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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

political blogging #3 « Previous | |Next »
August 20, 2007

Michael Skube comments on political blogging in the LA Times, recognizes that bloggers are more than being amateur journalists.Though Skube's argument is not clear, he refers to the idea of public debate, and so moves the debate on from blogger v journalists, which is the media's framing of the issue. However, he remains blind to contemporary journalism's dumping its watchdog for democracy function, and he does not explore the way that bloggers are becoming the watchdogs that watch the watchdog.

Skube starts by raising the issue of public debate. He references Christopher Lasch's argument in his "The Lost Art of Argument," in The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1995). In this essay Lasch sheds light on the issues of superficiality and bias in the media. The media is full of badly written political propaganda, celebrity news, sports and entertainment and lifestyle information. Consequently, we citizens are losing contact with the debate over vital issues and are becoming disengaged from the democratic life of our cities and nations. Skube quotes Lasch's words:

What democracy requires is vigorous public debate, not information. Of course, it needs information too, but the kind of information it needs can only be generated by debate. We do not know what we need until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy.

Skube is sceptical about bloggers arguing and debating about public issues and so helping to form the vigorous public debate that Lasch calls for. The blogosphere, for Skube, is the 'loudest corner of the Internet, noisy with disputation, manifesto-like postings and an unbecoming hatred of enemies real and imagined.' Bloggers are more than that though. They are involved in public debate.

Skube does not reckon that bloggers are achieving the public debate that Lasch was calling for. He says:

now we have the opportunity to witness it in practice, thanks to the blogosphere, and the results are less than satisfying. One gets the uneasy sense that the blogosphere is a potpourri of opinion and little more. The opinions are occasionally informed, often tiresomely cranky and never in doubt. Skepticism, restraint, a willingness to suspect judgment and to put oneself in the background -- these would not seem to be a blogger's trademarks.

He acknowledges that bloggers are changing what is euphemistically called the national "conversation." He asks: what is the nature of that change? Does it deepen our understanding? Does it broaden our perspective?

Skube's answer is obvious--it's all opinion not reasoned argument in the blogosphere. In fact argument is a word that elevates blogosphere comment to a level it seldom attains on its own. He concludes:

The more important the story, the more incidental our opinions become. Something larger is needed: the patient sifting of fact, the acknowledgment that assertion is not evidence and, as the best writers understand, the depiction of real life. Reasoned argument, as well as top-of-the-head comment on the blogosphere, will follow soon enough, and it should. But what lodges in the memory, and sometimes knifes us in the heart, is the fidelity with which a writer observes and tells.

Skube's affirmation of old -fashioned gumshoe reporting--- thorough fact-checking and verification and, most of all, perseverance---ignores the way that this is not a characteristic of mainstream media either. So why dump on bloggers and not question the practices pf the media?

start

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:07 AM | | Comments (33)
Comments

Comments

Skube's piece is an opinion column. Funny that, using an opinion column in an MSM newspaper to criticise opinion in the blogosphere.

In that final par he seems to be missing a big chunk of the equation. OK, so a gumshoe reporter does the investigating and the objective truth, to the extent that it's known, is published whereupon we get to form opinions about it.

The Haneef story is a good example of how things happen in real life. To get a scoop the media publishes whatever it has when it comes to hand. Stories get dribbled out bit by bit, and the consequences that follow are also part of the ongoing story. Watergate is the classic example of opinion shaping the outcome.

The circular relationship between reporting and opinion has always been there, it's just instant and instantly observable these days. Journos don't get to own the story for as long as they used to.

Utopian models of public debate seem to have emphasised information and communications channels and minimised the "public" bit. If we're just a big, messy, opinionated inconvenience why bother with democracy at all?

Lynn,
It's odd isn't it. Journo's use opinion pieces in the mainstream media to decry opinion posts by bloggers, and in doing so they re-affirm the importance of reportage over opinion piece.

Don't they see the contradiction? Are they unaware of the disassociation? Are they that schizoid?

