Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Political blogging v blogging about politics

Here's Norm on the death of the critic. He concludes that...
"if the activity of criticism is more widely diffused, then the critic isn't dead."
Now, Norm's post is largely a response to an argument that he provides a precis of. And it's an argument that Norm disagrees with, so I think you'll have to follow that link and read the whole thing.

But this issue - the way that 'democratisation' is diminishing the value of criticism - seems very pertinent to the narrower question of whether political blogs are a good or bad thing.

Or, more to the point, whether lots of people blogging about political matters (as opposed to political blogging) is a good or bad thing - because the two things are not the same.

I'd argue that political blogging - bloggers who focus largely upon court politics and have a ready opinion on everything - do not improve the quality of public life. The reverse is often the case. Such blogs are, for the most part, tedious rehearsals of the kind of bunfights that only appeal to political anoraks. It simply exacerbates the problems that the tabloid coverage of politics are creating - the centralisation, the perception of spin, the abandonment of principle in favour of crude focus-grouping, etc. I could go on, but I think that Chris makes this point very well here.

But what about the fact that more people blog about political matters? That is - I would argue - a different thing.

It surely must be a good thing that there is a wider discussion about public policy, and that people with an interest in particular issues can network with each other more effectively?

And while the quality of that criticism / political discussion is often quite mixed, it is worth contrasting the pre-democratisation situation with the one that the blogosphere has created.

The day before weblogs were invented, when there was a near-monopoly of comment sitting with a fairly small number of people who have to ...
  • write on a few different subjects each week whether they have any expertise or not
  • reflect the prejudices of their proprietor that their advertisers don't object to
  • have to make it fit in the allotted space, and have to make it interesting
... then we didn't have much to be satisfied about, did we?

Somewhere, every day, on the subject that you want to read about, there is probably a blogger who has written a better article than any of those that are churned out by the professional commentariat. They will be discussing policy rather than politics - something that is frowned upon by the business logic of newspapers. And not being high-volume blogs, they won't have dozens of poisonous off-topic comments underneath them.

They will be presenting new evidence, avoiding the kind of journalistic groupthink that I remarked upon here. They will not be saying anything very exciting - but then, the most pertinent thing to say often isn't very exciting anyway. And they probably won't be writing because some PR has prodded them into it.

I would suggest that it is only a matter of time before variations on the theme of collaborative filtering starts to highlight and reward this kind of writing more than happens at the moment.


Bob Piper said...

I don't agree with you Paulie, and it sounds a tad elitist to me. It is the sort of thing you read in The Telegraph when they are being snotty about what they consider to be journalism that falls below their standards.

Blogging, political or otherwise, isn't necessarily about journalism, although it can be and you can find some damned good analysis and writing on blogs. In fact the MSM journos have picked up on this and are increasingly starting up their own blogs.

Blogs, be they the highbrow blogs you orgasm over or the proletarian lowbrow blogs you peer down your nose at, are about opinions. Giving someone the benefit of your opinion doesn't have to be the preserve of either those with an NUJ card or an honours degree in semantics. Pseudo intellectual bloggers who dream of their own column in the Spectator or imagine they are pontificating over cigars and a fine red, are in reality only quietly stroking their own egos after all.

I equate the sort of bloggers you consider to diminish the 'quality of public life' (a phrase that simply oozes with intellectual snobbery) with the fine political tradition of soap box orators at Hyde Park Corner or outside the factory gate. Yes, you will get cranks and nutters galore, but you will also get those who have a strong (often minority) ideological position and they are prepared to stand up and take on hecklers (commenters) and the world.

To condemn that 'democratisation' on the grounds that it isn't quality analysis smacks of the political snob. I genuinely don't care if people choose to engage in what you describe as 'court politics'. It may well be tedious bunfighting, but as Mary Whitehouse was frequently asked... doesn't your TV set have an 'off' switch?

Neil Harding said...

I'm with Bob Piper on this one. The more blogs the merrier and the best (hopefully) will prosper. But even if they don't, the whole point of having blogs is allowing comments (and Normblog is not a proper blog because he doesn't allow comments - another example of his pseudo-marxist elitism). You are challenged and have to defend your opinion no matter (or especially) how ridiculous it may be. Obviously people having their opinions challenged is the best part of blogging - which is probably why snooty Norm has a problem, because he obviously cannot stand criticism.

Paulie said...

I’m a bit puzzled by all of this.

A few points and questions.

1. The Telegraph (alongside The Independent) are the worst offenders in the way that they’ve dumbed down broadsheet reporting and allowed it to morph into comment. I’d not take a lecture from the Torygraph on anything.
2. I *know* blogging isn’t about journalism. My point is that the best blogs have the potential to be a lot better than most journalism. MSM commenters who set up their own blogs are just opportunists – they port their values (write on a wide range of gossipy subjects / make it interesting / pander to popular prejudices). For the most part, they should be ignored.
3. Orgasm?
4. Your decision to contrast ‘highbrow’ and ‘proletarian’ is a very odd one for a socialist to make. I don’t think that thoughtful well-researched writing is to preserve of the aristocracy. Quite the reverse.
5. I think it is possible to write something that is well-drafted, well-researched and intelligent without only doing so to stroke one’s ego. I’d go further: People who write knockabout stuff in order to bump up their visitor numbers are the inadequate ones whose egos need a bit of a boost. That’s why they do it.
6. Why does the term ‘quality of public life’ ooze intellectual snobbery? As a democratic socialist, I want many more people to be able to get involved in a civilised debate on how their country and their locality should be run. They get marginalised when public debate is monopolised by cranks and nutters. Guido explicitly confirmed my view that a dysfunctional public debate is an essential element of the right-libertarian political project – here: http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/2007/04/in-defence-of-guido.html - I hope you’re not on board for that one Bob?
7. I said that the ‘democratisation’ of public debate increases the availability of quality analysis – you seem to think that I said the opposite. It also increases the availability of loads of tedious ill-informed crap as well. That’s why I made the point about ‘collaborative filtering’. We are getting better and better at sifting information, and it is increasingly possible for more people to get involved in good conversations about policy – as opposed to court politics.
8. I don’t care any more than you do if people get involved in ‘court politics’. When I come to power, I have no plans to ban it. But I don’t have any plans to take much notice of it either. I already use my ‘off switch’ when Question Time comes on the telly.
9. Neil: You can compare Normblog and Harry’s Place. They share a similar viewpoint. The former doesn’t have comments, the latter does. The latter often gets 100+ comments per posts – always the same people making the same tedious points. I think that – given Norm’s visitor numbers – that he’s entitled not to have a comments section, and I prefer Norm to HP. The whole world can link to him in a critical way and he can respond when he sees fit. It’s less adversarial and more conversational. And I’d think carefully before you refer to Norm as a ‘pseudo-marxist’. I’ve met him, and I know a lot of people who’ve studied under him.

He’s forgotten more than most people have learned about Marxism.

Paulie said...

Sorry - I didn't do that link to the post about Guido properly. Try this one.