Monomania's public face

25 November 2006

If there's a curse to blogging, it's that it immediately sets you off on a path to monomania or a public display of attention deficit disorder. There is very little in between. It's easy to tire of the ADD bloggers - punching out opinions on every near-irrelevant bit of Internet flotsam carried into their inbox. But the ones that fascinate me are the monomaniacs, the obsessives who manage to fit the same parable to anything that floats by them.

In my list of feeds, Jeff Jarvis is truly the monarch of monomania. There is no post on media in which the slightest deviation from the true path of user-mediated content won't be met with an admonishment from this self-styled guru. Any There used to be the odd digression on Iraq but, increasingly, his blog just bangs away at the often-imagined iniquities sprung on us by big media, not quite realising that having Jarvis snap away at them is the least of these companies' issues. His "the crowd is always right" schtick is approached with the zeal of someone who only got as far as the dust cover of James Surowicki's book. Why do I keep his blog in my feed-list, you might ask? I should really delete it. Yet, it's strangely compelling the way to read something where you know what's going to come next.

Take the recent post about the BBC's latest foray into user-generated news set to air on News 24 next weekend. First, for Jarvis, they're not users, of course. They're "the people formerly known as the audience". It's called Your News, which naturally and predictably offends Jarvis: "Hmmm, Not so sure about that second-person plural".

Strangely, the 'you' in YouTube was fine. But that was, until recently, independently owned. Not a product of the big bad media machine, where any suggestion of a 'you' and 'us' distinction must be mercilessly wiped out. I can only assume that the title deemed acceptable by Jarvis would be something along the lines of: "The people rise up to reclaim their news and tear down the artificial walls of cultural hegemony that pollute our airwaves" or something snappy like "The people formerly known as the audience show numbnutty TV execs how it's done (with new improved Shakycam)".

The reality is that Jarvis has become what he most professes to loathe: the lazy newspaper columnist, eager to pick up on any piece of news over which he can ride his hobby-horse. Long may it last. As newspaper editors have known for years, knee-jerk columns that makes readers come close to bursting blood vessels with apoplexy or cheers from the fan base get lots of letters. And they get read.