This disassociation is particular acute with Skube, as he uses the work of Lasch on the superficiality of the media to have a go at bloggers. Lasch pointed to the mainstream media's turn away from vigorous public debate and the way that it has constructed us as consumers, with no influence, no ability to speak back, no way to stop the noise, except tuning out.

Blogging, in contrast, gives us back our voice and so provides us with a way of linking the news with our sentiments. So we have recovered a real connection between "the news" and our everyday lives.

What we have are the journos like Skube attacking this way of countering the media's compliance with, and use of, the instruments of publicity or propaganda.

There is a real battle going on.

Lyn,
we sure need something enlivening. The political "debate" has become boring and tedious--the same lines on the same issues said by the same people over and over again.

Where are the new issues? The new ideas?

The "new" appears in the form of gossip and sleaze---what Costello said about Howard at a dinner 2 years ago; what Rudd did in private in New York 4 years ago.

The old is the new.

There's always resistance to change I guess.

What amazes me, and seems to amaze a lot of the blogosphere, is both how defensive the media is being about something they could use to advantage, and how they don't see the dissonance of their own arguments.

One possible explanation for a member of the MSM misunderstanding Lasch - the argument wasn't fully explained in the press release. They make themselves such easy targets.

Perhaps they're at a disadvantage considering, as you pointed out, there are a lot of academics in the blogosphere. Perilous territory for people accustomed to quoting academic references without being held accountable for their arguments.

Nan,

I confess to being a political gossip junky.

Public debate about serious issues which ultimately have an impact on people's lives should not be trivialised. Julia Gillard's hairstyle is nowhere near as important as the consequences of Workchoices for women in casual work or the long term effects of diluting land rights or selling uranium to India or Russia.

On the other hand, this is a democracy in an election year and the gossip and sleaze do count for something. Granted, not as much as interest rates, but they do count. I'd bet my bottom dollar that there are more discussions going on over dinner out there in voterland about Rudd the stud than about health or education policy. Not exactly the deliberative democracy of theory, but the way I see it, the superficial is largely how democracy actually works.

I agree with you that we need to really sink our teeth into something substantial, the problem is how to engage people who are more interested in how Kevin Rudd parts his hair than the independence of the public service? Other than getting the public service to compile a report on Kevin Rudd's hair?

The MSM has been letting us down for a very long time by not taking a stand, even on issues on which there is a clear moral position (Iraq war, children overboard & detention centres are some obvious examples). The MSM bitches and moans about how blogs don't do real reporting, but they consistently fail to provide historical context or anything more than partisan, superficial analysis.

In effect the MSM is performing only half of the job they aspire to. They are just "reporting" - recording information about events. Blogs analyse and debate. Both are equally important roles and the MSM can only take the high ground because they got there first.


The MSM may walk around and break stories. But then, they don't seem to spend much time in libraries do they? And some blogs actually do perform original reporting (cryptome and groklaw come to mind). I suspect that if the MSM were to disappear tomorrow, a new style of organisation would take it's place, people who feed information and video to blogs for further commentary and analysis. People would fill the gaps, but there is no need for that while the MSM does it's job, or at least appears to do so.


Nobody would miss the MSM, because nothing much would change.

Lyn,
well its true that depth has gone along with yesterdays papers, and surface is everything and everywhere and that it has little connection with reality. We are now caught up in a surface that expresses fantasies, fears, hopes, and dreams.

Gossip rules does it not? The new technologies are taking us into the sphere of hyperreality (Baudrillard),so much so that we are losing touch with our bodies, with nature, with other people and with focal things and practices. So we gossip as an expression of technological dystopia.

On another note, the boosters of the information society--- eg.,Peter Beattie in Queensland promise more jobs, new economic opportunities, better education, a bountiful harvest of information and entertainment, and new prosperity in a bioutopia that would make Adam Smith proud.

