Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Rise of the Fifth Estate - Greg Jericho

There's a touch of irony in Michangelo's David gracing the banner of Grog's Gamut, the humble blog that slew the mainstream media goliath during the 2010 Australian Federal elections campaign. His post Election 2010: Day 14 (or waste and mismanagement – the media) famously attacked the performance of the national press gallery. It was a gem:
Here’s a note to all the news directors around the country: Do you want to save some money? Well then bring home your journalists following Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, because they are not doing anything of any worth except having a round-the-country twitter and booze tour.

It is a sad thing to say but we could lose 95 percent of the journalists following both leaders and the nation would be none the poorer for it. In fact we would probably be better off because it would leave the 5 percent who have some intelligence and are not there to run their own narrative a chance to ask some decent questions of the leaders. Some questions which might actually reveal who would be the better leader of this country.
Now Greg Jericho has reloaded his slingshot to venture onto the field of the printed page. The Rise of the Fifth Estate is much more than a Cook's tour of 'social media and blogging in Australian politics'. It is a detailed and well-researched look at how the new social media world is changing politics down under. Fans will know that Greg loves a deep dip into data in his blogging.

A hard-copy book about bloggers and twitterers/tweeters may seem a bit bizarre in the digital age. (There is an e-book version of course.) Even so, it should be on the bookshelf of every journalist and top of every journalism academic's course reading list. It is a fitting addition to that niche genre Oz books about new media begun by Antony Loewenstein’s The Blogging Revolution in 2008.

This is a thoroughly readable account of the rise of the political blogosphere and twitterverse in Australia where "we find a coverage of politics that is now broader, but with more niches; that is more intense, but also more reasoned". It lists 324 blogs, ranging across small amateur ones, the occasional politician and think tank, group blogs and professional journalists. (Two are mine.)

He explores the history and nature of the blogosphere, the apparent lack of women bloggers and its prickly relationship with mainstream media. The web is a fast moving target. Some blogs such as Larvatus Prodeo, that are referred to in the present tense, have been archived recently. has not posted since 2010.

Greg discusses the use of pseudonyms at length. He has a very personal stake in the issue of online anonymity. It is the one planted in his back by journalist James Massola of the The Australian newspaper when he outed author of Grog’s Gamut in September 2010. This skirmish in The MSM v Bloggers wars was a backhanded compliment of sorts that has had its upside in Greg’s new media life.

Followers of Greg’s twitter account will know that he’s a sports aficionado who is often overly keen in sharing American football scores and other minutiae. His running commentary echoes Latika Bourke’s media conference reports. The sports interest helps to explain his tweepy competitive streak.

There are plenty of examples of social media as a combat sport in Fifth Estate. Two chapters explore this often “cretinous” pugilistic pastime: Never Read the Comments on trolling the blogs; and One, Two, Three, Four, I Declare a Twitter war on the not-so-sociable media exchanges. It is not normally a place for the faint-hearted.

There is a fairly short examination of the impact of twitter on politics in general and voting behaviour in particular: How Many Votes Are There on Twitter. He’s a fan of hashtags but not #auspol which Greg sees as a cesspool. I find it’s best to filter it by searching only the Top tweets.

The one area of omission in this book is a detailed examination of the impact of Facebook on Australian political discourse. Online campaigning, such as the anti-sexism Destroy the Joint, has taken off on Facebook. DtJ currently has over 22,621 likes, compared with just 4352 Twitter followers. Along with Sack Alan Jones (21,004 on FB) issues related to sexism in Australia have received a much higher profile.

A quick peek at Greg’s Facebook account helps to explain this gap, as he is not a frequent user of that platform. This is also in keeping with his original desire to have an anonymous presence on the web. However, FB is a strand in the political helix that cannot be ignored in the growing complexity of the online political space.

Facebook aside, Greg Jericho is the consummate online practitioner. He has more than maintained that high standard in print. He's definitely someone worth getting connected with, even if you might start a barney together.


  1. I read this book months ago as it was mentioned on John Birmingham's blog. Have since read it a number of times, with markings & highlighting all over the shop as has made me think a lot more about Social Media in general which was required for my job, which is the reason why I purchased it.

    Surprisingly, the comment about a lack of women bloggers really challenged me, particularly when I started to look online and most women seemed to talk about either 'mum' stuff or feminism, not just normal stuff like politics or sport. Since then, having my own blog has really helped me with my blood pressure regardless of the limited people reading it. Thanks Greg Jericho :)

    1. It's hard to know if the issue of women blogging is a furphy. Oz women are certainly politically active on Facebook and Twitter. Clarencegirl on North Coast Voices is one of my favourite bloggers and there are lots more. Great to add Ya Think? to my bookmarks!