Thursday, September 28, 2006

On Blogging

Richard North over at the EU Referendum blog is kicking up quite a fuss regarding the British blogosphere - and questioning just how far the media's use of blogs really reflects their reputation for being the workings of ordinary people. (He's backed it up with a few other implicit digs thereafter, too). Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a number of people who have attacked North for this, including Matthew Sinclair, Iain Dale, the Devil's Kitchen, and Mike Ion. The consensus, not unfairly, is that North is talking a crock of shit.

Nevertheless, he does have a point on some issues. The way blogging is viewed by the media is very much to focus on a select number of blogs, and in particular the great self-publicists like Guido, Tim Worstall or Tim Montgomerie. And fair play to them - they've managed to carve out their own niche and are having a roaring success as a result. Then again, there are a huge number of blogs that are just total dross, and not really worth anyone's time of day. And a journalist working to a tight deadline is going to go to the sites with reliable, regular posting, and who fit into an easily defined position.

Why is John McDonnell so popular in the press at the moment? Because he wants publicity for his leadership campaign, he has the consistent position of being opposed to the policies of Tony Blair, and so he'll trot out a quote at a moment's notice. Would journalists be expected to trawl through thousands of delegates at the conference to find the most intelligent comment? Of course not - working to deadlines makes that impossible. So you're going to find people who fit your prejudices.

And, of course, pretending political independence is highly rich coming from Dr North in any case. He chastises Kerron Cross and Jonathan Roberts for holding positions in the Labour Party, despite the fact they are fairly minor positions. Perhaps bloggers would care to take a look at the website of the Bruges Group, a virulently anti-European think tank. A look at the "About" page will demonstrate pretty clearly the sorts of supporters it attracts. And then, lets go and look at the "Commentators" page. Who do we find? Oh yes, Richard North and Helen Szamuely, the two editors of EU Referendum. So much for their political independence, eh? North's article can be summarised thus: "I like the fact the media pays attention to blogs, but I hate the fact they don't pay any attention to be".

Of course, North has his own view of what blogging should be. Ignoring the fact that the main reason that anyone would invest so much time in a blog is for one very simple reason - it's fun. Whether we want to spread gossip (something I dislike), swear (something I dislike, but is sometimes amusing), or put out serious, measured articles, there's no point in spending so much time at a computer screen unless we enjoy it.

And for most people, hammering out a daily rant or so gives them the political satisfaction they want. There will be very few people around who really think that blogging is the biggest contribution they can make to the political world. Heck, for most of us printing a stack of leaflets and delivering them through doors in our neighbourhood would have a bigger impact. The beauty of blogging is that it is what the writer wants it to be. And trying to impose a detailed, activist role on every blogger simply won't work.