Thursday, November 6, 2008

End of the Road to Surfdom

Today was the last post for Tim Dunlop and The Road to Surfdom. One of the original Australian political bloggers, who ran the Blogocracy site on for two years, I have provided his final post on the site below. Also check out Mark Bahnisch's commentary on Larvatus Prodeo, and his thoughts on the future of online independent media.

It was two years ago today that I (more or less) stopped writing on this blog and took up the gig with News Ltd doing Blogocracy. As most of you would know, I quit that work a few weeks ago so I could work on some other stuff. That other stuff is going very well, and it makes me realise that, at least for the time being, I don’t have the time or wherewithal to keep this joint going. With Ken moving on as well — despite the input from the other terrific writers who help out here — I’ve decided to put Surfdom into hiatus. This is not to say that I won’t come back to blogging in some form at some point in the future, but for now, Surfdom is closed.

As difficult as this decision is, there is nonetheless something apt about the timing. The blog began life not long after I moved to the US at the end of 2001. It got up and running in the strange twilight period between the events of September 11 and the disastrous decision by the Bush Administration to launch a war in Iraq in March 2003. With the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency that period has come to something of a natural and symbolic end and thus, for me at least, some of the central motivations for this sort of writing has dissipated. This blog, and others like it, have seen off the end of the Howard Government and the Bush Administration and on that score I couldn’t be happier.

This is not to say that there isn’t now a role for the sort of work blogs do, only that I, personally, am not in position to take on that sort of commitment at the moment. In fact, the need, especially in Australia, for wise independent voices to discuss and dissect the great issues of the day is as great as it has ever been and so that’s what I want to go out with: a plea for people to support — genuinely support — independent media in this country.

The fact is, Australia’s mainstream media is moribund. Although there are great journalists and other contributors out there, the institution itself is stuck in a hopeless, self-serving, tenured cul-de-sac and is failing in its job to properly inform, discuss, debate and entertain. Not to mention, reinvent itself. The form is dominated by a handful of insiders who have grown so content with their own lot that they are immune to sensible criticism and lack the self-awareness to reassess what it is they are doing. They are supported in this self-satisfied loop by a political class that is happy to exploit the status quo, feeding them leaks and other tidbits to keep the whole charade ticking over in such a way that nothing really changes.

The narratives, the memes, the discussions of our political and social life are set in concrete and endlessly recycle. We have learned to accept the daily, largely manufactured, controversies of political and social discussion in lieu of genuine examination. The same voices — and there are only about 20 of them — continue to define what is important or useful or worthy of discussion and the few organs of the mainstream media keep churning them out. Their lack seriousness is only matched by their lack of courage.

To say that a fully-functioning independent media is the answer is glib. It is not that easy. And yet, there it is. The idea is not for such independent groups to replace the mainstream media but merely to get them to lift their game, to lead by example.

The situation as it currently stands is not completely hopeless. For all their failings, there are some new voices out there trying to make a difference. Some of them are thinktanks, some of them of grassroots organisations, some of them are blogs or other forms of online media. None of them has really “broken through” in the way that is necessary to make a real difference, but they are a start.

At the end of the day, though, they will only succeed if, firstly, they can organise themselves and offer a genuinely professional product and, secondly, if we-the-people properly support them. That means not just reading them and cheering them on but, by and large, financing them. And I don’t mean a few bucks in a tip jar once a year: I mean serious ongoing financial support. For as long as I have been blogging I’ve been hearing people tell me how wonderful blogs and other new media are and how much they enjoy and appreciate them. But I have very rarely seen those fine words and sentiments backed up with hard cash. It is about time it was.

I don’t mean you should toss a whole lot of cash at some guy with a blog. But at some point, enough of you are going to have to take a bit of a risk and invest a decent sum in this or that site so that they can genuinely operate as independent media. And the online media itself is going to have to get organised to the point where they can offer a product that is going to attract that sort of contribution, as well as money from other sources, advertising, or whatever.

Until this happens, stop whinging about the mainstream media. Spare me the heartfelt cries of how much you love this blog or that blog and just accept the fact that if you really want a functioning independent media you are going to have to pay for it. It’s that friggin simple.

As I say, Surfdom is now officially closed. We’ll go into archive mode as soon as Jon-the-tech-guy can organise it. It has been an absolute pleasure running this place for the past seven-odd years and it is hard to walk away. Thanks a million to all those who have read and contributed comments over that time.

Please don’t read the above the plea as some sort ingratitude for the fabulous support given to me personally here at Surfdom and over at Blogocracy. It isn’t. I luvs yers all. I just want to see the blogosphere and independent online media develop into something more than it is, to move into a new and more vibrant phase. To offer some genuine competition to the ingrown toenail that is the mainstream media.

The criticisms above are directed at myself as much as they are at anyone else. I just really felt, as I closed this place down and ponder what will happen next, that someone had to give us all a bit of stern talking to, to maybe encourage people to think about what needs to be done and what we can do. Citizenship matters and it is too important than to leave in the hands of the cynical gatekeepers who currently decide what is important in this democracy of ours.

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