How blogging can improve politics (and journalism)?

One of the outworking of the Slugger Awards has been the way it has stirred up attention for blogs and blogging (I’ll be compiling a round up for the Awards site in the next few days). But I was struck by Matt Wardman’s take on the Awards, because, quite simply, he absolutely gets what we were trying to do with it. Whether we have actually released anything near its full potential is an important debate, but for another time. Here’s Matt:

The work that Slugger is doing is (as far as I know) unique in this country: a blog having a measure of impact in seeking to strengthen the political process, rather than simply trying to make different things happen using the existing political process.

Much of the debate (well intentioned though it usually is) often misses this point and has a tendency focuses on the disruption rather than on what these cheap tools can be enabled to do. Matt picks up on what he thinks is an example coming up in Cardiff soon:

I think that that list of names for this debate, comprising two professional politicians, a specialist in the political process and a big media journalist, completely misses the point. It is also a symbol that the most important aspect of political blogging – the potential for engagement in the political convesation by those who would not do it otherwise – has not yet been absorbed by the political and media establishments.

To be fair, I’ve been on blogger only panels where the debate has completely misfired, so there are no easy golden bullets here. And for the most part, because the technologies are so disruptive, it requires a suck it and see approach. The 2gether08 debate got fitfully to the point. But it seems to me that there is an opportunity for a pro-politics approach to develop and work from the outside (i.e., the liberated populus) inwards to those (incarcerated) elites who have grown fearful of the forthright opinions of ordinary folk.

That requires the kind of pro political approach I outlined in my Dublin video recently. It also requires some independence, and the determination to be a critical friend to politics rather than laying low in the long grass of the net to take the next villain down. It also requires a willingness to facilitate change rather than force it.

Sadly I won’t be in Cardiff on the 21st October (though I now see Matt will!!). But I will be giving a lecture for the Reuters Institute at Green Templeton College, Oxford on 26th November between 12:00 – 14:00, and speaking to the suitably intimidating title: How the web is saving journalism and making it better.

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  • Dewi
  • CW

    As Slugger is supposedly about NI politics and culture, how about an award for the more culturally-inclined blogs? There are many good quality blogs by NI writers based both in NI and further afield which aren’t neccessarily political, but nevertheless tackle interesting subjects in a though-provoking manner.

  • >An alternative view from Wales

    Heh. That was one of mine, and is probably the one that Mick is quoting :).

    >As Slugger is supposedly about NI politics and culture, how about an award for the more culturally-inclined blogs? There are many good quality blogs by NI writers based both in NI and further afield which aren’t neccessarily political, but nevertheless tackle interesting subjects in a though-provoking manner.

    I think that would be a good idea. Jennie Rigg (The Yorkshire Gob) had something interesting to say about writing about politics and everything else as a way of avoiding (roughly) living at the bottom of a deep nerdy silo with a bunch of weirdos – and as a way of getting a wider involvement/debate.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t find it (Liveournal search facilities Gah!).

    Matt

  • “a blog having a measure of impact in seeking to strengthen the political process, ”

    Yes the comment above sums up slugger perfectly, conservative, in that the radical right and left are all but excluded, pro establishment and Union. Fearful of annoying powerful forces, always, always attempting to keep the lid on the established way of doing things, hence it has become useless as a political tool.

    At a time when the political in crowd in the north are behaving in the most disgraceful manner, slugger wines and dines them and their media gofers and for good measure throws in the sponsorship of a UK state broadcasters which was party to repeating the UK governments wicked lies over Iraq.

    What angers me about slugger most these days is it masquerades as some sort of radical cutting edge blog that is a force for the good. Yet there is absolutely no democratic input as to who blogs etc. Instead of Mick searching out new ground, he has chosen to ape the corporate blogs of big media, indeed this type of blogging is as old as humanity and all it really amounts to is an attempt to change the guard, which in reality will end in failure as what actually occurs is the established order consumes those it believes it can mould and use.

  • Mick,
    I hear what you’re saying, but (as you might expect, I disagree).

    The key to Slugger’s approach is its independence, as I pointed out in Davy Sims’ excellent podcast, my own indifference towards expressing my own point of view. It’s a journalistic project in the earlier, enlightenment sense of that word.

    When the Assembly collapsed, we did not campaign for the return of politics to the hill. But now it has, I am very happy to do what we can to make sure we take the political choice, not simply of the parties, but of the vast majority of people living in Northern Ireland (not to mention the island) as seriously as we took five years on what seemed at times a road to nowhere.

    That does not mean that we are not taking account of other strands of thought. Kensei’s addition to the blogging team is the beginning, I hope, of a more intensive interest in Republican politics beyond the rigid confines of mainstream party politics.

    Over the next few months, I want to develop Slugger’s capacity to cover a much broader set of politics in these islands and beyond. That will partly be about covering precisely the kind of establishment politics you object to, and I make no apology for that.

    These are the people who exercise real control over us as citizens, and we ought to care about what they do in our name. And be aware when they engage in activities that breach the citizens’ trust in them, laud them when they do something worthy of that trust.

    I don’t believe that can be achieved by adopting a cynical attitude towards the ‘great and the good’ whether of the media or politicians. But neither does entail setting up camp inside the political establishment and narrating from within. I’m as interested in helping to build wider capacity for citizens to speak truth unto power as I am to diffuse unwarranted animus against politicians in general.

    I think it’s significant that Nevin won the political blogger of the year. He won it by tending to matters where it counts, in his own backyard. I won’t say he was th butterfly who flapped his wins in North Antrim and brought down a First Minister, but I might say something like that.

