The internet, I think we can agree is a marvellous thing. It has transformed our lives, allowing us to interact with handheld devices rather than talk to boring people and to access video of animals doing amusing things at high speed and relatively low cost.
The shopping is pretty good and it has serious applications too of course, enabling the propagation of revolutionary ideas and concepts, giving succour to movements and uprisings and disintermediating the traditional gatekeepers of news and knowledge.
This too has up and down sides. While it is said that everyone has one novel in them, publishers have long known that many should stay there. The internet has removed this check and balance and allowed everyone to become an author, regardless of ability, not to mention their command of language and the veracity of their statements.
Some would counter that this lets the ‘real people’ bypass ‘the man’ who wants to stamp out their attempts to speak truth to power. But the problem with this thesis, as I’m not the first to observe is that it’s very hard to trust the information you find, or to understand its motivation, without the intervention of an editor and a publisher, whose motivations are usually better known.
It’s also worth noting that ‘real people’ with a real story to tell have numerous outlets in which to get their material published. A good story will always interest a good editor, but he will make sure that the piece adheres to some basic concepts, like accuracy, balance and an awareness of the commercial interests behind it.
So what happens when the writer sets himself up as editor and publisher, using the new tools of communication as well as the old, to press a point of view on a presumably interested public?
Well, you get something like the stream of conversations, articles and presentations currently clogging the news boards and magazine pages on the subject of Inmarsat’s price increases from the start of this month. These fall into two distinct categories, though it seems a shame even to have to point them out.
There are dedicated maritime IT journalists whose job is to report the news, get the facts right and present a balanced view along with informed insight and opinion. This is a small constituency but an important one because, despite these publications being solidly commercial ventures, they adhere to the basic principles of journalism noted above and are mostly transparent about their intentions.
The second group are those for whom self-publishing your thoughts and ideas on LinkedIn is fine and dandy, but here are a few points to remember when reading the latter:
- A posting or article that starts out by claiming it is acting for the good of the maritime industry then turns into a sales pitch for a product or service half way through is not a public service, it is an advertisement. The ‘good of the maritime industry’ by the way, is a difficult concept to pin down but in my experience, it normally involves people complaining that either nobody understands them, or that making money is harder than ever and they deserve (eg) tax breaks, better freight rates, lower costs and regulators who appreciate how hard their life is. Nobody talks about the good of the maritime industry being about owners not ordering too many ships and exacerbating the current earnings slump;
- A posting or article that does not bother to seek comment or clarification from the companies it is profiling, does not check facts or present a balanced view of any given situation should be treated with caution. If a writer is going to mount an attack on a company he has to know the company and understand it. This is what separates (for example) analysts from self-appointed internet journalists. If the company won’t let them in the door or engage with them, then the reader should take this into consideration before forming their own opinion;
- An article that couples personal opinion of questionable veracity with a commercial interest that is not openly and clearly declared is of very little value.