To date, most of the political blogs that employees of the old media have paid attention to have been noisy, gossipy, and abusive ones. This makes sense: the people in the media who read them also tend to be noisy, gossipy, and abusive. Such sites don’t threaten the old order and the blogs’ proprietors are self-promoters anyway, more interested in gaining attention from journalists than in fostering intelligent debate or doing creative things with technology.
(I should point out here again, as I often do, that there is little “new” about most of what hacks call “new media”. The basic forms of blogs and wikis just resurrect the original, widely forgotten read/write models of the World Wide Web. There are, however, many new things about new media in the wider sense of that phrase.)
Unfortunately, because these prominent “political” blogs are rubbish, a lot of the attention they attract consists of journalists dismissing new media as a whole. I still remember reading an article written in the 90s, about thirty years after email was invented, declaring it doomed to be a short-lived craze, as the author put it: “email is the new CB radio“. Like most newspaper technology opinion, this was of course ignorant, clichéd, stupid, and wrong.
In some ways these blogs are to dead tree journalism like early steam locomotives used to be to stationary engines: almost as loud and smelly, but now they run on a network. As you appreciate when you travel in the same carriage from the British side of the Chunnel to the French side, it’s the networks that are the important things.
More interesting in the long term than the steamblogs are collectives like mySociety and Bloggers4Labour and sites like Never Trust A Hippy and Stumbling and Mumbling. The former use technological ideas to make politics more interesting and the latter promote interesting political ideas—I write this despite disagreeing with them both on matters their proprietors hold dear. Many thoughtful people value blogs like Mick Hartley’s that connect them to important stories around the World that are neglected by the mainstream—even by World Service programmes broadcast on BBC Radio 4 frequencies at 3am. All of these sites focus on things existing media channels usually don’t.
Just as with the dotcom train before it, the roofs of new media / Web 2.0 wagons are heavy with those who were late to the station. They are as clueless as they are conspicuous. They wave their arms at passers-by and pronounce confidently about this “new” technology and its cultural consequences, despite failing to understand either the technology or the culture. On the Right, for example, we have Iain Dale publishing a dead tree “guide to political blogging” and (God help us) rating Britain’s best political blogs. This is like Dan Brown writing a companion to English literature and electing himself a Booker Prize judge. On the Left we have Oliver Kamm denouncing “Internet blogging” as “a significant net liability for the quality of our political culture”. Even without the revealing redundancy of “Internet blogging”, and the pseudo precision of “significant net liability”, this is just silly. You might as well condemn “electromechanical photocopying” as “a significant net liability for the quality of our amateur dramatics culture”. Undermining his own argument, unlike Iain Dale, Oliver Kamm at least has a good blog.
Former Labour PPC Mike Ion sends me spam. This says a lot about his understanding of the culture of the Net. You won’t be surprised when I say his article about the state of political blogging isn’t very good. It appears on Comment Is Free, an embarrassing wreck shunted out of the otherwise outstandingly successful Guardian factory of online content. (Boggle at the open thread currently on CiF that invites the site’s notoriously sociopathic and intellectually challenged commenters to offer their “solution[s for] Iraq”. Tomorrow I’m going to pop round to the local infant school and invite the munchkins in the reception class there to prove the Riemann hypothesis.)
I hope Andrew Regan is going to help me fix a Website on Sunday. You won’t be surprised when I say his response to Ion’s article is very good. It is also followed by Regan’s quietly delivering to “Praguetory” one of the most crushing blog comment box put-downs I’ve ever read.