    To paraphrase what Eamon McCann once very memorably said of George Best, Van Morrison, and Alex Higgins: Nevin’s a good blogger with absolutely no talent for guff.

    Code word: law

  • Greenflag

    mick hall ,

    ‘the comment above sums up slugger perfectly, conservative, in that the radical right and left are all but excluded, pro establishment and Union.’

    Not sure about that Mick . Being a mainly NI focused blog one would expect it to be 60/40 in it’s pro union/anti union make up but in practice it seems to me an ‘outsider’ that the ‘anti union’ posters seem to dominate in many of the blogs at least the ‘contentious ‘ ones . Theres a reluctance which even I share of getting into say a specifically ‘unionist ‘ thread reason being I have scant interest in that kind of detail . But that’s not to say that that scant detail is of no interest to many people of unionist political bent in NI . And it’s vice versa on the other side .

    Thus our Mr Fealty’s attempt to broaden the blogosphere on slugger anyway beyond the purely NI focus is -imo – the way to go . That does not discount people like Nevin and his success at ‘detailing ‘ local interest say in North Antrim . I’m sure there are many similar individuals around Ireland /UK who are and will follow Nevin’s example .

    Whether this leads to any great renewal or revitalisation in the overall political debate on the main issues of the day in our democracies is another story . We are seeing the effect of the blogosphere for the first time in the American Presidential election .

    We need a Skibbereen Eagle out there keeping an eye on both the political establishment and the counter establishment in waiting or in opposition assuming there is one .

    BTW – I’ve not been censored on this site -yet even if on occassion I may have crossed a line or two . I am however certain that some of my posts had they been sent to a national newspaper would not have seen the light of day !

    Enjoy the ‘freedom ‘ of the net as long as you can . There are some out there who would be only too willing to ‘rein’ it in .

  • Wilde Rover

    Mick Hall,

    “Instead of Mick searching out new ground, he has chosen to ape the corporate blogs of big media, indeed this type of blogging is as old as humanity and all it really amounts to is an attempt to change the guard, which in reality will end in failure as what actually occurs is the established order consumes those it believes it can mould and use.”

    Interesting read over at organizedrage about media filters. Food for thought certainly.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    WR,

    Just read that media lens piece (http://url.ie/t43). They are an interesting outfit, but I find Chomsky’s ‘reasoning’ a tad on the mystical side.

    I’ve a very old friend who has spent most of his life swimming against the tide first in education and then in the Arts.

    He’s always argued that his ‘voice’ was never acceptable to the establishment. And to an extent, that’s true. There is a way of doing things that makes the mainstream more comfortable, as I round when I ‘repackaged’ some of his ideas and got them published in both the Guardian and the New Statesman, papers he had been an avid reader of for forty years, and had rarely been published in.

    There is such a thing as editorial control. Talkback is hugely reluctant to do much on politics and business of politics these days, though its not clear to me why. Pete Baker’s repeated formulation of the difficulties around policing and justice rarely make it into the questions mainstream journalism and never on TV journalism.

    I’ve no doubt there are filters, and some of them cultural. So far as Slugger goes, I do retain ownership of the site and to an extent I could step in and pull something. If I have, it;s only been on a handful of occasions, and then for legal rather political reasons.

    However, running a blog is not the same as running a paper. Editors have a finite space to fill, on a blog the space is infinite. Quality control is vital to the decision about what is in, and what is out. In theory, that’s not a consideration on a blog. That said, I am careful about who I invite.

    The reference at the top of the ML story to an objection to Gestapo’ seems to me to be a reasonable editorial challenge, since from the text ML it seems to be unsupported in the text.

    Taking it back to the subject of the initial thread, it seems to me that the ‘control’ in newspapers is partly to with limited opportunities, and partly to do with proprietorial prejudice, and the control of big advertising.

    Blogs are certainly filtered by the middle factor, but not (necessarily) by the first and the last. And that’s where the opportunity lies for a freer flow of ideas, and possibly, a more intelligent and responsive media.

  • “the butterfly who flapped his wings in North Antrim”

    Mick, dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee on the Rathlin ferry story has created a bit of a flap in the Belfast, Dublin and Edinburgh Civil Services. It’s my understanding that Edinburgh, having formerly held its tongue, has changed its stance and permitted disclosure to those carrying out the in-house investigations.

    This story also raises serious questions about the relationships between politicians and senior public administrators in regional and local government. Some councillors have said to me that they would have known nothing about ‘difficulties’ in ferry matters had it not been for the NALIL blog and Sam McBride’s articles in the News Letter. Another councillor said that some officials viewed them as useful fools who could advance officials’ pet projects.

  • Mick Fealty

    Charlie has some stuff on critical noise from the blogosphere, not making it into the mainstream:

    http://url.ie/t58

  • Greenflag

    SOTA ,

    ‘on a blog the space is infinite. ‘

    Like the surface of a ball for an ant 😉

    Nevin ,

    A very brief flitting image of your good self dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee on the deck of the Rathlin Ferry crossed my mind . And then I heard a splash 😉

    To misappropriate some political terminology currently much in vogue across the larger pond to the west of Donegal

    ‘I knew Cassius Clay and you Nevin are no Cassius Clay ‘

    Mind how and who you box and good luck in your next round :)?

  • Oh, Greenflag, I like the cut of your gibe. Don’t worry about the splash. Apparently the Ali quote was “float like a butterfly ..”

  • Wilde Rover

    SOTA,

    My reading of it was that while you and the excellent Slugger team are respected because you do what you do out of civic duty, others might want to exploit that bond of trust.

    And as for the “legal reasons,” I shall be sure not to bring up the background of a certain group of summertime ramblers;)