I'm back. I had a great holiday. England is cold and dank and slate-grey and full of grumpy people. I knew I was home when I saw a miserable-looking old lady in a cyan coat at a bus stop with a tartan shopping trolley. And then I read about Andrew Marr saying that bloggers are 'inadequate, pimpled and single' while I was away.
It's tempting, isn't it, to start off by saying "Ooh Andrew Marr, who the hell is that fuck-ugly Michael Gove doppelganger to judge others by their physical appearance, the weedy little runt; is he just getting back at others for the repeat bullyings he inevitably endured at school?" - but that would be the lazy blogging of crude stereotype; that would play into his hands and go some way towards proving his point. One could even bring up that thing about Andrew Marr; but again, that would be wrong too (so don't do it in the comments, please); that would be exactly the kind of nasty blogging that he's obviously read, and didn't like, so why go and confirm his prejudices by playing up to them?
No. And besides, Andrew Marr does have a point. A lot of bloggers are inadequate fools, let's not deny that. I'm paraphrasing here, but someone (I think it was Suzanne Moore) said they'd been to a blogging event and it hadn't dispelled the notion of bloggers as sad men masturbating in the spare bedroom. Well, that's kind of what a lot of us are: tragic loners tapping away at a keyboard; losers who blame their own failures and misery on the shortcomings of others, and transform that supposedly righteous anger into swearing and abuse; anonymous cowards who wouldn't squeak at anyone 'in real life' but who develop an online persona that's crusading, powerful and mighty, all the things they in reality lack.
It's a fair cop. And Marr was only having a dig to raise a chortle at some literary event; you can see why someone might be a bit sneery about the online world as opposed to the printed one at such a thing, and maybe he was just playing to the gallery. I don't think he's sly enough, either, to have made the comments hoping for a wave of disapproval that would have made his point more elegantly than he could ever have done. No, he just said what he said, and that's fair enough. I don't mind at all.
The only thing I would say is that there isn't a taxonomy of bloggers, just as there isn't an easy way to spot a journalist, for example - though you can always have a bash at the latter. (Do they wear corduroy? Do they smell of booze at 8am as if they might have slept in a skip? Do they look a bit shy, and are overcompensating by shouting on the telephone? If they weren't in a newsroom, would they look out of place shuffling around a library all day in soiled, crumpled clothing? Are they driving a really rubbish car? Do they look like they got dressed in the dark, and yet somehow seem proud of the fact? And so on...) But just as not all journos are like that, not all bloggers are scratchy, marginal characters, 40-year-old virgins or pissant keyboard warriors; some of us actually have lives, and are reasonably ordinary, even pleasant, in real life. No, really.
And Marr is wrong, mind you, to bring up the hoary old 'blogging will never replace journalism' silliness. At the risk of setting up a strawman, since (as someone pointed out to me a while ago) accusing someone of setting up a strawman is becoming something of, er, a strawman, it's a bit of a strawman. I've probably mentioned before I'm doing this thing on Friday, where me and other sad pimpled inadequates will be discussing blogging and journalism and that; can I say now and give fair warning that anyone who says 'blogging will never replace journalism' will get a slap round the face with a dirty, oily old salmon from me? Because that's not the point and it's never the point. No-one wants blogging to replace journalism or supersede it; no-one seriously thinks it will, completely, either. Good blogging can and will complement good journalism, while bad blogging, like bad journalism, drags everyone down. And it's healthy to have some of the old guard challenged by new writers - they'll either up their game or get washed away with the tide. Competition is good for all of us, rubbish amateurs like me and established silky craftsmen like Marr.
So while it's tempting to stick two fingers up to someone like Marr, he's a mainly harmless cove really. He's got a bit of a point, as well. Though it's not true of all of us. I think. Hope. Something.
There was a point in the 1990s - or it may be the early years of this century - when men's t-shirts changed forever.
I'm pretty sure there was a time, not so long ago, when you could just buy a plain t-shirt. It was the kind of thing that sartorially challenged men such as myself, unable to venture into the realms of dapperly-dressed posh people, or footballers with complicated collars, tight silver trousers and giant ties, would like to wear on a day when you're just going round the shops or pissing about in the back garden.
