q: The concept of “citizen journalism” is a growing one in Ireland, with the rise in internet connectivity, video phones etc. do you think that there is some advantage to everyday people having the ability to influence readers on a, perhaps, smaller scale to newspaper or TV? Do you think there are risks in people taking the role as a journalist when they lack training and are perhaps willing to do thinks that the profession would not (infringe or privacy etc.).

A: Again, I think this is over-emphasised. Journalist, by its nature, is much more than the publication of things. Behind the process of publication is (usually) a fairly thorough system of checking and verification, which bloggers and ‘citizen journalists” are unable, either by virtue of training or resources or both, to match. There is therefore – and wil continue to be — a “trust deficit” in relation to what os conveyed in the newer forms. There will alsways be instances where the new technologies will enable the ordinary citizen to become a player in a particular story, but I don;t see this becomeing a generalised phenomenon.

Q: After the Dublin riots earlier this year many critisised the broadcast media (particularly RTÉ) for their failure to give proper coverage to the events, however, while RTÉ had limited coverage on radio and TV until after the events many websites were giving streaming updates on what was going on, many also included video and pictures taken amongst the crowd. Do you think that this was a once off incident or is it a sign of a changing media that may rely on viewer/reader submitted images or video in order to report certain stories? Could this also be a chance for print media to use the internet as a way of bringing news as it happens or is the current situation for the print media, where it acts as a source of comment and more considered news articles, the right niché for the industry?

A: Again, I think you’ll find that only a small proportion of interested individuals will seek out news in this way, and I don’t see this
changing much. What will happen, perhaps, is that the new technologies will shange somewhat the way traditional news gatherers go about their business. In other words, the new technologies and methods will be adopted by and adapted for the tradtional media. There will always be a need for centralised information dispersal, so , even if the technology allows for a more fragmented means of delivery, the public, being by definition a fairly monolothic entity, will always seek a mainstream source.

Q: Print media has been written off on numerous occasions, with the advent of radio, television, the internet and now blogs; do you think that the print media will always survive? What reasons do you see for the print medias constant survival, is it their ability to adapt or the freedom granted by the way the media operates (as in journalists have more time to work on a single story than one on a rolling news station or radio station; this allows them to delve deeper, investigate and find more)?

A: I think the big issus is confidence. The public needs to know that the pedigree of its information sources are relable. Also, the new technologies, for all their advantages, are unwieldly and unfriendly compared to the humble newspaper, especially the tabloid/compact format (which I see as the single most significant response of mainstream media to the computer).

Q: Finally do you think blogging serves a purpose as a training ground of sorts; where journalism used to be a trade where apprentices learned the ropes over time, blogging could now be the place for young journalists to earn their stripes, get used to writing for an audience and get their name known amongst the public?

A: I agree. Undoubtedly, mainstream media will increasingly draw upon the talent and energy which will emerge in the new formats. If anything, blogging offers a challenge not so much to mainstream media as to the existing peripheral media like magazines and so forth, where aspiring journalists used to go to cut their teeth.

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