There have been a couple of watershed moments in UK online politics in the last few weeks, notably the reaction to the Wikileaks cables and the decision of a number of well known British political bloggers to stop blogging, importantly Iain Dale and Tom Harris. These developments are related and show, in my opinion, how blogging has essentially assumed the role of the new mainstream when it comes to reporting what goes on in the Westminster village.
Take first of all the reaction to the Wikileaks leaks, a subject I’ve previously posted about. If blogging is in some way edgy, critical of the system, and ideas rather than career based, then you would expect blogs on the liberal left to be debating the consequences of Wikileaks from an ideological perspective. With the exception of Liberal Conspiracy this has not been the case. The clear message: the big blogs on the left don’t rock the boat.
These blogging-mainstream media overlap was to the fore at the #EUuk event last week at Europe House in London. Eurogoblin has done a write up of the event, and although the subject was UK and EU politics and blogging, many comments from the panellists demonstrated the cross-over between the mainstream media and blogs in the UK environment. The hollowing out of the staff of the mainstream media is of course also a contributory factor.
Present at last week’s event were Bruno Waterfield and David Rennie (traditional journalists who blog on the sites of their respective publications), Nosemonkey (a journalist with a reputation as an independent blogger) and Sunny Hundal whose approach to editorial quality at Liberal Conspiracy is similar to that of a small news publication, only without the expensive printing presses and business arm. Iain Dale’s crossover is similar – having enhanced his reputation as a blogger over the last five years his focus is now on a magazine, a publishing house and a radio show.
Further, a look at Wikio’s top UK politics blogs would confirm the statement in Tim Montgomerie’s post about Iain ending his blogging: “We may see group blogs like ConHome, Coffee House and Telegraph blogs becoming much more dominant. Only such blogs can easily deliver regular output.” – I agree with that statement. But a blogosphere dominated by group blogs, editorial teams, and blogs run my journalists from the mainstream media is a very different blogosphere from the one that people like Iain Dale, and to a lesser extent Tom Harris, helped to create. Where, importantly, is the place for an individual with views to express those in this more congested and more professional environment? For the people – in the words of Paul Evans – who feel very strongly about things?
For me, stood astride two blogospheres (London / UK politics and Brussels / EU politics), I see all of this very clearly. The business interests and mainstream media are not present in EU blogging. Hence as a hobby blogger I’m still very much present, expounding my views on the EU matters I consider to be important and still receiving a decent number of readers.
Blogging on my own I simply could not prise my way back into the UK blogosphere now; I can lever my former reputation as an early adopter of blogging to be able to post on sites like Left Foot Forward, but the style and approach there is not the off-the-cuff approach I can take on my own platform. But if I post about UK politics on this blog no-one is going to give a damn.
If I today were an emerging young nerd with Labour leaning views how would I approach things? Probably not via blogging, or at least not via blogging alone – things have moved on so much to make blogging the new mainstream in UK politics, and with the mainstream come all the vested interests and compromises we’re so used to in the old media industry.
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The main point I’d note here, Jon, is that blogs need promotion/positioning as well as content.
On Lib Con, I’d draw the distinctive more that it is a bridge to the MSM – whcih is in the DNA since it started with something like 50% of contributors being CiF or other media contributors.
Interesting post about media evolution, particularly as what you describe in the UK (similar to the US scene, apparently) will probably eventually happen in the Brussels bubble.
I wonder how things are evolving in other EU countries? They have, after all, different media traditions. And is the UK following the US evolution closely?
Your post also leads me to risk asking an obvious question: which do you think is better?
A small bubble of self-motivated hobby bloggers (e.g., the ‘euroblogosphere’), writing for each other in mutual admiration, with little outside impact?
Or a more mainstream media landscape, with all the issues brought by professionalisation and profit motive?
I’m exaggerating and simplifying, of course – Heaven forbid that I call the euroblogosphere a mutual admiration society…
Not true. The people that read you will. Some of those people are also bloggers, and possibly politicians.