I'm talking to the chaps, here, but the rest of you might be able to peer back and remember, as well. Do you remember, while I'm on the subject, being able to just go out to the shops and not have to dress up like you were some kind of fucking footballer in sportswear and shiny trainers or designer jeans and shit? Like going to the shops was just some kind of chore, more than anything, where you just bought some stuff and then fucked off home again; rather than a bloody display activity in which you flaunt your wealth through having a spraytan, silly hair in spikes and daft-looking clothes, bought from the very shops you're actually shopping in, like eating a loaf of bread in a bakery?
Those days, my friends, are gone. Oh, you try and find a plain t-shirt now. Can you do it? Can you fuck. Oh no. Sure, you can get a t-shirt which looks like it's got another t-shirt underneath it, but hasn't, it's just a bit of trickery involving a bit of material to make it look like you've got two t-shirts on when you've actually only got one on; or you can get a top that makes it look like you're wearing a shirt underneath, but you're not, it's another bit of cunning trickery to fool the world so you can walk around the town centre secretly laughing to yourself thinking haha, these morons think I'm wearing a shirt under this, well it's just a bit of material that makes it look like I am, I don't have to have a separate garment at all, aren't I the clever one? But a plain one? Get to fuck. No chance, mate.
And oh yes, you can get a t-shirt with some mysterious surfing emblems and shit on it, which I'll happily buy, even though I've never been near a surfboard in my life, would probably be fucking rubbish at it and to be quite honest prefer the idea of sitting in the car watching the waves with a flask of tea and a couple of ham sandwiches; I mean, I've been to Newquay a couple of times, does that qualify me to wear surfing gear? Do you need a couple of lessons before you're allowed to wear it? You don't have to be a professional footballer to wear a football top, do you? Or you can get some Japanese writing about some mythical motoring product that you've never heard of, and a random year on it, to try and make you think that you're gazing back into the past, you know, 1973, the year when people bought Japanese engine oil, or fucking something like that.
At the risk of sounding like some pointless red-faced prig who writes a stuffy article in a broadsheet about "I went into my local sports shop and asked for a pair of plimsolls, but all they had were these soi-disant 'training shoes' or some such apparel...", whatever happened to men's t-shirts? When did it change? Why did it change? When was it decided that we didn't like plain fabrics and needed some fucking numbers and lettering and shit, and maybe a fake-faded design and a bit of nostalgia or something? Who decided that we weren't allowed to have plain stuff any more?
I write all this because today I came across the quite wonderful Meaningless T-Shirts blog. As soon as I started reading, I thought: Yes, yes, yes! What does it all mean? It's all pointless! We're happy to buy something with the name of a bloody fake American town on it, despite it not even existing, just because it doesn't sound like Swindon or Basingstoke:
Ahhh, Pine Ridge Point. Can’t you just picture the swaying trees, the cosy cabins, the rocky, rugged beauty of it all? Well, don’t go booking any flights just yet, because unfortunately - much like the idyllic Casdia Reef - it’s a big blazing bonfire of made-up bollocks. As, for that matter, is Sacksonville.
(North Carolina is, obviously, for real: the Topman designer in question clearly managed to reign in their rampant lust for deity-like power before it escalated into fabricating entire US states).
It begs the question: across the Atlantic, are American designers concocting fake souvenir garments emblazoned with fictional British landmarks? Teatime Castle in Shropdonchester, maybe, or Lake Toodlepip near Pigeon-under-Mimsy? I honestly do hope so.
Perhaps, now, the tide is turning and men are starting to kick back against this enforced tide of meaningless number/text/aspirational places that don't exist combinations. Or perhaps, this is only just the beginning...
I've done a few posts recently trying to look at blogs and blogging, and what it means to me. This is partly because of some things coming up in the near future - of which more soon, hopefully - and partly because I just fancied writing them.
I've been a 'blogger' for nearly three years now, which is longer than I've been able to stick out most of the jobs I've had, and I keep coming back to it, almost every day. Then again, I know I could just walk away from it tomorrow if the fancy took me, and leave it behind and never come back, and that would be perfectly OK - except I don't ever do that.
