John West - Labour supporter and journalist

Currently living in Paris, I'm a Labour member, activist and freelance journalist. I'll be writing mostly about missed opportunities, as I see them, and the necessity to rebuild Labour as a cohesive movement. We mustn't lose sight of reality, but we should sometimes challenge it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is blogging always good for debate?

If you can forgive my using a blog to discuss my misgivings about the medium (something of a pre-requisite, I admit), I would be grateful. There is a problem here, I feel - please read my comments below and see what you think:

Whilst positive about the posibilities we now have as individuals to write material and have it discussed publicly, blogging is generally polarising and can fatally lower the standard of public debate.
On the Guardian's Comment is Free website, I notice that Frank Fisher (better known as
MrPikeBishop - scourge of the message boards) has been offerred a column in a competition
called "Big Blogger". I don't know Mr Fisher, but I would conjecture that his sole
qualification for being published is that he spends all day at his
computer and fires off a confused volley of right wing views. I don't deny that the Guardian
has the right to employ the man, but I wonder why they would want to?
What purpose does it serve?

I fear I am not getting to the nub of this. I guess what I realy mean is:
is the Guardian getting on the blogging bandwagon because it feels there
is really something amazing happening out there, in the democratic
dissemination of ideas? Or is it to raise profile in a field that is
coming to define what we might shamefacedly call the "zeitgeist"?

If it's the former, I hate to point out that the blogging scene is not
democratic. I have no figures at my fingertips, but bloggers seem to be
mostly middle class men of a certain age (I'd say 25-45 makes up the bulk)
- usually with certain occupations and interests. What's more, the shrill
voices stifle
true debate because of their free access to all arguments.
You will notice with CiF debates on (to pick a subject at random(!))
Israel/Palestine, the measured voices challenging the issues are drowned
out by techy radicals on both sides with whom it is impossible to debate
because they enter the discussion only to inflict their view - which they
can do with impunity. It is largely for this reason that the Euston
Manifesto (without discussion about its motivation) falls so flat: its
portrayal of the contemporary left is blog-scarred and wholly
misrepresentative of the reality. In short, if I want a random collage of
opinions from people arrogant enough to offer them, I'll head down to the

If it's the latter, god help the Guardian.

Declaring an interest - my ambition is to become a sinecured journalist and
political comment writer - I naturally care passionately about the need
for a space that unashamedly employs people to spend their days sifting
through reports and attending conferences. As a 22 year old hoping to get
into the media, and the discussion and furthering of policy (which is so
often forgotten in the desire to create a news "narrative"), I am uneasy
about the future of comment and debate.

None of which is to say I'm a luddite - I hope my expressing these concerns
on a
blog testifies to that; but we do need to think carefully about the effect of opening
up the
professional (i.e. the Guardian, BBC) sphere of disseminating ideas to any
Margaret, Adolf or Leon who happens to be passing by. After all, a project like
Wikipedia is interesting and extremely successful - largely because content is
designed to be continually edited and refined by users (i.e. the moderate
voices cannot be shouted down) and is rigorously checked for its veracity
by thousands of users. But comments on blogs are unverified, often wildly
innacurate or even legally actionable! On Comment is Free, mega-watts of intellectual
energy is exhausted trying to convince, or berate, individuals who will not be persuaded
It is this character that can often be poisonous.
There are no answers here, but a debate about blogging that appreciates the problems (and goes beyond the usual "if you can't stand the heat..." stylings of so-called "hardened" bloggers) of blogging as a tool for political discussion seems increasingly necessary.


At 11:51 pm, Blogger David Broder said...

Middle aged!

My blog offers some of the most unpopular Trotskyist attacks on cultural relativists and apologists for "anti-imperialist" régimes

... and I'm just 17.

Pretty sad. Don't I have anything else to do?

At least SWPers are more likely to actually talk to you in cyberspace than on the street. They still spout the same bollocks though - the ability to thoughtfully compose their thoughts in writing obviously doesn't help.

At 10:39 pm, Blogger El Tom said...

yes, quite a big problem seems to be disengagement from the public. yet it is exactly this which is the root cause of the lack of principle seen in today's politicians; they don't do what they believe, and when they say they do, they can't stick to it. Simply because they are hostages to popularity.

In the blogosphere, we don't make much difference. we don't. but at least we can make our small influences on each other, and we all know each other to be politically conscious/active. Furthermore, it helps us hone, refine, and reconsider our own opinions, and that's not just because they are unpopular either.

the blogosphere is not a place to win the masses over. but it is a place to persuade the active, and to engage in meaningful discussion. imagine it as a version of tribune, but without old people, and with comments. let's face it, it's easier than writing a letter.

we all have our reasons. I write because I want to improve and progress the labour party, and I am interested in how to do that. It also serves as a ranting vent, and stops me taking out my blairism related frustrations on friends and family.

other people have other reasons. but there isn't much point in blogging to get dialogue with the public. If you want to do that, write for New Statesman!

I'd delete anything legally actionable... but then, everyone loves a rumour...

At 11:26 pm, Blogger El Tom said...

I think the value of blogging is more introspective for politicos than anything else... but in that way, it is kind of similar to writing for intra-party publications; perhaps the logical extension?


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