Mark,
A discordant note. I often wonder---in my darker moments in a Canberra winter--- that the information society and information superhighway is emerging as the new dominant ideology of contemporary technocapitalism.Its proponents (Telstra, for one) advocate economic liberalization, deregulation, and resurgent market forces as the best route to develop a healthy and robust information infrastructure.

This kind of discourse tends to be deterministic; in the sense that it is fated that new technologies will dramatically proliferate, that the market is the most effective mechanism for their development and dissemination, and that all we humans can do is to get on the bandwagon, to be wired, and to participate in the joys and benefits of the digital revolution that is sweeping all before it.

This discourse is hyped by the corporate media because these corporations (eg., News Ltd) own big media, are merging with computer and information industries, and they see the new technologies as both a source of profit and of social power and prestige.

This popped up on talking points memo:

So I followed up noting my surprise that he didn't seem to remember what he'd written in his own opinion column on the very day it appeared and that in any case it cut against his credibility somewhat that he wrote about sites he admits he'd never read.

To which I got this response: "I said I did not refer to you in the original. Your name was inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples ... "

And this is from someone who teaches journalism?


Mark,

People would miss their daily dose of Shockotainment that the news brings every day. They just love to sit in their lounge rooms going ooh argh Elsie isn't that terrible.

The print medias worth has been diminished by Blogging but visual media is a different story.

Cam,
I didn't know that Michael Skube was a Professor of Journalism when I read his argument about punditry and public argument.

It's a pretty standard account---that political bloggers don't do any real reporting (fact-checking and verification) and don't really argue. What is ironic is we an article criticizing blogs for not doing research and fact checking that does not do research and fact checking.

I have to admit that I was suprised that there as no real engagement with actual political bloggers by Skube. But that failure is standard operating procedure for this kind of culturally conservative op-ed about how awful bloggers are,how journalism is really reportage, and that political blogger culture of free-wheeling assertion bereft of factual backing.

Funny how these critics never mention Fox News, where commentators are paid to express their conservative opinions that are in accord with the Republican Party.

Knowing that Skube is an academic makes it worse doesn't it--he doesn't read what he is criticizing and knows little to nothing about blogs.

This case confirms what I'd suspected, given the generality, sameness and repetition of this kind of criticism of political bloggers.

If the situation is as Skube argues--- that the nameless, faceless editor is the one responsible as he and introduced substantial new material into the bylined article--- then Skube should self-publish on a blog.

Les,
Well, they still have Fox News, which is premised on blurring the line between reporting and advocacy. So do Murdoch's tabloids in Australia, though their advocacy appears to include large doses of gossip and rumour masquerading as fact.

This is the crowd that lives in a world of superstitution---after all they believe as hard core fact that Islamists are going to take over the Australia, impose sharia law on all true blue Australians, that of all of us Australians will have to become Muslims, that "our women" will be forced into burkas, and there will be no more rock music or gay bars or Christian churches or blogs at News Corp.

So we need a tough and strong leader to protect us from the Islamic invasion and homegrown terrorists. We have to do away with democracy and embrace authoritarianism. The Left, of course, are blind to this dire situation since theirs is a culture of denial.

So says the Fox News/Australian crowd.

Gary,
I'd guess that greater that 50% of people disbelieve the media to some degree and the rest are divided into"too stupid" or "don't care".
So don't start barricading your windows yet.

Wow. A professor of journalism. He really should have known better.

So we have journalists who can adapt to the blogosphere and some who can't, and we also have academics who can adapt and some who can't.

Gary,

I draw a distinction between the info society model and the commodification of information, and the information culture of the blogosphere. People want to know and analyse and the blogosphere allows them to do that.

What they know and what they discuss isn't as significant, I think, as how they know and how they discuss.

Lyn,
yeah maybe you are right in terms of your distinctions. I'm a bit confused at the moment where the blogosphere is going and what it means.

I'm also feeling jaded by the technological optimism at the moment. I accept the promise of creativity, expression and debate--ie the forum and gallery--but I am becoming wary of the technology that is needed to drive this and make it happen.

