Beating old media in a fisk-fight is as easy as falling off a blog

The sacking of a Guardian journalist thanks largely to the investigative skill of a blogger marks a huge transition in the media as the old-style news organisations begin to cede their dominance

I’ve referred to Web logs (“blogs”) many times before, but something seminal has just happened. And this really is hot off the press, as it were.

A blog called The Daily Ablution, run by one Scott Burgess, an American living in the UK, has just forced The Guardian to fire an employee. This is the most impressive direct action yet seen by a single non-professional website.

The Guardian had been employing a Muslim journalist, Dilpazier Aslam, with ties to the extreme (and, in some countries, banned) organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Burgess found this out by Googling the journalist’s name.

He was motivated to do so after reading an article by Aslam published immediately after the July 7 London bombings. This high-profile opinion piece expressed anger at moderate Muslims who don’t “rock the boat”, and explained that younger Muslims are “sassier” in expressing their opinions.

But by Googling the author’s name, Burgess discovered an article he had written for Hizb ut-Tahrir, on a website called khilafah.com (“Khilafa” translates as “Caliphate”). It called for a rather literal form of Jihad, involving the subjugation of non-Muslim countries.

The Guardian initially tried to ignore Burgess. Ironically for a publication which has championed blogs – online diaries and bulletin boards that are almost free to use and make perfect platforms for activists of all stripes – The Guardian tried to treat his concerns as those of a powerless letter-writer.

But this is when the “blogosphere” – the increasingly interlinked world of blogs – sprang into action. The Daily Ablution’s revelations were soon being “syndicated” – cross-referenced using hyperlinks – on hundreds of blogs around the world. Some of these blogs have become very powerful media in their own right, for all their amateur status.

To cut a long story short, Burgess’s revelations were sufficient to force the Guardian to take action. Given a choice between his allegiance to Hizb ut-Tahrir or his continued employment at the newspaper, Aslam chose the former.

The Guardian, however, wrote an anonymously bylined article designed to smear Burgess and undermine the credibility of his blog. I, like many other internet users, am very glad it did so since this is what led me to the Daily Ablution in the first place. Burgess “fisked” – quoted and critiqued, line by line – the attempted character assassination, making The Guardian look even more ridiculous and unprofessional.

Thanks to the interactive nature of blogs, a great many people have already commented on “l’Affaire Aslam” and given Burgess a great big virtual slap on the back.

His blog has now become famous and will become a must-read for the blogerati. Indeed, my daily “media” reading is now so chock-full of new names and faces offering first-rate information, analysis and insights that it leaves little time for those strange things called newspapers.

It seems almost unreal but the “MSM” (Mainstream Media) is being sidelined before our very eyes. Bit by bit, the new media landscape is producing a tectonic shift. Blogs are becoming major media channels and are even beginning to benefit from commercial funding. One thing is for certain: there is no turning the clock back. This is going to get bigger and bigger. The global village is finally a reality.

Some of the best investigative reporting these days is being done by people like Burgess, using nothing more than a Google search. The implications are far-reaching, on a par with the invention of the printing press in terms of social change.

Look at what Burgess said when writing to The Guardian to air his concerns about Aslam: “My readers are interested in knowing whether Guardian newspapers were aware of Mr Aslam’s affiliations before he was hired.” See those magic words? “My readers”. Therein lies the incredible redistributive power of the blog, of which the good socialist Guardian should surely approve. Instead, like all defensive institutions, it tries to silence what it doesn’t want to hear.

As one reader of the Daily Ablution wrote on the site: “Clearly, the Guardian dinosaurs are totally outclassed by the far nimbler warm-blooded blogosphere.”

And as blogger Melanie Philips (also a Daily Mail columnist) noted on her much-referenced blog: “The firing is the first (albeit small) British mainstream media scalp taken by the blogosphere, whose vital role in policing and holding to account unaccountable mainstream media has now at last begun to have an effect in Britain and well as in the US.”

For marketers, this media revolution means doing what they have long claimed to enjoy: thinking outside the box. To quote Bob Dylan, “The first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.”

dwek@journalist.co.uk

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