Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Guido and the Commentariat
When the great and the good assembled at the RSA last Wednesday... to bemoan their diminished status, they drew the battle-lines for a battle that should be joined and won for the blogosphere. The Commentariat desperately want to maintain their monopoly role as media gate-keepers, as the sub-edited filters of democracy and the monopoly producers of public commentary. Guido has said this before; in an age of near costless technological disintermediation "the news" is no longer what they say it is, we can make the news ourselves, unfiltered by the metropolitan media elite.
He went on to suggest Polly Toynbee was too vain or sensitive to read the critical online comments on her articles, even though many only read her to see her 'torn to shreds' by these very comments. Janet Daley was also singled out as the first member of this dated phalanx for critical attention. He promises to make a regular feature of taking columnists to task, revealing, with the help of other bloggers, he hopes, the triviality of the Commentariat's contributions to the political debate. Mmmm.
I'd make a number of observations on this:
1. We all have our own opinions on columnists. For example, I don't like Janet Daley or Simon Heffer much because they write for the rightwing press and I tend to dislike their views. Not so much their fault-they are not 'useless'- as a simple difference of opinion. I happen to like Polly Toynbee as someone who writes the the best researched articles on the left of centre and who is genuinely insightful of society and politics. It might be significant that even David Cameron thinks highly of her.
2. The best members of the commentariat study the political game very closely and can tell us a great deal about it. The likes of Andrew Rawnsley and Patrick Wintour move constantly in political circles and are very well informed as to what is happening behind the scenes, as the former's publications prove. Without their input we would lose a great deal and be much more ignorant of what is going on. They write foir the big papers and receive big salaries because they are mostly really good at their jobs.
3. Some columnists seem to be upset by critical comments. Maybe they shouldn't be, but I can understand their feelings. There is no real excuse for gratuitous rudeness or ad hominem attacks which ignore the argument. And we do have perhaps a little too much of that in the blogospere.
4. Does the political blogospere offer an adequate replacement for the commentariat? I doubt it very much. People like Guido often deal in superficial gossip, seldom offering real insights into the political scene. Furthermore, we bloggers are essentially one man bands, we lack the resources of the press or broadcasting or even most academic research programmes into our politics. Certainly the top bloggers-Dale, Guido, Montgomerie- are widely read but I suspect more for the jokes and the the personal attacks than the scant news or revealing apercus contained in their online columns. I should say that I read them regularly too, but for entertainment rather than illumination.
5. I often read the comments on these top blogs and find them often to be mindless cheerleading stuff, left by rightwing hooray henrys when they are not cliquey exchanges between people who seem to be old and rivalrous mates.
So, I'm sorry, I think much of the commentariat comprises good writing by seasoned obervers who help educate us after the manner of a mature democracy. Blogging has added a new dimension to political communication but it is still embryonic and nowhere near a substitute for what Guido attacks. People like the late Louis Heron, Peter Jenkins and Hugo Young made substantial contributions to the national debate and the likes of Rawnsley, Parris, Aaronovitch, Riddell, Simon Jenkins and Anatole Kaletsky to mention only a few, do something similar in the present day. Guido might have been annoyed at being attacked at that meeting but, I fear, it is he who takes himself too seriously and has come up with an over-reaction.
While I like Guido's blog the problem is that the comments he receives are from nutcases like the two above. I doubt whether anyone ever bothers to read the comments on his blog because its contributors are just bizarrely angry and have little or nothing interesting to say.
Thanks for that. Rather than inviting the two other commenters to crawl off and die, I would ask them, and anyone else to consider this question: to whom would they rather turn for an authoritative judgement on the political situation, Peter Riddell or Guido? It's a no brainer.
Staines, of course, hovered near te flame of television media with two Newsnight appearances, both of which were embarassing.
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