Booker Prize winner “chilled” by the world of blogs

Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and a columnist for the Indy, last night described the state of the British media “as a matter of great concern”.

Daisy Blacklock runs the Dress to the Left blog

Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and long-term columnist for The Independent, last night described the state of the British media “as a matter of great concern”. He also said the world of blogs left him feeling “a bit chilled”.

Jacobson, whose winning fiction, The Finkler Question, found acclaim as the first ‘unashamedly comic’ work to be awarded the Prize, was speaking on the first date of his latest tour promoting “Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It: The Best of Howard Jacobson” – a select collection of the columns he has written for the paper since 1998.

Focusing primarily on the emergence of the blogosphere, and the perceived threat of the internet to traditional print journalism, Jacobson argued the untrained realm of blogging threatened to push the honourable occupation of “the serious critic; the reviewer; the journalist” into the wilderness, under the guise of a “democratic free for all”.

When asked to reflect on ‘the third estate’ in light of the phone-hacking media storm of recent weeks, he simply said “there are plenty of very good journalists out there”, turning his attentions instead to the “very real worry that the newspaper will give way to the internet”.

Reflecting on blogs, and what he considered to be a brutal internet-based comment culture – validated, he said, by “the democratic idea that everyone is a journalist” – he remarked:

“When I wander off from the newspaper and into the world of blogs I’m a bit chilled.

“What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison. It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid… and you do wonder if they don’t have anything better to do than attack people who have written articles. And you do wonder whatever happened to the idea of the critic; of the reviewer… people who have given their lives to honing the art of what they do.”

Of his experience of the more informal book critic, he said:

“Occasionally I read some people’s comments on Amazon, some of which are beyond belief.”

Jacobson described himself, by somewhat stark contrast, as a “very non-political columnist”, which he said followed from being “very much of the belief that a novelist shouldn’t have an opinion”.

He added:

“I write the way I do as a columnist and indeed as a novelist because I don’t know anything; I don’t have any information to impart… I do try to keep the whole thing in an argument so you don’t really know what I think.

“Ideally we [writers] are at our best when we don’t have strong opinions, we go beyond strong opinions… art finds us where our opinions are not… When there is something political going on I have to find my way through.”

Jacobson seemed to liken his experience of unregulated blogs to run-ins with a generic real-life character; the opinionated dinner party bore:

“The worst thing I find is when you go for dinner and meet charming people, and then you sit down for dinner, and they tell you what they think… Mainly what people think is rubbish, because it’s not considered enough, and it doesn’t contain enough of the usual checks and balances.”

Indeed it would seem that Jacobson has only invited direct participation from his readership on one occasion; to quote from one of the excerpts read by the author from Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It:

“Just occasionally a column should be a two-way thing… tell me someone, how do I juice?”

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