Through Twitter, Facebook sharing and similar, it’s even easier to aggregate links out to people these days. And sometimes your readers can decide an issue is worth actually propagating or picking up on to carry forward more.
One of my objectives next year is to get over the break from online politics I’ve had for awhile and try to start posting more, including making use of my posting access at LibCon. If you, or anyone else I read, writes something I think is worth picking up on, I’ll try to start doing follow up/promo posts in various places.
But, ultimately, I think group blogs are always going to be easier to get top ranked. But total incoming links, and total page views/unique visitors, aren’t necessarily the only metrics.
My page views are very low. But the quality is very high (I’ve had MPs email me in response to posts, which is weird–the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator is a big help there, something Labour seems to miss).
LibCon partially works as a lot of the stuff Sunny puts up there is reprints from other blogs, which he edits for style and brevity. The people contributing maintain their own sites as well, and incoming traffic is funneled from them as well as then being passed on.
To an extent, it can function as a ‘best of the blogosphere’, which partially explains the success.
Someone posting several times a day gets more attention, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get better attention. Nosemonkey posts, what, twice a month at the moment? But every one of his posts is worth reading, and, on the terms of the competition, I think that award he got was deserved.
If you want to post several times a day, you can be the Labour Iain Dale. I can’t be bothered myself. I write when I’ve something to say, and it gets picked up and spread about if it’s good. Mark Pack, for example, didn’t have a personal blog 18 months ago, he just posted stuff to Lib Dem Voice. Now he’s one of the top Lib Dem and general politcal UK blogs. If you want that, go for it, but it takes more work than I think is justified. Group blogs are easier to leverage. I made a post on LibCon that changed the tactics of a pressure group marginally, at a crucial time. Couldn’t have done that as easily on my blog.
But that’s because mine is effectively an occasionally-updated aimed at friends blog at the moment.
Gods, I’m rambling now. I genuinely think you’re wrong about the ability for someone good to break into the higher echelons. You need to be a good writer, good on the issues, and post a lot. But it’s doable.
Full video of the first panel is up here. Second panel (the one Jon’s talking about) due up on the same YouTube channel shortly.
We’re mixing two things up here, aren’t we?
A blogging tool is just a CMS. I’ve built websites using wordpress where the blogging function is barely used apart from as a ‘news page’. We know what we mean by ‘blog’ and we can see the examples of where people have used blogging tools to replicate and update (more cheaply, quickly) existing models.
So Left Foot Forward is like a good serious political circular that is a useful tool to Labour while retaining the dialogue with the wider world in order to keep things honest. In their time, Marxism Today and New Socialist both fulfilled a similar role, albeit as monthlies on paper. Sure, LFF has a few gizmos that paper never had (twitter integration, trackbacks etc) but the comments section isn’t that lively – the posts are tight and don’t leave too many hostages to fortune. Shamik and Will *edit* posts before they go up – and they’ve even had the cheek to spike the odd rant that I’ve posted!
Seriously though, I’m glad they did.
Lib-Con is more conversational and shit-stirry. I had a post that I wanted to get out there a few days ago and I asked Sunny to run it and not Will because I wanted a reaction. But the parallel is a bit closer to a campaigning paper than something like MT. I’m not going to insult Sunny & LibCon with parallels to Socialist Worker, but it is some distance between the poles of Id-driven blogging and very serious publishing a la LFF.
LFF isn’t really a blog in the traditional sense – and I’m not saying that to take anything away from it – it’s far-and-away my favourite group site on the left.
Guido shoots from the hip. He’s a blogger as was Devils Kitchen. Like a lot of us, he’s beginning to tone a few things down and having burnt his fingers a few times, he’s a bit less reckless than he used to be, but basically, his site is an expression of his Id. My Never Trust a Hippy site is a similar affair, but I have other sites that I run or contribute to where I write like a journalist rather than chuck out in-jokes for my mates.
Blogs are personal expressions. People doing other jobs bootstrap the tools that were developed to meet the need of bloggers.