Friday, August 24, 2012

The Rise of the Fifth Estate - a good yarn worth reading

This morning I read Greg Jerico's book 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' which chronicles the rise of political blogging and social media reporting in Australia.

Some of you may remember Greg better as Grog of Grogs Gamut, a blogger and former public servant, known for his detailed analysis of political and sporting matters.

He was outed by The Australian back in 2010, a matter covered widely by both mainstream media and the blogosphere at the time.

I had already been reading Greg's keen insights into Australian politics for some time - and he was exposed after attending the Media 140 conference, which I also attended and spoke at.

Greg's situation was a key test for how the Australian Public Service and our politicians handled public sector bloggers. Despite some time lag, it was handled well, with Greg's right to blog on a personal basis supported within his Department, Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This based on the APS code of conduct, which allows public servants to participate in politics, provided it doesn't compromise their ability or perception of being non-partisan.

Many people rallied around to support Greg at the time, including myself. It can be very lonely being a public servant and a blogger - and public sector workplaces do not necessarily understand, yet, how to provide appropriate support during this type of event.

Greg subsequently left the public service, though he has continued to blog. Subsequently he's worked on television programs and written for ABC's The Drum, while working on his book.

This gets me to the point of this post, reviewing Greg's newly released 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate'.

His book is written in Greg's easy to read, yet well-evidenced style (with the odd chart), which makes it an easy and accessible read, yet with a good deal of depth and analysis.

In it he tells the story of the start of Australia's political blogosphere, analyses its players and looks at the interplay between journalists and politicians, particularly on Twitter.

His book also chronicles the 'war of bloggers' that mainstream journalism, particularly News Ltd, have waged on the "anonymous armchair amateurs" of the blogging world, including his own experience as well as those of others.

He also draws some commonsense conclusions, cutting through the hype and mystique that the journalistic profession have used to justify their own specialness and detailing the convoluted mental gymnastics and lack of self-reflection that some mainstream journalists have employed to explain why real journalism can't come from a blog.

The Rise of the Fifth Estate is really the first book in Australia to chronicle the opening stages in the rising media culture ways, as old media strains to remain relevant and profitable in the face of new modes of journalism.

Given the cuts at Fairfax and News Ltd lately, this comes at a good time to help explain a little more about why events are unfolding as they are.

I did, however, ultimately feel a little let down by Greg's 'Fifth Estate'.

He's told a good yarn, in the best journalistic vernacular, a good current history and analysis of the past and present of the rise of the blogging and Twitter as political and political journalism tools.

However I was hoping for a few more glimpses into the future, some of his insights as to how the Fourth and Fifth estates might find a workable balance that profits both, with a maximum of mutual understanding and a minimum of ongoing friction.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' as a good read and as a great record of the first few years of what is proving to be a period of turbulent change for journalism and political communication.

However, don't buy it expecting any kind of model of how to build a collaborative journalistic model, involving both professional journalists and citizens, new media and old media, into the future.

For this we'll have to wait for Greg's next book (that's a hint Greg!)

You can read the first chapter of 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' for free at Grogs Gamut.

For other reviews see:
There's also an interview with Greg on ABC Radio National, Social media and blogs: the fifth estate?

The Canberra book launch is on 30 August at Paperchain in Manuka. For other launches (currently underway), see Greg's publisher, Scribe.

CAVEAT: Note that I helped Greg with some curation of the list of political blogs and supported Greg with some contacts and ideas. As a result I am named a couple of times in the book.

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