Stephen Coleman is Cisco Visiting Professor in e-Democracy at the Oxford Internet Institute and, according to John Lloyd in today’s Financial Times, Britain’s “expert on blogospheric intercourse”.
… bloggers will flourish and will be of three kinds: one, political wonks whose pitch will be that “you can’t trust anybody, except me”; two, candidates and their aides who do blogs to show they are in touch with the emotions of ordinary people and find the fuss and flummery of politics as tedious as the next voter; and three, journalists or would-be journalists who write what they can’t in reports or columns, or do not have reports and columns in which to say anything.
While there are certainly plenty of wonks, politicos, flacks, and, ahem, would-be hacks in the blogosphere — particularly at the elite end — Coleman’s classification is clearly not exhaustive. The blogosphere is not just for those of us who have made politics a vocation.
“The blogosphere,” says Prof Coleman, “allows people to say things like: ‘I’ve never been able to stand Michael Howard’s voice!’ It is a place for the expression of emotion and the unsubstantiated observation. There are no protocols. There are no limits. It’s getting more and more about ME and what I FEEL all the time.“
Later in the article, this theme is expanded upon:
The language of bloggers has moved on from that of press and broadcast journalists. While the journalists have become increasingly aggressive and willing to make a large issue of a politician’s character, bloggers want to make an issue of their own character and how it’s affected by the politicians and politics. “To blog,” writes Prof Coleman in a forthcoming essay in Political Quarterly, “is to … affirm that your thoughts are at least as worth hearing as anyone else’s; to emerge from the spectating audience as a player.”
Huh? Perhaps if Prof Coleman partook in the discourse he claims expertise in, he would realise what nonsense this is.
The claim, repeated here in a roundabout way — that blogging is somehow self-indulgent — has always puzzled me. In a democracy, the right to free expression on public affairs is not reserved for experts or organisations that can publish newspapers in great volume. Indeed, Coleman hits the nail on the head with the suggestion that it is about affirming your right to participate in the discourse.
Publishing a daily journal of opinion is therefore no more self-indulgent that any other excercise of free expression, such as, say, running a consistantly loss-making newspaper.
No blog that comments on the attractiveness of Michael Howard’s voice more than what it says or is as ego-centric as Coleman suggests will ever sustain its reputation or readership. The lack of limits and protocols claim, often repeated by those who has never been on the receiving end of a fisking, single fact-checking comment or collapse in readership after posting something particularly stupid, is equally strange. The mechanism of moderation in the blogosphere is one journalists and academics should understand — reputation and peer review.
Lloyd, for his part, needs to lay off the bloggers-will-bash-the-MSM drum that he has been bashing since his appearance at the London School of Economics’ bloggers-vs-journalists panel discussion in February:
If British blogs follow the example of the Americans, they will have in their sights not just politicians, but what they abbreviate to MSM — the mainstream media: reviled and despised journalists who, say the bloggers, fear to tell the truth, miss the real stories and lag days behind the event. They hate nothing more than a press consensus; bloggers love to show such a thing to be a fraud, and will seek to unpick it.
Lloyd is now careful to say that this could happen if British bloggers follow the model of the Americans. But he is in danger of falling in the same trap as Iain Duncan Smith and some other conservatives who hope for a blogger-based revival: the failure to recognise how particular to the American right the anti-media rhetoric of the U.S. blogosphere is.
The reason MSM-bashing won’t take off in British political blogs is simple. Other than the BBC, no British media outlet claims objectivity, nipping in the philosphical bud the right-wing critique that ”the mainstream media“ — that undifferentiated mass — has a liberal bias.
Consequentially, only the BBC can expect American-style accusations of liberal bias in the MSM. But even the anti-BBC rhetoric of some on the British right is fueled by a different agenda than in America. There is no battle over the future of public service broadcasting in the United States.
Political blogging in Britain, as it matures, will be qualitatively different, filling different niches that exist in the British media system. Or perhaps, they will just prove to have been a complete waste of time. The sooner the commentariat realise this, the sooner we’ll stop reading stuff like this in the FT.
Update: Some typos fixed. Thanks to the subeditor!