I read Septicisle's post the other week about looking back on his five years of blogging, and it made me think about my own, shorter, blog career. I wanted to think about all the things I love about blogging and all the things I love about the medium of blogs - and the shortcomings, of course, but I wanted to look at it positively and fondly. It's something I find myself almost ridiculously enthused about because, seriously, it's what I love doing - but particularly writing as a blogger rather than in any other medium. And I found there was so much I wanted to say, which is why I split it over so many posts (all the ones called "I'm not an expert, but..." in case you hadn't noticed already). This one, then, is just a way of tying it all up.
Blogs aren't the same as journalism, of course, and they'll never replace journalism as a like-for-like replacement. As newspapers die out, as they probably will, people's appetite for written entertainment will probably remain strong. Blogs are part of that, but certainly not all of it. I hope written journalism survives in some form or other, and I'm pretty sure it will, and blogs can help, and be part of it. Then again, blogs can break news stories and bloggers can be good journalists and write journalistically; and the blogging convention of constantly crediting sources and linking to them so that readers can see for themselves the article you're referring to and quoting from is good practice*.
A lot of the time, blogs are dismissed as 'chatter' or 'babble' but I've never really bought that. Don't get me wrong, there's an awful lot of bollocks out there. There's an awful lot of bollocks on this blog. And there are all kinds of things wrong with it, posts that didn't make much sense, articles I got wrong, pieces where I didn't really do very well, and so on. But then again there are blogs that make me roar with laughter in a way that I find myself doing less and less frequently with written newspapers or even their online articles; there's a spirit about blogs that I find infectious and fun, something anarchic almost. And yes, I know, a lot of bloggers end up being farty talking heads on political programmes and whatnot; as I always say, feel free to slap me round the face if you ever see my potato-like heading mouthing away dreary rehearsed nonsense to Brillo or any of those jokers. But a lot of us aren't in it for those meagre glories; we just love the idea of writing, and publishing, the instant-ness of it - the immediacy of it!
You don't have to be an expert, as well. Or even claim to be an expert. You can just be a punter and give your opinions on whatever you want - politics, the arts, culture, whatever takes your fancy. Blogging is often about an emotional response as much as an intellectual one that's steeped in paragraphs of context - it has a rawness and an honesty that people like. Again, this is why blogging is a lot like journalism - same same, but different - it's something that attempts to take the writer as the conveyor of facts and opinion and a version of the truth; except with blogging, as with a lot of modern journalism, you're never trying to detach yourself from the story - you're always in there, part of it, and writing in your own voice.
It's the voice that comes out the strongest. It took me a long time to get mine right, and perhaps I haven't even done that yet. But I find the words coming out on the screen a lot like the way my thoughts form themselves, rather than seeing myself trying to write a beginning, a middle and an end; or three acts; or trying to force an epiphany into the life of someone I don't want to have one; or trying to do any other kind of writing, except maybe poetry, but believe me, you wouldn't want to read my poetry. I hope my voice comes across nicely, though probably you think I'm a right sweary bastard - well, it doesn't matter, but so long as there's a personality, I think that's important.
I think it's one of the enjoyable things about blogs that they often have personalities, and you may like or dislike them, or think they're hideous or friendly, but they're there, and you can recognise them. I think the best blogs are the ones that you'd be able to tell who wrote it if you just saw the words on a sheet of paper; that means they've done their job in finding a voice. As well as that, your voice can mature over time, or your writing style can change, or evolve, and it all happens in public. Re-reading earlier entries is a bit jarring, but on the other hand, it's still me doing it, so that's fine, and I can't disassociate myself from them. That was me, then. This is me, now.
That's the other thing, honesty. You need to have honesty, I think. When you fuck up, you have to be honest and say you fucked up; and when you feel like shit, I think it's important to say you feel like shit. All of that matters, whereas it doesn't necessarily matter in other media. But this is a place where you're generally one person, regularly updating, in a kind of journal format - whether you want it to come out as some kind of emo stuff or not, it's inevitably going to be shaped by who you are and how you're feeling at a particularl time. I see that as an advantage to be embraced rather than something to be afraid of. Sometimes it involves talking about stuff that's pretty painful, but sometimes that can help, too. Sometimes just writing about some subjects can help.
