I thoroughly enjoyed the morning session at the NI Human Rights Commission on Friday (of which more later). One of the most intriguing remarks from a lively panel came from highly respected commentator and journalist Fionnuala O’Connor, when she said that “Slugger has a disproportionate effect on the media”. If there is a disproportion it comes from the fact that Slugger is one of a relatively few number of political blogs in Northern Ireland (though we are probably long overdue another blog round up). The picture is better in the Republic, but not by much. But if you want a gauge for how ‘disproportionate’ it can get, check out this relative new comer to the American blog scene in yesterday’s Observer Magazine.
Every moment of downtime, while she is being made up for an interview or driven to a meeting, is spent in online communication. Arianna is permanently clamped to her Blackberry. It is this high-octane power networking that has allowed the Post to gather the greatest roster of celebrity names in the blogosphere, from media stars such as Tina Brown and Norman Mailer to Hollywood figures like John Cusack, Tim Robbins, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and Larry David. There are also politicians such as John Kerry and Gary Hart and, amazingly, not one of these contributors gets paid.
Here and now, as Time executives sip mineral water and dine on tiny canapes, Arianna is in the inner sanctum of the enemy: Time magazine is the perfect symbol of much of the world’s old media. And Arianna is having a ball. She even holds out an olive branch to the many newspapermen and magazine writers in the room, kindly declaring that she still reads them – ‘At least five newspapers a day,’ she says. ‘The argument that the old media will simply die off is becoming obsolete. Honestly, there is room for both of us. Both of us are here to stay.’
But the very fact that Arianna feels she needs to make such a statement tells you everything about the power dynamic these days, about how far the revolution has already come. She is seeking to reassure the great and good of Manhattan’s old media world that they still have a future. No wonder the photographers circling the event like vultures appear to swoop down only on her. Everyone in the room wants to be snapped with her. ‘She’s a true force of nature,’ says Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time. Then, suddenly, she disappears in the direction of the coat check. The photographers seem nonplussed, deprived of their main prize. Then, just as quickly, she’s back, coffee cup in hand. Striding over with a smile on her face, she trills, ‘Are you having fun yet?’ But it’s not really a question. It is a defiant statement about herself. She is definitely having fun.
Now that could be said to be disproportionate. Or it might be said that it is simply the clever deployment of new technology by a non-incumbent. Slugger (in any of its personas) is no Arianna, but increasingly it is being recognised that it has serious grind both with people who matter, and (crucially) people who previously didn’t.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty