In February, I scribbed something about how political blogging can’t be understood outside the context of the particular political and media culture in which it operates. The post was supposed to show why the experience of the high-profile, anti-media blogging culture that has emerged in the United States would not quickly be replicated in the United States — contrary to the hopes of some people like Iain Duncan-Smith.
Thanks in no small part to the continuing attention of Tim Worstall, this has been one of the most popular posts in my archives.
Tim gives me far too much credit: “my” view owes a lot to something Stewart Purvis said on Radio 4 a few days before I wrote my post, and James Clasper made the same point nearly a year before I did. More importantly, however, a few things have happened since then that have led me to refine my view somewhat.
First, as Harry of that Place pointed out, the UK blogosphere has very influential sites that repesent positions outside the range of views normally found in the British party and media system.
Second, the Dilpazier Aslam brouhaha in July made a nonsense of my belief that an American-style blogswarm against a mainstream media figure was unlikely in Britin. Still, I think the attention of the Independent on Sunday was essential to that story getting anywhere. As in the United States, a British blog only works if it captures the attention of an ally in the mainstream news media.
Third, I asserted that accusations of journalistic bias would not get the UK right anywhere because the UK media does not have a tradition of impartiality. There is of course, one exception to this: broadcasting, and particularly the BBC. Not surprisingly, the BBC is the one UK media outlet that attracts American-style criticisms of “bias” from the blogosphere. But even here the reasons are very different than in the United States. The BBC is controvertial because some people — including the proprieters of competing commercial media — want to do away with the public service model altogether.
It is also worth remembering that political blogging is still very much a fringe phenomenon. It matters most among media opinion leaders rather than as a mass medium. The real strength of the blogosphere is in its less partisan aggregate functions that deal with the relationship between reporter and reader. In Britain, as in the United States, the blogosphere is acting as what Jay Rosen has called a “court of appeal in news judgement” and shifting journalism, in Dan Gillmor’s phrase, from a lecture to a seminar.