And you can write about anything you want, for as long as you want, as often as you want. That's the scope you have available to you, and it's a liberating thing. You don't have to have seen 10,000 football matches or be an ex-professional to have an opinion on football; occasionally being detached from the industry you're writing about and not having to keep anyone sweet can mean that blogging content is refreshingly free of pandering to people you'd rather not pander to.
There are no deadlines, either. You can blog once at three in the morning, slightly pissed but with a massive idea in your head you can't get rid of; or you can go a week or a fortnight without putting anything down, and it's just the same, and you haven't damaged your 'brand' at all. The length of an article is the length you'd like it to be; you don't have to flesh it out with meaningless preamble or pointless dilly-dallying up garden paths and down dark alleys. You can just get on with it, straight to the point, or as near as straight to the point as your writing style will let you - which, as you can probably tell with mine, as 'not very straight to the point, I'm afraid, but you'll just have to lump it, mate.'
I see a blog entry as like those things they put in Chekhov's ear in Wrath of Khan. It's there, the idea in your head, growing in your brain, getting bigger and bigger, and all you want to do is just get it out before it drives you insane. People blog, I think, because they can't bear not to - in fact I think someone once said that was exactly why they did it. You have an idea, you want to express it, you need to get it out of you, you consign it to the ether, and there, it's gone, and you can relax a bit - until the comments start popping in, or you think of a follow-up, or someone blogs a rebuttal, and then it all starts again. But it's an intense, fun creative thing to do - just to write, because you feel like you have to, even though there's nothing other than your own mind compelling you.
And then there's someone else we need to talk about, which is you. I don't know who you are, or why you're here, or what your expectations are, or what you like, or whether you're picking your nose and flicking it onto the Anaglypta as we speak, and it doesn't matter. I write this for me, first and foremost, and then there's you as well. We kind of both exist. I'm just an orange monkey and an allonym and you could be anyone, for all I know, anywhere, reading this for any reason, and that's kind of nice and comforting. For some reason, lots of you keep reading, and keep coming back, and keep commenting (which I love) and keep telling your mates about this blog, and so it carries on. I'd do it to three sheep and a man with a funny stare, let alone all the lovely people who do come along. I'm very lucky, and all I can say is thank you for reading. If you managed to get to the end of this self-indulgent bollocks then you're tremendously patient, as well. There'll be funny stuff and all that in the next post, or the one after that. Or not. Who knows?
Anyway, I could have written about a million words on this. I very nearly have done by the looks of this. But, really, this is just a big love letter to blogging. It's something that has given me an enormous amount of enjoyment, and fun, and satisfaction over the years. I didn't realise quite how much I loved it before I wrote this very post, which is kind of what I'm on about - simply by writing, you can discover things about yourself, and about how you feel. Which is a thing that I think blogging does best of all.
* This is a convention I occasionally break in order not to give certain rubbish newspapers very much web traffic, and also because I don't like linking to people like Stormfront or Richard Littlejohn. But most of the rest of the time I do my best to link back to original stuff.
Hello. It's that time of the year again, when Total Politics runs its annual poll of blogs.
In the past I've boycotted it, because I think it's a bit of a tedious self-aggrandising circlejerk. And because of the fact it's by Total Politics, which is a dreadful vanity project with no journalistic or literary merit whatsoever, and because Lord Ashcroft's involved. And there's the other fella as well, can't remember his name, invented blogging, world's most brilliant commentator on everything, potato face, short temper, calls everyone pricks. You know the one.
All that still stands. I couldn't give a shit where I'm voted. In these things I inevitably end up behind people who are fucking terrible, and above people who are much more intelligent, insightful and all-round better writers than me. So it's largely arbitrary, a bit meaningless, a bit silly. If I cared about it, that would make me a bit of a dillon. And I don't want to be that. On the other hand, in the spirit of not trying to look like a meanie, I won't exclude myself this time. What I will say is that there are dozens more deserving people than me, so please pick them instead.
