Written for The Collective Review, 25 September 2009
This time last week, thelondonpaper published its last ever issue. Just one week later another publication seeks to fill the resulting vacuum.
Anton Waldburg and Karl Jo Seilern-Aspang, creators of theblogpaper, style their new freesheet “the first user-generated newspaper in the UK”. Users submit articles and photos to theblogpaper.co.uk, where their content is rated out of five by the community. The highest rated content in each category is then published in a weekly print edition, distributed for free around London à la thelondonpaper, London Lite or Metro.
That theory holds up pretty well until you actually pick up an edition and read it. It’s not Waldburg and Seilern-Aspang’s fault; they harbour the naïve and optimistic hope that their newsmaking community will be self-moderating. “[W]hen constructed by the general public,” they opine, the process of reportage “becomes naturally incredibly accurate, due to the fact that people who write about specific subjects tend to already know a great deal about it.” Which doesn’t take into account the vast number of internet users who think they know a great deal about something but are in fact ignorant cretins. But wait, the community will filter out the ignorant cretins by rating them poorly, and their content will never see print! Well, not necessarily; you can’t trust an anonymous online community to engage in civil debate, as anyone who’s ever felt their eyes scorched by the abyss of flaming spam beneath every YouTube video, good or bad, will testify.
The result is that despite its creators’ good intentions, London’s latest freesheet is composed as much of ill-informed, dreary and bilious ranting as it is of well-researched, dreary and irrelevant pontification. More importantly, very little of the first edition’s content can accurately be described as news. A couple of articles respond to events that were newsworthy weeks ago (Cartrain’s theft of pencils from Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, or Usain Bolt’s latest record-breaking sprint); but it certainly isn’t news to anyone but the contributors that last.fm’s recommendation algorithm is quite accurate, or that music festivals are a bit commercialised these days.
If theblogpaper survives long enough for its community to grow, perhaps in the future it could feature articles by genuine experts, rated by a pool of voters big enough that the open minds and level heads outnumber the spammers. Until then it’ll continue to read like a collection of op-eds by right-wing forum trolls from two weeks ago.
*Well, ish. Joshua Karp founded The Printed Blog in the US in late 2008. Karp’s paper takes the idea further, printing twice a day and producing different editions for different areas, with content filtered by geographical proximity.