Things are shifting so fast---eg., wirelessed networked cities and working with laptops ---and it's costing a lot to keep things going. The technology keeps changing--wirelessed households, digital storage, and outside access. That means more tech support and so greater professionalisation. That means more resources and time.

Lyn
I see that the forthcoming Melbourne Writers Week is hosting a session on This just in from cyberspace Their blurb says:

If the medium is the message, what message are we getting from the new media on line, especially for news gathering and commentary? Cory Doctorow, Jose Borghino, Emma Dawson, Nick Moraitis and Rachel Hills discuss how new technology is changing the reporting of politics, current affairs and social issues.

Jose Borghino, the editor of New Matilda, says in a recent editorial that:
Sure, bloggers are growing in confidence, depth and readership; and, yes, there are real ways in which ‘citizen media’ is affecting journalism as-we-knew-it. But what New Matilda.com is adding to this heady cocktail is a measure of sophistication and critical intelligence.

By implication bloggers do not have sophistication or critical intelligence in helping to foster a vigorous public dialogue? Really?

Gary,

I think that part of the confusion over blogs comes down to bloggers themselves. Their relationship (or not) with media and the space they see themselves occupying in the public sphere is only part of the story.

Go have a look at the comments on Matt Price or Blogocracy, or any blog discussing something people find interesting, and look at it at face value. Non-blogging, non-journalist, but interested people have somewhere to voice their opinions.

They've got an alternative source of information which, as Mark pointed out, does all sorts of things the MSM can't realistically do, including letting them contribute to the story, as well as giving them a voice.

Maybe we need to think past the public sphere and start thinking along the lines of a people sphere. Or something.

The technology is only an enabler. The opinions are being articulated by people with socially and culturally situated bodies tapping on keyboards full of food particles and keys sticky with beverage drippings. They're in and of the real world.

I really think the techno, time, resources thing is a marginal issue compared with the social service the whole setup does by giving people voice.

If it represents a threat to anything I think it's the hierarchical structure of knowledge and the authority and legitimacy traditionally associated with access to traditional communications channels.

New Matilda models itself on the old paper version of Matilda magazine, HQ and currently the Monthly. That's all very well and good, but the majority of its content is restricted to subscribers and it sticks to the top end of the intellectual market, which is an elite club. They're not much different from the one-way transmission of info we've always seen.

Blogs bring the sophistication and critical intelligence of bloggers themselves together with the thong and beanie wearing lumpenproles (some blogs anyway) for what polite people might call vigorous public dialogue. I prefer to think of it as a great, increasingly informed opinionfest.

It's certainly not refined civility or cool rationality, but it's very human.

Lyn,
I agree with your comment that
the comments on Matt Price or Tim Dunlop's Blogocracy etc are the expressions of non-blogging, non-journalist, but interested people have somewhere to voice their opinions.

Murdoch has used the digital technology to give people an forum that lets them contribute to the ongoing story and political narrative. It's great to see, and I'm impressed with what's happening. It is a movement towards a digital democratic public sphere.

However, I'm not willing to romanticize it. A lot of the comments on the Australian's blogs come from political staffers from both sides of politics ensuring that the battle is continued by other means. The situation is different on the Fairfax blogs.

But the corporate media blogs are different from Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo etc are they not? This is a step away from making daily comments on what Matt Price as a professional is saying, to making posts that provide a daily commentary on the political events as constructed by the media headlines. It's a different ball game doing this as it requires energy, resources, information, research knowledge etc. to keep it going.

I confess to abysmal ignorance of Fairfax blogs, mostly because of the "only national newspaper" habit, which I must endeavour to correct.

It's true that there's a lot of political staffery going on at the Government Gazette sites, but it's also true that people are getting quite good at spotting it and calling it for what it is.

People who started out at News.com have spread out to the wider blogosphere. Bit by bit. Tim Dunlop plays an important part because he links to other blogs, but when the Bolta went on holidays recently a bunch of his regulars also spilled over. Most of them have shrunk back, but some are still out there. Learning bloggy skills.