What I would ask is that if you must vote, you vote for people who are actually good. Please don't vote for the same old faces, time after time; it makes blogging look like some feeble boys' club - and it is usually boys, as well. There are many brilliant, lovely, startling, imaginative bloggers out there. Some are writing amazing stuff rather than trotting out infantile squabbling tribal garbage. They deserve to be recognised. Not me. Not the usual suspects, either.
So, if you'd like to vote for me, then by all means, I won't be ducking out this year. On the other hand, I won't beat you up for your dinner money if you don't.
But for Christ's sake, don't vote for them.
Apparently, this website - yes, this one - is listed as 'offensive and tasteless' by a net nanny.
I don't know what to think. Except, perhaps, that I understand the 'offensive' bit. I don't mind being called offensive. I like to think I offend a lot of people. I don't go out of my way to offend a lot of people; and often I get upset if I think I have offended people who needn't be offended. On the other hand, though, offending people isn't the worst thing in the world to do. Some people deserve to be offended. Others, I don't care whether I offend them or not.
But 'tasteless'...? Well I'm not so sure where that comes from. Sure, every now and then there may be times when I wonder aloud whether people should be sandpapered to death, or made to drown in human faeces, or whatever. Is that so wrong? Maybe it is. Maybe I should just write about bunnies and unicorns and nice things, and then everything would be OK.
Apparently, though, this isn't an isolated incident. Quite a few people have been telling me that the swearing sets buzzers off all over the place, not just in prudish circles but in perfectly ordinary companies where they'd rather their employees didn't see *clutches pearls* rude words like bum, or winkle.
Sigh. Is this really where we are, in the 21st century, where you can't read what you want to read because your employers think that you might fall off your chair and start foaming at the mouth if you see something slightly sweary? Must I start using asterisks all over the place, or euphemisms? Must I call Richard Littlejohn a tuppence? Should I use less earthy intensifiers to ascribe emotional outburstiness to the things I write?
Every now and then this kind of thing happens, and I wonder: should I try and modify what turns up here in order to make it more accessible? Is it better to try and censor myself a bit, and blunt things off a little bit? It wouldn't really make this a lot less fun, just a little - and more people could see this site than can do at the moment.
But then I think: no, fuck it. The whole point about this kind of writing is that there are no boundaries, there are no censors, there is no editor, except yourself and what you decide. And if I write the nonsense that comes out of my head, well it might be nonsense, but it's my nonsense. I'm sorry if people can't see the website because their employers' net nannies are too sensitive; but there are always workarounds if you know where to go, and since the mobile version of the site doesn't have the post tags on the front page (including those scary and rude words which will corrupt you) it seems less offensive (and possibly less tastless, if less of a lessness thing is at all possible). It's not even as if I swear all the time, because I don't. All right, I do, quite a lot, but that's me. But there are worse things out there on the internet, less tasteful things, and less fun things too.
In short, then, I'm not going to change anything. Balls to that. Double balls and bollocks.
Not me, guv. And it's with some sadness that I read that my fellow blogger Devil's Kitchen has pulled the plug on his entire history of blog posts in the wake of a rather uncomfortable interview with Brillo on the Daily Politics yesterday.
I may not see eye to eye with DK on many things, or possibly anything, and I know that those who may have been on the receiving end of his emissions before might not shed too many tears about all this, but that's beside the point in this instance. I do feel sadness at the need our society has for all politicians to be squeaky-clean goody-two-shoes blandified cookie-cutter milquetoasts. Fuck that shit. So he said he hoped someone would bleed to death - so what. So Ellie Gellard, also pilloried this week in similar attacks (albeit with more of a whiff of sexism about them) said she hoped Margaret Thatcher would be killed by a skateboard - so what. (In my view, that's not going far enough. Skateboard? Fuck that. A monster truck would be better).
I do despair at the kind of sanitised politics we're creating, especially when it comes to combing through people's cobweb-covered blog posts or long-since tweeted* tweets (or even re-tweets, taking an RT as unswervingly agreeing with everything in the post you're doing it to) and digging up the most offensive things you can find. Is this what the digital age of political blogging and coverage is about, raiding people's Facebook accounts and dusty old blog posts to try and find some occasion somewhere in the past where they didn't quite agree with what they're writing now?
