11/01/2005

Apologia Pro Vita Blogga Britannica

Brian Barder, with whom I don't usually agree (scroll to comments) has posted an excellent comparison of the relative qualities of UK and USA print and broadcast media.

One of the major factors in my decision to install cable television earlier this year was that I wanted to watch American news & current affairs shows. Brian cites 'Meet the Press' as an example of outstanding US N & CA programming, and I would agree. 'The McLaughlin Group' has also become required viewing, if only to see how Tony Blankley will try to minimise the possible damage arising from the Bush administration's crisis of the week; and, if one can filter out its heavy liberal bias, CBS News is consistently the best half-hour news broadcast one could watch.

However, Brian also picked up on a post at the British blog The Sharpener, on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of British and American blogging. Owen Barder (his son), has expanded on the theme a little, linking to other observations from Martin Stabe and the Aberdonian blogger Curious Hamster.

The Sharpener's posters gave some very interesting insights. One named 'PhilE' wrote,

"One is cultural and historical: you might as well ask why British per capita consumption of Coke is so low, or why there are so few Baskin-Robbins outlets over here. Blogging began in the US and is still widely seen as an American thing, to the extent that it’s seen as anything at all".

Another, Guido Fawkes, wrote,

"Ask yourself this, how many good blogs are there? Why should crap blogs hope to frame the debate? All the enthusiast mono-fetish blogs rule themselves out.

You have to be good enough to be read by the MSM.

No MSM following, no influence.

Cut ‘n paste is a waste".

Martin Stabe also wisely notes that while some US blogs are influential,

"It's worth remembering that even in the United States, only 26 percent of Internet users read blogs, and only some of those read political blogs. Moreover, a small number of those readers are the ones that give the blogosphere its power. Despite the idealistic blogosphere rhetoric about “citizen media”, blogosphere influence comes from the fact that journalists like blogs because they help in their job of aggregating information and filtering out the noise";
and also,

"The current political climate in the United States encourages the participatory aspect of the blog medium. Americans are in the midst of a culture war in which both sides feel besieged and suspect that the other side dominates the cultural institutions of the nation. This is not the case in Britain, of course. But perhaps there is some deeper cultural issue at work here, too. Are Brits less inclined than Americans to publicly respond to a published argument? Where is Outraged from Tunbridge Wells when you need him?"

The Hamster reaches the same conclusions - sort of. He writes,

"Currently, the great British public are generally just not that interested in politics. OK, that's a massive generalisation but I think it's basically true. The UK public is hugely dissaffected by the political process as it is currently practised. Joe Public just doesn't care. This is partly because there is no clash of ideologies, it's partly frustration at the evasion of modern politicians, and it's partly because of the broken promises of the past and present. How often do you hear this vox pox: "It doesn't matter to me. Well, they're all as bad as each other."? It's a widely held view".

All these comments point to the major differences in US & UK blogging being cultural in nature which, while undoubtedly certainly partially true, I for one don't think provides the fullest possible picture for why political blogging has not yet fully taken off.

The USA's ongoing cultural civil war has undoubtedly raised the profile of blogging per se. If a blogger is prepared to do nothing but repeat talking points from one side, their profile and perceived importance will rocket because they will be picked up and linked to by websites like NRO or Daily Kos; however, the downside is that they then expose themselves as nothing but ideologues or party hacks, an allegation levelled against Hugh Hewitt for his consistent defence of the proposed appointment of Harriet Miers.

However, the deeper truth is that American culture sprang from independence of thought and action ('We, The People', etc), whereas in our country society's expectation of the individual is that they conform to rigid social norms which reinforce the Great British Lie - we are not and have never been truly free.

Oone of the more welcome consequences of the 1960's was that the resurrection of
satire
made the public more querulous of officialdom's doings. For what it's worth, my belief is that this has done as much bad as good; a people are entitled to live in the belief that those who govern them do so not only in what they perceive to be the national interest, but also in good faith. The exposure of bad faith and maladministration is critical to the operation of any civil and free society; but one can't sometimes help but think that we go too far in the opposite direction, which in turn numbs us to the presence of real, rotten bad faith.
However, our very admirable tendency to value order and stability has not fully disappeared. On one hand, this makes many of us passive in the face of intrusive and impertinent government; on another, it makes others suspicious of those who dare to express opinions or even, God forbid, speak out of turn - like bloggers.
Political bloggers sometimes seem to forget that blogging is first and foremost an individual activity - people can blog about whatever they want, subject to the limits of the law. However, there is a role for bloggers to play in British political life. It is as investigators and campaigners, not as commentators. Sorry guys, but the way in which the mainstream media works is that it's very unlikely that any blogger will ever get a gig as a columnist at a national newspaper. I hope to be proven wrong some day- we shall see. Our super-concentrated British MSM, largely owned by a tiny group of people, perceive blogs to be a threat to their interests; which is why our collective efforts are more often than not ignored, unless, as recently and egregiously happened to The Policeman's Blog, they decide to rip us off.
We have always been run by elites who will do what they want when they want if it helps them get what they want when they want it, which is usually to make money, get freebies or shove thier ideas down our throats, and they don't care a damn if they raise or lower taxes, eliminate our borders, the entities which provide the justification for all our historic laws, destroy our schools, abort our children, cause civil unrest or stamp their boots in our faces if they feel they have to do so. The very fact that there is no great ideological debate shows just how rotten and unhealthy our national political culture has become; nor will it change while the Conservative Party continues its policy of creative self-destruction and eats its leaders like a dinosaur devouring its young.
If there is a little something that we as individuals can do, and assuming we don't all feel the need to chew each other up about ideological differences between ourselves, it's read each other. Blogging without readers is like singing in the bath - it makes you feel better, but you'll never be recorded at Carnegie Hall. The advance of the Internet has facilitated the greatest expansion of the single most important market ever made; the market for ideas. Everyone is king on their own blog. Everyone's ideas are as good as everyone else's; and it is only by the exchange of ideas that the British blogosphere will assume some critical mass which will, in turn, give it some influence, if influence is what you're after.
I have five blogs. One was written with such a pompous sense of self-importance it now makes me squirm. Another reads like the rantings of a madman locked in a cupboard, screaming at the walls. However, they will never be deleted, as to do so would be to try to rewrite history, which is not what anyone who's interested in being taken seriously should do. Unless we take ourselves and each other seriously, nobody else will.
And Brian Barder points the way to how blogging will one day impact on the British mainstream. He writes,
"Panel discussions such as Any Questions and Question Time are constantly distorted by the adversarial choice of participants: the party politicians, selected on the Mendelian principle of one Labour, one Tory and one LibDem, laboriously reproduce the yah-boo inanities of prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, scoring elaborate points off one another at the expense of any attempt at serious discussion of the topic. "
How about having a blogger on Question Time to liven up the show? Anyone got Dimbleby's number?

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