I've noticed that regular commenters at Troppo and LP are a little less than tolerant of the wandering masses turning up on their turf, which is unfortunate, and probably permanent since they're both so well established. They're different yes, in a positive way, but different also in a negative way. Cliquey I suppose.

And yes, good, culturally authentic blogging is a massive resource sink. The group blog is an obvious solution to the problem, as is making the most of resources from commenters.

There's another thing the MSM seem not to appreciate when they accuse the blogosphere of being armchair critics. Good bloggers have far fewer resources available and are more exposed to the inclinations of their market than established journalists or their mastheads. They don't have a lot of time to spend in their armchairs.

It's not generally recognised, but one of the greater threats posed by blogs, bloggers and their audiences is that they're free. They don't participate in the market of money and commodities, which is practically unthinkable. But they're pulling customers anyway.

If you read Marx with an eye to undermining consciousness, what would you think of the blogosphere?

Not wanting to get too utopian here, or even egalitarian because the blogosphere isn't, and it's pretty small in the greater scheme of things, but it's still a substantial step in the right direction.

People do make the transition from Matt Price to "the wild" blogosphere, as Margaret Simons calls it. I'd argue that the best the blogosphere can do is make sure there's a safe crossing and friendly reception on the other side.

Lyn
you write:

The technology is only an enabler. The opinions are being articulated by people with socially and culturally situated bodies tapping on keyboards full of food particles and keys sticky with beverage drippings. They're in and of the real world.

I'm not persuaded that technology is just an enabler. It enframes our activities, shapes them, etc. We live and think in it. It is making us into a part of the network.

Those embodied people tapping away on their keyboards to comment on the emotionalism of another Piers Ackerman tirade are part of a digital network.They are a nodal point in the network of data flows. The network is what is shaping and enframing our desires for cultural and political expression.

For example. I'm going to Hobart for three days this Friday for work, and I have spend the evening checking out free wireless hotspots in Hobart (minimal) or public access to the internet (minimal) so that I can post to the weblogs. It costs $25 a day for broadband access in a hotel. That's $75. More than what I pay a month for ADSL2+ for the home office/studio in Adelaide.

All my free time outside work in Hobart, including my photography, is going to be structured around accessing the internet. I have moved to wireless configured laptops (and so shifting away from desktops) so that I can work on the road. Technology structures how I do things.

Lyn,
I agree that the Oz blogosphere is small, that it has a tendency towards cliqueness, and that Australians are just beginning to dip their toes into the wild blog waters in contrast to safe harbours of the mainstream media.

What suprises me is the lack of engagement between online media such as Crikey.com and New Matilda and bloggers in terms of playing around with the ideas being expressed. So there is not that much of a conversation going on. What we have is a collection of silos with minimal interaction.

I don't help foster this "national conversation" as I don't develop the ideas presented by other bloggers, the commentators at Crikey or the writers at New Matilda, or the online academics.

"Technology structures how I do things."

I wonder how much of that is because of the kinds of things you choose to do, or the way you go about doing them. To what degree do our own choices shape the demands that technology then makes of you?

I don't own a laptop and regularly forget to take my mobile with me, but it doesn't matter much because I haven't set my life up that way. On the other hand it excludes me from some things.

Not using Facebook is turning into a handicap for me, but the time it takes up is a handicap for those who do. I suspect we need a new way of theorising this stuff. At a meeting yesterday I was the daggy outcast who'd missed out on an in-group discussion on Facebook. Some of it has more to do with cultural capital than necessity or convenience.

I suspect the answer to the New Matilda/Crikey thing is subscription and protected content. Some bloggers do write for them but are limited in what they can do with that if they can't share. There's not an awful lot going on at NM or Crikey that isn't going on for free in the blogosphere anyway.

