…there is a sense that the Americans take their blogging more seriously than we do. With the odd exception (Guido Fawkes’ Order-Order.com and Mick Fealty’s Slugger O’Toole blog on Northern Ireland for example), there is little heavyweight comment and it is rare to see a blog break a story or substantially move it on.
One of the most persuasive theories for this contrast is the far more rambunctious nature of the British national and regional press compared to the mostly regional, generally staid, US titles. So, the argument goes, American bloggers are fulfilling a need for a heated national conversation among competing viewpoints, whereas we can arouse much the same feelings of empathy or revulsion by reading Richard Littlejohn or Polly Toynbee.
Update: I should point out that I don’t claim this theory as my own — all ideas are the product of many previous influences, and I suspect others have argued similarly independently — so I don’t particularly care about lack of attribution. Furthermore, if a hyothesis expressed here or on another blog is widely read and becoming accepted, that may just be anecdotal evidence that blogs have some sort of effectiveness in affecting the wider media discourse — which is wonderfully ironic given the subject matter.
Update 2: As I suspected, the meme Tim attributes to me is actually pretty old and has been suggested by several people independently. L’Ombre de l’Olivier, for example, points out that James Clasper made a similar point well before I did — in March 2004, according to the text of the story:
Will this emerging echelon of British blogging be able to shape political debate in as indomitable manner as the likes of Mickey Kaus, Josh Marshall, and Andrew Sullivan in the United States? Several impediments stand in the British blogosphere’s way.
First, given the traditional left-liberalism of the American media, the blog proved to be the ideal vehicle for paranoid right-wingers to attack perceived media bias. Not to be outdone, liberal blogs retaliated with their own exposure of slanted news coverage. But in Britain, a plethora of daily newspapers already cover the full spectrum of political thought and make no pretence toward objectivity, thus prohibiting the broader appeal of a subversive blogosphere. In other words, if you don’t like what The Guardian thinks about the proposed European Union constitution or the occupation of Iraq, you can find a different perspective in The Daily Telegraph.
Second, no issue has dominated a nation’s political and intellectual landscape in recent years as dramatically as the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. If the traumatic events of 2½ years ago provided the spark for the rapid rise of the American political blogosphere, the Bush administration’s war on terror and the fierce debates that followed merely added fuel to the fire of American bloggers’ activity.
I don’t recall ever reading that story before writing my own, and I don’t really agree with the second point. I don’t think an outrage on the scale of 11 September 2001 is a necessary precondition for a vibrant national blogosphere. Comparative levels of residential Internet (and particularly broadband) penetration are surely a much more significant factor in explaining the smaller British blogosphere.
There are probably also more intangible cultural factors at work that nobody has been talking about. Americans may just be more accustomed to publically airing their views and complaining about the things that upset them. But please don’t ask me to prove that hypothesis.