This week’s Profile focuses on Guido Fawkes… Martin Salter MP, reckons bloggers can be quite scurrilous. The Milliband Wiki gets a mention. Brian Micklethwaite reckons it will not work within organised politics, because of the secrecy that inevitably surrounds power politics. Although that is not the experience in the US. Really interesting is the complicity of some of the press and bloggers. Salter believes there are journalists all too willing to recirculate unattributable rumour as fact in their own newspapers and represent it as “proper investigative journalism”, which it seems to me says more about the sharp practice of some journalists than blogging per se.
Interestingly Nick Robinson sees the increased journalistic reliance on bloggers like Guido as an inevitable consequence of the 24 hour, always on, news cycle. “Quite often when there is an alleged scandal, there is a desperation for the next nugget, the next bit of information, the next question to ask. And Guido Fawkes’ website is very good at putting those up. But the key thing to understand is that they are as often wrong as they are right.”
Matthew Taylor’s negative comments that blogging was “a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage” were also pulled out.
There is clearly a lot of needle building up in Britain over the rise of the right wing bloggers, and in particular the way they have punctured the vanities of the New Labour establishment. Iain Dale was on Sunday AM (about half way in) yesterday with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who reckons blogs are “the equivalent of going to the pub and listening to complete bores sounding off”.
She continued, “are you seriously saying bores in bars are telling us truths that we the media and press are not?” Dale’s reposte: “everyone can have a voice on the Internet nowadays, and people like you don’t like it”. He then goes on to argue that columnists like Brown spend most of their time in broadcast mode, whereas he is more interested in conversation. Brown replies that she gets 800 emails a day, many of which she replies to, but says that what she objects to is being covered by ‘verbal vomit’.
But this needle is possibly distorting a sane view of the real utility of bloggers. The big bloggers in Britain are currently from the right, but it may not always be so. In the States which is at least three years ahead of the UK (and a further two ahead of Ireland), much of the journo/blogger angst has faded. The conservative war bloggers, who were the first to hit the political activism front have been joined by several big beasts on the left, not the least the Huffington Post, which has an impressive roster of bloggers and journos writing on the same team.
Thus far in Ireland (north and south) we have still to see hostilities break out into the open. By all measures, Slugger remains the largest and most widely read political blog but the field is growing, (as can be seen from the shortlist of finalists for the Irish Blog Awards (Vote here). No doubt there is considerable scope for a similar kind of edgy disruption of the Leinster House cocoon that Guido provides in Westminster.
Yet Taylor has a point about ‘conspiracy’ when he is talking about Guido’s mission statement. Nicholas Carr at Rough Type went even further and argued some time back that Web 2.0, as an amoral technological revolution: Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can’t imagine anything more frightening.
Much of that fear is to do with the loss of quality checks and balances implicit amongst the established news and cultural producers. It also has the whiff of Ludite fever about it. The digital revolution is certainly going to destroy a lot of jobs – countless numbers of high end photographic developers have gone to the wall in the last five since digital photography began to replicate the same high quality as their mechanical predecessors.
And yet, according to Ipsos-Mori: “Blogs, or weblogs, are a more trusted source of information than television advertising and email marketing.” So it is the case that people trust blogs, sometimes, perhaps, even when they shouldn’t?
The truth is that blogging is simply a disruption of the way things are done. Authority in one world, does not automatically translate into another. Alibhai-Brown, for instance, had to use Dale’s ‘good offices’ to get after a lie doing the rounds that suggested she had been questioned during the cash for peerages scandal. It is those mainstream authoritative voices who have been coasting, that may find themselves most challenged by the shared critical eye of the blogosphere. Bloggers cannot successfully ‘fisk’ a cogent, truthful argument.
In the end, high end blogs get to the top partly because they take care to avoid making mistakes, and when one is inevitably made, their willingness to admit to them. But what makes blogs valuable to to both the political and media establishments is the capacity to lavish attention on detail the journalist working to his frantic deadlines has missed. Whatever the character of the blogger, the capacity to apply and reapply analytical thinking in a mutually accessible (as opposed to Alibhai-Brown’s private email space) space, is crucial to blogging’s phenomenal success.
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