Wednesday, 17 November 2010

MacBlogfather demonstrates futility of blogging

I didn't really consider attending the Political Innovations event in Edinburgh last Saturday; I work weekends, the event was 60 miles away and if I'd contributed anything to the discussion it would have been merely to underline that blogging is largely futile, thus to that extent the time and effort required to attend would have represented something of a paradox. Anyway, Peter Curran has some excellent posts on Saturday's proceedings, including a video of what appears to be the main blogging seminar. And James Mackenzie's contribution to the discussion therein is probably the most insightful and realistic of the views proffered.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things this blog is of marginal relevance only, thus no doubt anyone reading this will be thinking along the lines: "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?" Which would represent very fair comment indeed, but I think there's more to it than my marginal status as a political blogger, as I've sought to demonstrate in a couple of previous posts.

Indeed, one of those posts was published as an article in the 2010/11 edition of the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK, and thus easily represents the pinnacle of my blogging career. Why? Because it was published in a book. But it was about blogging. All very flattering, therefore, but this blog's raison d'ĂȘtre wasn't really critiquing blogging. Oh, and a journalist from the regional press once contacted me about a post I did, but that was the end of the matter. Of course, bloggers get excited at MSM interest, which should perhaps tell us something. And my journalistic enquiry was about...yes, you've guessed, a spat with another blogger.

My other earlier post was about Iain Dale's view that the MSM's interest in bloggers - as political pundits, for example - demonstrated the success of the medium. I contrasted this with the relative lack of blogger/MSM interaction in Scotland, and also asked whether many of the more successful 'bloggers' were in fact better characterised as MSM journalist and politicians who just happened to have an online presence using a particular software platform - grassroots bloggers tend to define themselves apart from and in opposition to the MSM (while paradoxically celebrating when the MSM comes calling), thus isn't the like of Norman Tebbit an MSM journalist cum politician rather than a blogger per se? Surely a 'blogger' shouldn't be defined merely in relation to a software platform if the term and the wider concept of the 'blogosphere' is to have any real meaning other than as a mere part of a continuum with a grassroots blogger/citizen journalist-type environment at one end, and the MSM at the other.

In the Scottish context Joan Macalpine's upbeat assessment of the Political Innovations event - and the MacBlogosphere in general - perhaps illustrates the point. She says: "I already get invited onto the radio occasionally as a result of Go Lassie Go." Are you sure, Joan? Nothing to do with the fact that you were a Sunday Times Scotland columnist for a number of years, and now write for the Scotsman? If Joan had decided on a career outside journalism or politics and was now a grassroots blogger like most of us, would she have been invited onto the radio? And, of course, she again posits an MSM appearance as a measure of blogging success. But other than that her rather gung ho analysis of the MacBlogosphere's impact could perhaps be objectively characterised as self-regarding and self-justifying.

But the more futile nature of blogging is perhaps demonstrated by Tom Harris's decision to quit the medium. Probably Scotland's best-known blogger - and thus worthy of the title MacBlogfather - he seems to rationalise his move on the basis that blogging is detrimental to his political career and personal life. Thus to that extent blogging is essentially a glorified hobby which gets in the way of more important things, and this is despite Tom's relative success as a blogger.

Similarly, as mentioned above the Blogfather himself also uses MSM appearances as a yardstick of blogging success. And, more to the point, Iain seems to be neglecting his blog in favour of his radio show, book and magazine publishing business and television appearances (not to mention his former Telegraph column). Thus to reitearate, there seems to be a pattern developing here; blogging is a mere-stepping stone or adjunct to olde worlde TV, radio, newspapers and books, or as an elected politician in Tom's case or in Iain's aspiration. Witness also the hoo-hah on the rare occasions when the blogosphere breaks a story before the MSM, which of course is vindicated when the story becomes headline news in

Of course, that's not the denigrate the fantastic tool that the blogosphere - and Web 2.0 generally - is as a tool for political discourse, and if bloggers are realistic about the medium's limitations and still enjoy what they're doing then all well and good. But to an extent it mirrors the Westminster/Holyrood/political bubble - people talking among themselves while the real world carries on regardless. And even the biggest of the blogging beasts are demonstrating that when the blog and the wider world compete, the latter wins hands down.


James Mackenzie said...

Thanks Stuart! It was a fascinating event, especially for the conversations on the fringe, but there was a misplaced sense abroad that we're about to lure the public in to discuss politics on our blogs and thus change the world.

Paulie said...

I think that the real opportunity is less in attracting the millions in to read political blogs instead of watching TV or reading newspapers (neither of which are necessarily engaging *everyone* in public discourse anyway).

No. The real opportunity is to challenge the clumsy and overstretched monopoly that the mainstream media exercise on political discussion. To deal with issues that don't sell papers or provide an instant 'gotcha' from a target-driven investigative journalist.

There's also the factor that sometimes - and I stress, *sometimes* blogs and other social media tools are good for generating a conversation that has some momentum, one that brings unconsidered facts into the equation, and provides a highly efficient alternative to the Think Tank - an entity that necessarily has to charge it's partners out of £hundreds (£thousands?) a day.

None of it is a revolutionary replacement for anything we have at the moment. It's more a supplement that offers new possibilities.

Stuart Winton said...

Indeed, James. It would be great if that did happen, but I doubt if it will, in the short- to medium-term at least.


Thanks for that - I partly agree with you, but surely the problem is that the MSM still calls the shots and any interaction between bloggers and the MSM is definitely on the latter's terms.

And has any grasroots blogger ever been featured in the Scottish MSM other than in relation to a purely blogging matter, and in particular a blogging scandal which in the eyes of the wider public does little more than convey the impression that the term 'blogger' is almost one of abuse?

The Scottish MSM's portrayal of Web 2.0 seems largely confined to cybernattery and the non-Nationalisst equivalent.

Stuart Winton said...

Apologies, Paulie; I assumed you were a Scottish blogger, but on closer inspection it appears that you're not! My comments above were based largely on the Scottish blogosphere, which from what I can tell has had less impact on the MSM and the wider world than the Engish equivalent.