To blog or not to blog. That is the question. Actually, it's not. Blogging coupled with social media dissemination is brilliant; perhaps the greatest democratising force of our time. Thanks to the world wide web and its infrastructure - the internet - everyone can be an instantly published writer of sorts.
The range is astounding, from diligent diarists to journalists, whistleblowers, data analysts, opinion writers and those who adopt more random forms of blurting discourse. The result is more writing than ever before covering the gamut of uplifting, deeply meaningful, informative and entertaining to the mad, sinister and downright disturbing.
A rich, and sometimes powerful, written tapestry, the blog is a force to be reckoned with. Which makes it absurd that in the wake of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics revelations of the effect this form of writing can have, that the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) is asking whether or not blogs should be included in next year's Canon Media Awards. Of course they should.
Blogs and other websites are now an integral part of journalism - see the huge variety of bloggers on mainstream newspaper and magazine sites. Then there's the vast swathe of blogs outside the mainstream media that contribute so much in terms of news and information they can't be ignored.
I couldn't live without Public Address, Tech Liberty, Sci Blogs, Pantograph Punch, Werewolf and recently, Steve Braunias' brilliant Campaign Diary - just a few of many superb local examples. The question is not whether they should be part of the Canon Media Awards, but how to properly judge the blogs that are bloody good; how to sort the wheat from the chaff.
So I was gobsmacked when NPA editorial director Rick Neville was reported in NBR saying: "Experience has shown that much of the blogosphere lacks the maturity, balance and moderation usually demonstrated by mainstream media."
Actually post Dirty Politics, experience has shown that experience can count for diddly-squat. Many veteran journalists now realise they were being played by the cause of this hand wringing, the Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Some have wisely written mea culpas and admitted the need to be more open about their sources.
But there are many who continue to think, like the Prime Minister, regular engagement with Cameron Slater and his ilk is OK. So bravo to Wendyl Nissen for saying it's not OK.
She resigned from her regular Friday morning slot on NewstalkZB because she didn't want to be on the same platform as Cameron Slater, another commentator on the station. Nissen takes the principled stand that she wants no association with Slater, "while there are allegations that his views involve cash for comment." This is journalism's gaping sore and one that's not going to be healed by pretending it doesn't exist.
Usually, paid-for writing in newspapers and magazines is signalled as such - as advertorial. That was why last month I suggested that Cameron Slater's 2014 Best Blog Award should be withdrawn because "whatever it is that Slater does, it's not journalism."
On reflection I realise I might have said "good" or "award winning" journalism because sadly, there is a type of reporting - variously called gutter or tabloid - that does fall under journalism's umbrella. Fortunately, except in New Zealand, it doesn't win awards. Although if there was an award for Best Black Ops Blog, I imagine Whale Oil would undoubtedly win, with Cactus Kate a close second.
Neville says the justification for Slater getting the award was his scoop exposing the infidelities of Auckland Mayor Len Brown, "but neither NPA nor Canon condone other content on the Whale Oil blog". Neville also said it would be an "extreme, highly unusual step" for the award to be withdrawn and that would only occur if "concrete evidence" came forward of illegal or highly unethical methods of obtaining the Len Brown story.
But hang on a minute. Slater's' award is for best blog, not best scoop and surely like columnists' and feature writers' awards it's assessed on the basis of a portfolio of work - that is, a range of posts. We already have fairly concrete indications that some material on Slater's blog is paid-for comment and the NPA and Canon have said they don't condone other material on his site. Isn't that enough reason to withdraw the award or at least investigate?
Neville is at pains to point out the sponsor Canon has no involvement in the selection of recipients, winners or judges, which puts the blame squarely on the NPA. He says if there is to be a blog award next year, the NPA "will review the criteria to ensure they are sufficiently robust."
That probably begins with deciding exactly what constitutes a blog, not to forget measuring it against standards of good journalism. Technically, this column may be a blog because it only appears online, but I would argue its frequency (once a month) rules it out.
Then again, it's a moot point because after writing this I imagine I've ensured I'll never win an award again. But having won a few in my time I do believe very strongly in the importance of these awards - "to encourage, showcase and acknowledge the best of New Zealand's newspapers, magazines and websites, as well as the work of feature writers, columnists, cartoonists, reviewers and photographers."