Thursday, 26 April 2007

Political blogging

It seemed a good idea at the time. Now I'm not so sure. Next Thursday, I'm at the frontline club with Ben Hammersley - one of my favourite gurus and blogger - and Richard Gizbert - of the al Jazeera 'Listening Post'. Blogger Ethan Zuckermann - co-founder of Global Voices and blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah will join by phone.

We'll be talking about political blogging. An uneven contest, especially since I'm the - alleged - sceptic in the line-up. And even more especially since I'm not in the least sceptical about blogging ... whatever that would mean.

What I am sceptical about is that blogging or any other form of social networking can fix what's bust about our politics and our political journalism. In fact, it's more likely to make them both worse.

Each new alliance of social media and politics has one or more of these claims made about it;
Each of which is fine in itself. But while all of these contribute to the civic conversation, they aren't the problem. I can see little evidence that blogging or any other form of social networking increases the trust - still at floor level - that voters have in politicians or in those who report their doings to them. I can't see how a blogging politician is any closer to his/her constituency than one who holds surgeries, makes speeches at prize-givings and knocks on the occasional door.

From what I see of the successful political blogs - let's take Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes for instance - they replicate the inward looking, metropolitan chumminess of the Westminster village that many in the audience find repellent in both politics and political journalism. Similarly, I'm left wondering what it is or might be that Benedict Brogan, say, or Daniel Hannan (political journalists both, politician the latter) might say in their blogs that they might not say in their columns, leaders or - in Daniel Hannan's case - addresses to the European Parliament.
It's inevitable, too, that - as Joe Trippi told Jeff Jarvis - politics on social networking sites will become dominated by 'makaka moment' videos ... accentuating rather than countering a similar trend in political reporting.

Crucially, though, no form of social networking bridges the gap that has to be bridged. And that's the one that used to be filled by party organisation that joined the civic conversation to political action - formally in the case of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, informally in the case of the Conservatives. It's fine to have a robust and energetic civic conversation ... but a conversation is exactly what it says it is; talk.

I can see how blogging enables that conversation; I can't see how ideologies are derived from it nor how political judgement and action are derived except in a nervy, fractured obedience to some assessment of 'the public mood'. Which is precisely the problem in the three way relationship between people, politicians and political journalism.

Let's see how Thursday goes.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Is the British press the worst in the west?

As almost everyone predicted, the stories of the 15 marines - or at least those who sold/were allowed to sell their stories - morphed instantly into a commentary on the British press.

Unseasonally, Martin Moore at the Media Standards Trust, likened the whole affair to a pantomime before pondering just what it was that the Press Complaints Commission were up to in their reported offer of help. As Martin points out:
"The PCC, as it repeatedly states, reacts to complaints – it does not pre-empt them. This was one of the reasons it gave last year for not taking action against the 305 journalists exposed by the Information Commission for illegally gathering personal private information (and breaking clause 10 of the code)."
Charlie Beckett, over at the LSE's POLIS, wants us to "lighten up and save (our) moral outrage for something truly horrible." While Professor Adrian Monck at City University found himself "thinking about the moral problems of military service".

Melanie Phillips - who writes for the Daily Mail, one of the losers in the bidding war - thought the whole affair was a debacle of the first order – "a grim parable of the degraded state to which Britain has now descended and an alarming portent for the free world in its fight to survive." So, no sign of sour grapes there then ... though you are left wondering what she might have written if the Mail had got one or more of the marines to talk.

Andrew Grant Adamson at Wordblog is bemused at the world in which military personnel are allowed - enabled - to break their code of omerta .... but not parents, desperate to tell the story of their "nightmare" at the hands of a family court.

But it was Polly Toynbee's column - and blog at the Guardian's comment is free - that really piled the ordure on the head of the British press.

"Our press, the worst in the west, demoralises us all"

... ran the headline. And after trotting through the various tabloid hypocrisies, her column/blog concludes:
"What is so squalid about these newspapers is their use of figleaf sermons to cover their real business, done with corrupting chequebook, threat, intimidation, invasion of privacy, paparazzi aggression and vicious cruelty.
Labour should use this disgrace to reign in chequebook tell-all by public servants, from those at the top such as Christopher Meyer to those at the bottom such as these sailors. It's time to look again at privacy legislation, a quid pro quo for the Freedom of Information Act the press abuses with petty assaults on government.
The media is in danger of making government by any party impossible."
The real meat, though, is in the comments - long, but worth spending some time on ... if only for the way in which the debate ("if X agrees with Y that Polly's motivations are Z ... then though I agree with her I have to disagree ...") slides though meta-debate into a form of rhetorical calculus that's, possibly, beyond mathematical expression.