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

poor Oz « Previous | |Next »
June 23, 2008

Somebody appears to be missing their teddy.

Let's see if we can get through this without any direct links. As commenter Gandhi quite rightly points out on this thread at Possum's (new and excellent) Box, links direct traffic and you don't want to encourage them, although advertisers are increasingly demanding click through evidence to justify their outlay these days, which could change everything. The fortnightly ritual rush to Dennis Shanahan's "analysis" of Newspoll may not be generating the kind of ad revenue it used to. Even advertisers are capable of rational thought, after a fashion. Anyhoo, back on topic..

Trevor Cook has done a pretty good job of rounding up links to The Australian's and hangers on intrepid efforts at upholding their place in the Habermasian public sphere over the weekend, where various "journalists" did their level best to level the most popular Prime Minister since Bob Hawke. Only time will tell if the attempted re-labelling of 'Chaotic Kevin' will catch on, but I wouldn't go to the expense of printing up bumper stickers and t-shirts just yet.

Apparently the first Prime Minister with whom we are on a first name basis, Kevin, is a control freak who runs a sloppy ship and isn't as nice as he should be to the Canberra press gallery. Why ever not? After all, they're so impartial.

Tim Dunlop seems undecided over whether it's a good thing to have a hostile gallery, or whether they're just readjusting after 12 years of drip feed, but does point out following Rod Cameron, that the public seems to be capable of independent thought on matters Ruddian. Be mindful of the fact that The Australian is a broadsheet, which limits its audience, and that it has a specific political bent, which further limits its audience, and that it's a newspaper, which also limits its audience. Half of those who buy it do so because they enjoy thinking it's crap.

This assault was quickly followed by a Burchillian outburst over the lamentable state of the blogosphere, which is exactly the sort of thing you'd do if your purpose was to get up the noses of bloggers. Kim quite rightly wonders whether trolling has made its way into the MSM toolkit. Why else would Planet Janet publish yet another diatribe against "balanced" reporting unless it's the ABC? [Find that one yourself if you're so inclined, or just take my word for it].

At the approach of the online age, is trolling and being stupendously outrageous the best they can do in the race to attract eyeballs? Is that truly the extent of the capabilities of our revered institutions of democracy?

Seemingly unrelated, Laurel Papworth notes the latest in an unhealthy trend among the attention seeking toward gaining bloggers' focus through means that totally misunderstand blogging culture. The assumptions here, that women who blog are women after all, and will therefore find the opportunity to discuss menstrual matters, vacuum cleaner bags and cosmetics irresistable regardless of the nature of the forum, resemble The Australian's sad attempts at gaining attention and shaping discourse.

The world is changing, and the new one doesn't work the same way the old one used to. The old assumptions, that a passive audience sat around consuming whatever was fed to them and buying whatever was advertised in the process, doesn't cut it any more.

The bubble burst ages ago. Why are they all, moguls and advertisers alike, still working with the 1990's model where publicity meant influence? Surely if that was the case Corey whatever his name is and Schapelle Corby would be running the country by now.

| Posted by Lyn at 6:08 PM | | Comments (24)


The problem I have with this Lyn, and with the posts on LP and Blogocracy and RTS (by others) and on 1000 other blogs for all I know, is that so many bloggers are still letting the MSM take the lead.

Every post that reacts to something written by Shanahan or Sheridan or any of the rest of that stale crew simply validates their standing as the pre-eminent authorities. Sure most of the posts are along the lines of "Come here and look at what x has written now, gosh s/he's a fool" but it's all very reactive. When bloggers simply ignore the MSM pundits for the pompous airheads they are, the blogosphere will become a venue for truly independent political discussion. Which of course scares the MSM witless.

Yep, best summed up by the person in Possum's Box.
Basically it was the old troll advice; "Don't feed the troll". Ignore them.
Trouble is the MSM exerts so much power and like the cartoon at An Onymous Lefty says, they get it wrong and cannot be allowed to spread their poisonous disinformation unchallenged.Silence is assent.
So how do you not give them oxygen, challenge their disinfo, and ignore the troll simultaneously?
Serious question.
Good post Lyn.
Good response Ken.

Kim quite rightly wonders whether trolling has made its way into the MSM toolkit.

Op-edding is trolling and always have been. They are very good at it too, there are some op-edders that push my buttons no matter what.

They often use the political device of echo-chambering one group and trolling the exact opposite. What used to be judged as successful in terms of 'letters to the editor' where those chambered would write in with "I agree completely" and those trolled would write "so and so could not have been more wrong" now they write on their blog and link to the op-ed.

Op-edders are savvy writers that know how to double their audience by a mix of chambering and trolling. They are good at what they do. It isnt discourse however.

