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I love the Radio Four producer who put the one presenter they have who knows nothing about blogging (John Humphreys) to the task of interviewing two bloggers (Robert Hamman and Kate Bevan) about the difference between Twitter and, well, blogging. Sort of made him quaintly endearing rather than the other emotions he regularly stirs around our neck of the woods. Rory Cellan Jones sparked the talking point by picking up a piece from Wired suggesting that blogging was so overI love the Radio Four producer who put the one presenter they have who knows nothing about blogging (John Humphreys) to the task of interviewing two bloggers (Robert Hamman and Kate Bevan) about the difference between Twitter and, well, er, blogging. It sort of made him quaintly endearing rather than stirring the other emotions he regularly stirs around our neck of the woods. Rory Cellan Jones sparked the talking point by picking up a piece from Wired suggesting that blogging was so over{pageBreak}

Here’s the money shot from Paul Bouton at Wired:

The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths.

Now, to some extent this is true. The still relatively small band of Twitterers are having the kind of unfettered conversations that first impassioned the writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto (‘Don’t tap on the glass because it just annoys the animals’) to outline the principles of the flat market over ten years ago.

In truth, blogging was first taken up by those who understood its potential for interactivity by individuals who were not themselves particularly interactive as people. Early blogging was, undoubtedly, more dominated by geeks than it is today. As the market has grown, it is slowly being populated by people who wouldn’t know a piece of computer code if it sat up and spat nails at them, but who are both intelligent and genuinely interactive. It’s an increasingly socialised, as opposed to a socialising, technology.

Take my own blog Slugger O’Toole. In recent months we’ve attracted talent like Brian Walker, former a reporter and editor on Newsnight. Understanding the freedom and the mutuality of the blogging form, he’s quickly learned to exploit his own capacity for human interaction in ways that many still in the mainstream seems reluctant to chance.

And it’s replicated amongst the less well read denizens of the online world. During last year’s Northern Irish election campaign, the one resource that had experts feeding from it time and time again was the anonymous blog, Sammy FB Morse has a posse delivered 18 constituency guides unsurpassed in their quality and depth by anything the MSM could produce.

Absolute numbers matter much less than the quality of the engagement. Though one is likely to follow the other, numbers are not always a pre-determinant of a good blog, and neither is a good blog always guaranteed good numbers. And as Niall Harbinson points out, the mainstream media is not always the best place to draw readership from.

Slugger is a case in point. In absolute terms it is large in Ireland, tiny in the UK. Yet in terms of penetration of its base market, Norhtern Ireland, Slugger has stolen a march on all other UK political blogs.

Slugger may be cross-party and multi-denominational, but over the last six years the blog has fumbled its way into a political mission of its own: making politics in Northern Ireland work. That means avoiding the dysfunctional relationship that blogs and newspapers have with politicians elsewhere. The increased political decentralisation that we see everywhere is, at least in part, the product of a media that is obsessed with the politics of personality, gossip from the ‘Westminster Village’ and a focus on politics rather than policy.

At Slugger, we’ve promoted projects that are designed to raise the profile of local councillors and make them more interactive. Our reader-driven awards aimed to encourage good quality local journalism. Where – elsewhere – blogs are seen as force that is antagonistic to representative democracy, we’ve tried to position Slugger as it’s candid friend. Not a fawning acolyte, but not a jaded oppositionalist either. As a result, more Northern Ireland assembly members read Slugger than any other media (including Northern Ireland’s newspapers) – precisely because of it’s interactivity, and the absence of the compromises that the mainstream media has to make.

Such penetration has enabled Slugger to do things that is as yet almost unimaginable in larger polities. For instance, our reader driven Slugger Awards handed prizes (hand-drawn cartoons by this paper’s excellent political cartoonist Martin Rowson) to those whom they considered the best MP, MLA, Councillor and local journalist of the year. All but one of the ten prize winners (the First Minister had to be in Westminster on parliamentary business that evening) came in person to collect their awards.

But the real value of any and all of these interactive tools lie in making real connections and making things happen out in the real world. This is getting better and it’s happening more often.

Thus the blogger Slugger readers deliberatively chose this year is one I expect few people reading this blog will ever have heard of before: the North Antrim Local Interest List (Nalil), written by a retired teacher with a sharp eye for highly local detail and which despite its diminutive size and profile played a critical part in one of the biggest political stories of the year: the resignation of Ian Paisley as First Minister.