On the last par, you don't deliberately help foster it, but you contribute anyway because other people discuss your ideas. Which is even weirder really. You don't have to have a physical presence or an online one either. Makes my head hurt.

Lyn + Gary,
Many journalists still refuse to acknowledge the viability of the blogosphere and they continuously talk down to bloggers and assume superiority. It's a form of elitism.

There is a post by Kevin Anderson at Corante on the Skube thingy. Anderson says columns like Skube's keep getting printed because:

they play to the professional biases of journalists. They play to the uninformed view that passes for conventional wisdom that there is a monolithic blogosphere, and that it is populated by wannabe columnists who try to get a foot in the door of the media by being louder and more irresponsible than the columnists they hope to replace. If you want the model those bloggers are emulating, look to comment pages and the head-to-head battles of cable news networks.

Anderson adds that the problem is that despite a consistent portrayal in the media of the blogosphere as political shouting shout match, this represents a fraction of the blogosphere.

Anderson has an article in New Matilda.

I am impressed by the Guardian media company's Comment is Free, a weblog for comment and opinion, with free and open user commenting. It has caused conflict between the Guardian’s stable of columnists, the commenters on Comment is Free and the bloggers there. Growing pains probably.

Nan,

Well spotted. The idea that these stories are printed for the benefit of journalists is interesting. Basically it's the media talking to itself about how great it is. Amounts to the author talking to himself and we all know that leads to hairy palms, padded cells and cardigans with wrap around sleeves.

Thank you by the way. I'm collecting such things for my thesis. It's a good example of a global aspect of blogging, which is rarer than the utopians predicted.

Lyn,
Is your PhD on the media and blogging? What is your thesis? How does it relate to the stuff we are discussing on this blog?

Lyn
For me the laptop and mobile phone are necessitated by living in Adelaide, working in Canberra, and being continually on the road. You just don't need them in the academy. It's a different mode of work. You go to work in your room with all the infrastructure laid on.

There are plane loads of people like me from different sectors of the economy rubbing shoulders, struggling with the technology, being on 24/7, and pressured to be connected even on holidays. The office is the portable computer, PDA and mobile phone.

It feels as if we are nodal points in data flows. Our minds are stored in the hard disc of the portable which is owned by the organization.

This is the new mode of living/working (what's the difference between living and working?) in the global economy. It is shaping how we work in all sorts of ways and the way we blog. I can sense the shift taking place but I'm not sure what it is apart from the increasing professionalism.

Do you have any ideas?

Nan,

It started off being about how people incorporate culture wars rhetoric into their own thinking and arguments to plug holes in narratives. I was using comments from Online Opinion stories on David Hicks as data. I realised at my confirmation seminar that nobody else in the room understood much about online debate, let alone how to approach it for research purposes. So the culture wars (and all the agonising stuff I read about that) are out and conceptualising online talk is in.

Cultural capital accumulates differently online. Opinion is valuable.

Gary,

Interesting questions. I'm thinking of the Worst Jobs in History series about crap jobs during the British industrial revolution. People carried all sorts of smells and disfigurements around with them that marked their bodies with the work they did. A fish gutter could be nothing but a fish gutter.

I know you're talking about the body/technology, life/work convergence of this point in history, but is it really all that different from similar convergences pre-electronics?

Is it not so much the technology and data flows as it is the travel? Is there some loss of ownership of the self for the lone commuter stuffed in a plane with a bunch of other anonymous lone commuters?

Lyn
Online debate eh. That's an innovative research project. Conceptualising online talk. Sounds interesting. Hence your interest in what is happening in the comments in the Murdoch paper's logs.I think that the commentary is more important than the posts. The cultural wars stuff is boring and tedious.

Is the uncoordinated, disorganised, processes of online commentary becoming the "emergent'' heart of the nation? Is it the emergent postmodern and common public realm.