I'm pretty sure there are times when I've written here about hoping Richard Littlejohn would be fed feet-first into a woodchipper - and if I haven't, then I should have done, because he fucking deserves it, the despicable one-trick bigoted old cunt that he is. And yes, swear-words are used here too - sorry if that offends anyone, although I'm not sorry at all really and I think you've probably worked that out by now. And yes, I call people 'scum' (though that is more of an imperceptible nod towards the 'cyclist scum' style threads on the football forum I read more than any other) when they simply happen to work for a certain newspaper. And I'm not sorry about that either. Yes, it's deliberately provocative and a little bit childish, but do you know what? I'm not sorry about any of it.
I'm not sorry about any of it. And I'm inclined to agree with Jennie who gives a list of things about her that might cause shock or tabloid nowtrage and then says:
Now, I am absolutely certain that some of those things will cost me votes. BUT I am likewise certain that if we are ever, EVER going to change our political system we need our politicians to stop living in fear of media exposure, and to do that, we all need to be honest about stuff instead of trying to hide it. Aside from anything else, the digital age means that for people my age and younger, pretty soon there are not going to be any potential candidates without some of these things in their internet history. Does this mean that an entire generation's talents should be consigned to the dustbin? Just because they have been publicly honest about their thoughts and feelings? I don't think so.
Amen to that. The awkwardness of the Chris Mounsey interview is, I think, because of the conflict between the internet persona and the political persona, and the internal conflict too - the rush to apology rather than the steadfast defence. And we learned nothing about the party itself, which was supposedly the point of the interview in the first place. It was just three minutes of Neil telling Mounsey off for what he'd written on his blog.
It's easy to have l'esprit d'escalier with these things, but it might be worth anyone who's similarly cornered by Brillo in the future to point out that we've all published things we may have later regretted - but I don't think a blogger has ever forked out tens of thousands of pounds for telling a pack of lies about someone who had simply told the truth in a controversial murder case, as Neil's Sunday Times did about Carmen Proetta**. I'd say that was a damn sight more offensive to the victim of that smear campaign than what DK wrote on his blog. How would Brillo feel if that was brought up every time he was on telly, regardless of what he was on about? It's not as if the first question anyone ever asks Alastair Campbell is about his time writing soft porn for Forum magazine - some people are allowed to escape the mistakes of their past, but not others.
Anyway, you needn't worry; this isn't my declaration of an intention to run for Parliament or anything like that. If I should ever do such a foolhardy and borderline-sectionable thing in the future, feel free to dredge up everything on here, every tweet I've ever twet (see? it'll catch on) or re-twet, every picture on my Facebook in which I look like a bit of an arse, and everything else about me ever. Because I won't give a shit then, as I don't give a shit now. It shouldn't matter and it doesn't matter. If we want to be puritans about our elected representatives, then fine, but our political life will be all the poorer for it.
* I am rather fond of the new past participle 'twet' and may well start using that in future.
** Though they weren't as bad as Murdoch stablemates the Sun, who told even more lies about Proetta, claiming she ran an escort agency when in fact she was a director of a travel agency.
This list by A Very Public Sociologist makes for interesting reading, not least for me because I scraped into the top 10. Exciting!
It's easy (and so predictable that, oh look, the Guardian have had a bash at a bit of rubbish prolling) to dismiss Twitter as a dreary affair full of dull people who don't add anything to your understanding of the world, but I can only comment on the effect it's had on this blog. If you compare web traffic for this month last year
with this month this year
you can see there are a lot more people here. Now much as I'd love to think that's down to me being spectacularly brilliant throughout the past 12 months and much more clever and funny and so on, I don't think that's the case. It'd be wrong to attribute everything to Twitter either, but I definitely think it's helped - not just through my own shameless self-promotion on there, but also through other people being able to find the kind of articles they want without having to rely on the mainstream media to dish them up.
