Wednesday, September 27, 2006

 

Political Blogging: where it's at

On 24th September,last Sunday, I was invited to be part of a panel on political blogging under the very general aegis of the Labour Party Conference Fringe. The convenor of the meeting, held at urbis in Manchester, was the splendid Kate Feld, who blogs under 'Manchizzle' and has done much to help articulate a sense of community among bloggers up here in Manchester.

Also on the panel was the indefatigible pioneer now veteran blogger, Norman Geras, a former colleague from Manchester University and fellow cricket fanatic. Also present were a number of local bloggers including Stephen Newton and Roy Johnson of the arts blog, Mantex. The thrust of the debate/discusion was how well this new element of political communication was doing in relation to the mainstream media. I tried to chip in with my views on this throughout the session but if I summed them up it would come out as follows.

Political blogging has only been going for less than a decade but has already burgeoned astonishingly with hundreds of us busily projecting our thoughts into cyberspace. It seems to have captured a fair slice of the modern passion for 'interactivity' which we see in many aspects of the media whether in print journalism, radio or television. In the USA blogs have developed faster and further than in the UK so far, exerting something like a significant influence on the last presidential election. Over here we have recently had a guide drawn up by Iain Dale analysing the 400 or so political blogs currently running. Of these Dale's own and Guido Fawkes are by far the most popular with the latter - witty, irreverent and shamelessly gossipy- claiming the biggest number of daily hits and the former- also witty and informative and the work of a former author, publisher and Conservative candidate- perhaps filling the 'middle tabloid' part of the spectrum to Guido's more abrasive, populist version.

But have the bloggers usurped the mainstream media to any great extent?
I don't think so, as yet for the following reasons:

* we still deal pretty much with comment and opinion - this is very important function in helping form the climate of opinion in which polivcies are made. I was also intrigued to hear Peter Riddell of The Times, tell me recently at the Politics Association Conference, that he spends at least half an hour a day checking out the blogs as another important way of checking the nation's political pulse.

* we don't report or investigate, though maybe soon some bigger blogs might start doing this, if they can somehow attract the resources.

* so far blogs only influence politics at the fringes, breaking stories usually of a scandalous or gossipy nature, not really anything major. But Norm has shown with his Euston Manfesto that the blogo-sphere can create influential new coalitions of opinion- on this occasion on the intellectual left - which can extert a wide influence.

* the logistics of blog reading are still important. At the moment, reading blogs is mostly an uncomfortable business of scrolling down our PCs; not lounging on the sofa or sitting on the train, reading our favourite newspapers.

So blogging is still in its infancy - but it is developing at quite a lick and is an exciting part of modern political communication. I reckon it will have arrived when a major leak from a government department is not made to a major newspaper or broadcaster but to a political blogger.

How far away is that? In my view, certainly less than a another decade.

Comments:
Hughesey from Whose Views left this comment which was displayed on an earlier version of this post:

'Blogging is the written equivalant of talk radio. Like it there are too many contributors and too few recipients! I suspect both mediums fail to reach the uncommitted voters. Blogging probably has even less influence than do Labour Roses or the In Touch and Focus leaflets from the other mobs.

But as a way of encouraging like-minded people (and, alas, opponents) it's probably increasingly effective and may well have overtaken those other havens for lost souls viz. party branch meetings..... '

Blogging is the written equivalant of talk radio. Like it there are too many contributors and too few recipients! I suspect both mediums fail to reach the uncommitted voters. Blogging probably has even less influence than do Labour Roses or the In Touch and Focus leaflets from the other mobs.
 
"* we don't report or investigate, though maybe soon some bigger blogs might start doing this, if they can somehow attract the resources."

Actually, EUReferendum has done this well, and effectively.
 
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