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The truth is out there- and it’s onlin
Updated: 2003-12-02 08:50

Readers of the world’s press will know that Britain’s heir to the throne, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, found himself in the middle of a right royal pickle last month. Whether they know exactly what brand of pickle it was, depends on where they looked. Having heard the gossip from a friend, I decided to exercise my God-given right to pick over the saucy details.

But, beavering through online versions of The Times and co in search of salacious titbits, I found myself no closer to discovering the particulars than if I were playing a game of Cluedo. As far as I could work out, the accused was spotted doing something to a servant, in the corridor, with the lead piping.

The strangest thing about it all is that journalists across the UK apparently exactly knew what the allegations were and what consequences they would bring be if everything proved to be true. “Is this the beginning of the end of the British monarchy?” asked one smug lead writer. “Is what the end of the British monarchy?” I replied.

It seems contradictory that British newspapers could not, for legal reasons, print the allegations in full, especially when the whole purpose of journalism is to share the story. But it was abundantly clear that the media knew everything, were only too happy to let us know that they knew, and smugly content that they knew we didn’t know. You know?

But my search for the truth didn’t end there. Determined not to be mocked by those clever know-it-all English newshounds, I turned to another outlet of information. A portal that covers various facets of human knowledge and opinion, and, if you know where to look, is also home to every shade of freak and misfit the world has to offer. It is, worryingly, the source of both of the most balanced and reflective writing and the place where lonely fascists write elegies to Hitler. I am talking, of course, about the ubiquitous Web Log.

“Real” journalists pride themselves on their “real” contacts and sourced facts. They deride the Web Loggers (“bloggers” for short) as indiscriminating amateur hacks with no nose for news. But is it truly that surprising that the masses are taking on the media at their own game, and changing the world of words forever?

During the recent – and ongoing – war in Iraq, journalists were routinely “embedded” with Allied troops, a policy not widely used since the Crimean War, when it was abandoned as journalistically unsound. This clever tactic was dreamt up by the military, purportedly to keep the journalists safe from enemy fire. Cynics suggest it was to keep the reporters from seeing the other side of the war. Either way, it resulted more deaths in the news ranks than any other recent conflict, many of which were from friendly fire. And, if you’re a believer in recent reports from the BBC, it also caused collateral damage to objective reporting.

So, where did the world turn for its information as the war progressed? Millions rejected mainstream coverage, choosing instead to follow online journals, updated daily by Iraqis living in Baghdad and throughout the embattled country. Those who were witnessing the conflict firsthand and responding to it with dignity, honesty and that deep-rooted human desire that lies within us all – to tell our own story, in our own words.

How did the world’s journalists respond to this mass outpouring of human information? Some of them are listening, adding online voices to their lists of sources and contacts, quoting bloggers and newsgroup members in their stories. Some are even starting their own blogs, in a spirit of “if you can’t beat them join them”.

But others are doing what you might expect, faced with the biggest threat ever to their monopoly on the truth. They are pretending that it isn’t happening. While online “jounal-ists” explore their own areas of interest and expertise, many of the pros continue to pander to the editorial line of their corporate bosses. They will lie to and deceive readers for the sake of a front page scoop, cancel or change stories that offend advertisers, and transform actors and pop stars into gods before tearing them apart in a Dionysian orgy of hypocrisy.

In China, where journalism is just finding its feet, hypocrisy takes different forms. Investigative reporters are starting to make their mark here, exposing corruption and crime to their readers, which are ultimately good things. But bribery in the profession is rife. It is still standard practice for organisers of press conferences to disperse hongbaos (little red envelopes containing cash) into the press packs they give away, payment for the columns of asinine advertorial that fill the country’s shelves each week.

But hongbaos won’t stop Chinese bloggers from speaking their minds. A new conversation has started to creep into the mainstream, for better or worse. And while it may irritate folks in the media, readers are increasingly attracted to bloggers in their relentless search for the truth about the world. And about Prince Charles.

Incidentally, I did eventually find out what the rumour was. But my lips are sealed. What do you think this is, a web log?

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