When you're trying to cultivate a bit of a readership, or at the very least get more of the sort of people who'd like to read the sort of stuff you write through the turnstiles, I think it's helpful to have a way of letting people know what you're up to - and the immediacy of a link on Twitter is a great 'read it now' incentive. I reckon if you are a keen amateur scribbler like me, or like the many others I've happened upon thanks to Twitter links, then it's hard to underestimate the power it has. The mainstream media don't get that, of course, because they couldn't care less. They just assume we come stumbling through the mist up to their trough every morning to feast on what we're given.
A lot is being made of the looming general election, of course, and the role that Twitter will play in it. Blogging and tweeting won't affect the outcome, of course, but they will provide an alternative backdrop to the tiresome and straitjacketed world of the mainstream at that time - and I'm looking forward to that, if not the result itself. In the meantime, I'll try and catch up John Prescott. It won't be easy, but I'm determined!
If you haven't read this wonderful article by Paul Bradshaw, you must do so. It's a stellar piece describing exactly how those myths peddled by the mainstream media about teh evilz of the deadly internetwork are not only misleading, but specifically misleading in that the mainstream is more fact-free, more unrepresentative of the population and less trustworthy than the internet world.
One of the things I like about the internet, and social networking, is that facts can be challenged instantly and mainstream media guff and churnalism called out straight away. You don't need to sit in a dusty newspaper library looking at clippings, then painstakingly research for weeks; what you need is available to you right away. Presumably this is another reason why the mainstream media don't like the internet: their work is open to instant scrutiny by irritating amateurs like me, cheeky haemorrhoids on the arsehole of media output.
The great thing about the web-savvy generation is that we question everything. You have to. Your first experience of the internet often centres around someone lying to you - someone telling you that he wants to put some money in your bank account; someone claiming to be from an airline saying that he's found something of yours; someone claiming to be your bank, telling you to update your security issues and pop over a password via email; someone pretending to be someone they're not when they're chatting to you. As soon as you see anything, you want to challenge it, and you want to make sure. We're no longer happy to be told "That's the way it is" by our masters in the press, because we're not so sure they can be so sure, and we're not so sure they might not be twisting things.
So when you see something like this
you can say to yourself: Hang on, is that really accurate, or is it missing the point a bit? To be fair to the Beeb, at least they have balanced out the story with this quote:
Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK, said: "This study was done in rats.
"Overall, research in humans does not suggest there is a direct link between stress and breast cancer.
"But it's possible that stressful situations could indirectly affect the risk of cancer by making people more likely to take up unhealthy behaviours that increase their risk, such as overeating, heavy drinking, or smoking."
Worth pointing out the rats bit, given that they don't have quite the same emotional attachments as human beings - at least I don't think so, not having ever been a rat (though there may be some who'll disagree with that). The Mail covered the story in a similar way, also urging caution despite the headline:
but it's still been done in this order: People might get worse cancer if they're lonely, oh but someone else points out this was a small study done on rats, and not people. And both media outlets have used photographs of a human being, rather than a rat in a lab. The Mail even talks of 'a woman with breast cancer' whereas they should be talking about 'a female rat'.
Another marvellous asset the reader of news has available is independent analysis of media coverage, which in this country comes from the NHS and their 'behind the headlines' section:
The research found an association between isolated rearing, increased stress responses and increased tumour burden in rats that were genetically predisposed to tumours.
Although the animal study was well conducted it shows an association rather than a direct causal relationship between corticosterone levels and an increased likelihood of malignant tumours.
Also, while rats and humans are both social animals their social dynamics clearly differ. The stress factors used in this experimental work are not relevant to modelling how human social interactions may affect risk of breast cancer, and it is not clear how relevant changes in corticosterone hormones are to the development of cancer in humans.
I find something comforting in reading such a calm and measured response to these medical stories. On the one hand you have "being alone might make cancer worse" and on the other you have "if you're a rat predisposed to having a certain type of cancer".
Luckily, I'm not a rat. But that's the brilliance of the web, and why the mainstream media are really angry about it: everything you write can be looked up and analysed straight away. It's not just the people who can afford the massive printing presses who control what people can read, because people can seek out information on a huge range of subjects - often the original source material (though not in this case unless you want to subscribe to the journal in question). And that has to be a good thing, worth celebrating and treasuring.