Cometh the hour, cometh the blogger…

Ros Taylor, takes Guido to task for, in effect, “playing the man, and not the ball”. Now, anyone who knows Slugger will know that that is most decidedly not our style. So why was I so keen to have Guido come to Dublin as a key speaker for the first ever Irish Blogger Conference?One: he’s the biggest blogger in Britain, bar none. His audience figures outweigh all of the traffic going to the websites of all the political parties in the UK, added together! As does Iain Dale‘s, by the way (no immodesty there, methinks). Biggest may not mean best, but in two years Guido has driven his “spiky” project from zero right into the middle of a Westminster establishment which had become dangerously complacent from years of knowing how to handle mainstream journalism, and a highly dysfunctional opposition.

Two: There are two sides to the Milliband wiki story, in which Ros first publicly tangled with Guido. My response at the time was that, while I was happy to see the minister take risks, it was a fairly poorly thought-out piece of consultation. Gary Kass of the parliamentary office of science and technology flagged this particular failing up in his excellent 2001 Open Channels report:

… the value of any dialogue may be brought into question if it is not seen to command an audience, or is used merely to legitimise previously made decisions. Some researchers, practitioners and commentators have warned that unless those wishing to embark upon public dialogue, clearly understand these dimensions, there is a danger that public dialogue may be conducted in an atmosphere of cynical tokenism, leading to bland exercises in public relations.

There was, in effect, nothing there for Guido to “spoil for the rest of us”. If you patronise in the blogosphere, you get punished for it. In future – and I hope such experiments do continue despite the heat – ministers would be better to call on people like Guido, or indeed myself, who have come to understand through experience how net communication works, before spending another penny of public money on software.

Three: Is Guido an unconscionable old cynic? Well, maybe. But having read him outside the occasional bun-fights he picks with various media and political establishments, I have him more in the sceptical than cynical column, and free societies (and good journalism) thrive when business is conducted under scrutiny of the sceptical eye. Applying a near infallible good blogger test, he admires people who blog well, regardless of their politics (not to mention good design). He certainly disrupts – but can only disrupt what’s weak and condescending.

Where I might agree with Ros is in her sign-off: “a blog of its disillusioned, exhausted time; it’s a blog for the tail-end of the Blair era and the alarming lack of engaging alternatives.” However, to a very large extent is an era that has been called into being by a cynical liberal press, who for much of the Blair years bypassed the legitimate opposition, and sought, through what Martin Bell calls “journalism of attachment”, to assume the mantle of the political opposition to Blair itself.

All I can say is: cometh the hour; cometh the blogger!

Note: Cross posted on Comment is Free, where there has been a useful debate so far.