Kevin Anderson in the Comment is Free post on Strange Attraction talks about the difficulties the Guardian is having with commentary. He refers to Ben Hammersley warning that:

Perhaps the most prominent liberal newspaper in the anglophone world, opening a weblog for comment and opinion, with free and open user commenting is, to put it mildly, asking for trouble. Even more so as we come under UK libel law, rather than US. This means that libellous comments left on the site might potentially cost the newspaper a considerable amount of money. No one has ever offered this sort of content to the wider world in this sort of legal, political, or cultural context. This means that we have to employ a whole combination of technological and social countermeasures to make sure that the handful of trolls do not, as they say, ruin it for the rest of us. Frankly, it gives me the fear.

It happened. Anderson explore why. It's Interesting. A lot of the troll/flame problem has to do with the attitude of the journalists to their audience.

Lyn
re your comment Is there some loss of ownership of the self for the lone commuter stuffed in a plane with a bunch of other anonymous lone commuters?
The plane is no different to catching the bus or tram from home to work. It's just another form of public commuting for professional people with highly paid and very interesting jobs--eg., the Macquarie bank boys who are cutting deals all the time across the globe even on their holidays.

Many work on the plane --on documents, reading, or preparing for meetings. I mostly read and analyze the newspapers to stay in touch with the political undercurrents and trying to understand where the caravan is moving next.

It's the work. However, the mode of work comes about because of the technology. It enables this style of work to be systematically developed. The individual becomes the office. The individuality is enhanced--all that neo-liberal entrepreneurial stuff .

If the digital technology also enable us to run weblogs and post photographs online immediately, then its logic and competition forces us to adapt to the innovations to keep things moving.

Nan,

"I think that the commentary is more important than the posts. The cultural wars stuff is boring and tedious."

Yes and yes.

"Is the uncoordinated, disorganised, processes of online commentary becoming the "emergent'' heart of the nation? Is it the emergent postmodern and common public realm."

Jeff Alexander theorises a civil sphere, as opposed to a public sphere. I'm fiddling with that - the idea that we have a space where we talk ourselves into being as a people.

The troll/flame/sock puppet thing is part of it, but that's part of both online and offline commentary.

I suspect that bloggers have a bit of trouble understanding where they fit in because, like the media, they tend to emphasise the author. On the net it seems the author only matters to the extent that they provide a space for conversation and by participating they make themselves accountable for what they say.

Gary,

The individual as the office is an interesting idea in the sense of being a place of work as well as a position held.

On your last point, there is definitely a sense of demand about it. I'm feeling I should write a post, but don't have anything interesting to say. My first born moved out of home this weekend and I'm giving myself space to deal with that. I'm hardly going to write a post about it though. There is a demand to have something to say, to keep things moving as you say, less time to spend crafting the perfect result.

Lyn,
I don't understand the difference between a civil sphere, as opposed to a public sphere. Can you spell it out.

I thought a public sphere was where we conversed, debated and argued about the issues of the day and was the process of the formation of public opinion? The blogs --independent and corporate media ones--are part of the public sphere, as they are in public expression of the formation of public opinion.

That's how I read them. How do read them?

Nan,

The distinction is academic really. The centrepiece of the public sphere is non-partisan, emotion-free, rational debate concerned with the public good. It's concerned with what policies would best meet the public need and there's a strong emphasis on public intellectuals.

The centrepiece of the civil sphere is who we are as a people. Who counts as one of us, who gets heard, who is deserving/undeserving. There's a strong emphasis on public opinion and the public mood, which isn't necessarily rational and doesn't necessarily pay attention to debate among intellectuals.

Nan + Lyn,
I work with Hegel's conception of civil society in his 'Philosophy of Right'. It is that social space between the family and the state and its dynamic logic one of freedom, individuality and self-interest.

The public sphere of debate about public issues is the bridge or overlap between civil society and the state. It is where we begin to leave the individuality of the market and voluntary association and become citizens in a state concerned with the public good.

Practical reason, for Hegel, is historical, embodied, and interested. Hegel is anti-Kant and his conception of an emotion free reason.

Habermas was concerned with the decline of the public sphere.