I see that Janet Alberchtson says that the left ---liberals---have basically conceded that their ideas are on the losing side in the free market of ideas, that liberals are demanding regulation whilst conservatives favour freedom.

Albrechtson seems to be confused. It is liberalism that stands for the free market of ideas as it stands for the freemarket, and in its classical strand, is opposed to regulation and in favour of the minimal state.

Conservatives by contrast stand for law and order, authority, and tradition.

Albrechtson , of course, knows this. So it would seem that her conservatism is just a mask for classical liberalism.

we should debate and evaluate conservative ideas on a variety of public issues and make sure that there is a genuine contestation of ideas rather than nonsense.

on the good side side the op edders are ensuring that politics is not about management and administration but is about conflict between friends and enemies.

I'm all for discussing ideas. I don't like the ubiquitous 'debate' word because it connotes so much that is wrong with Australian politics, including the notion that we can all be divided into just two opposed camps and that the tactical game-playing is more important than the substance. That's the lazy and deceptive frame that the MSM pundits love to use.

However, I have no intention of letting clowns like Milne and Henderson and Devine and Shanahan be the leaders of any discussion that I participate in. They are only opinion-leaders to the extent that they have followers. If other people can't resist the urge to feed the trolls that's a matter for them, but I haven't bought a News Ltd publication for more than 10 years and none of their tripe appears on my news reader. If everyone followed my example they'd become irrelevant within a year.

I'm undecided on this. Bloggers still rely on media for news, like everyone else. Ignore them all and you get no news, which is bad. Respond to their trolling and you get them eyeballs, which is also bad.

"Every post that reacts to something written by Shanahan or Sheridan or any of the rest of that stale crew simply validates their standing as the pre-eminent authorities." On the contrary, they're widely known in the blogosphere as pre-eminent clowns.

"So how do you not give them oxygen, challenge their disinfo, and ignore the troll simultaneously?" You could link to other blogs discussing their crap instead of to them, but that relies on some bloggers still linking and directing eyeballs. You could not link, and just paste quotes I guess.

Should they be challenged? Should we "make sure that there is a genuine contestation of ideas"? Or is challenging them just troll feeding? Down to the individual I suppose.

Over at Possum's Box the entries on media generate a lot of discussion, which suggests people want to talk about it. True op-edders are lazy, deceptive and avoid substance, but doesn't that need to be pointed out? Besides, it's fun.

if not 'debate', then conversation or discusssion?

Bloggers still rely on media for news

The supreme irony is that the most popular bloggers follow the news cycle, including doing original reporting inside the news cycle. Then again 24 hours news is a viable business model in cable and internet publishing environments.

Democracy will follow what is popular, it requires majorities after all, so mainstream media in whatever form it will be, will still be tightly linked to the political news cycle.

Lyn I get my news from the same places the pundits get theirs - CNN, Reuters, AP, Yahoo, al Jazeera etc. For op-eds I look to a few MSM sources, especially McClatchy, Asia Times Online and Spiegel. They tend to have longer, more considered pieces than the local idiots (Ross Gittins always honourably excepted) and to engage in, you know, analysis instead of mindlessly repeating endless permutations and combinations of crap like "Ooo Kevin's honeymoon is over". To get any sort of balanced view of 'the news' though takes a lot of time.

I'm all for a genuine contestation of ideas but the MSM fools aren't. They're wrapped up so firmly in smug self-regard that the very idea of engaging with mere customers as equals is beyond them. Count the knowing half-smirks on the faces of the ABC journos on the 7.30 Report one night - they're all subliminal messages saying "We know what's really going on here and you mugs don't".

There are heaps of good writers on the blogosphere who don't take their lead from the MSM. Unfortunately, few of them originate in Australia. However John Quiggin, Andrew Bartlett and the Club Troppo crew are usually good and frequently outstanding (and I disagree with a lot of what they write).

There is a shortage of Howardite conservative blogs that put forward anything other than recycled dogma - see, for example, the bilge from Harry Clark and David Flint - which means the contestation of ideas is a bit lopsided on that front; but I suggest that's more of a reflection on the ideas themselves than the process. After all, one wouldn't expect to have a constructive contestation of ideas with the Taliban or creationists either.

I don't believe it's either possible or useful to try to have a constructive discussion with someone whose fundamental assumptions about the way the world works are wildly different to mine. As you say, it can sometimes be fun, but anyone who takes it seriously just gets into a blind alley of rage and frustration. Trolls nurture their self-esteem by making people mad at them and I'm buggered if I'll indulge them. As examples, just read any one of dozens of threads on Blogocracy (where I no longer comment for that very reason).

Oh the other point - 'True op-edders are lazy, deceptive and avoid substance, but doesn't that need to be pointed out?'

I don't see why. The blogosphere is full of lazy, deceptive posts without substance. 'Comments: 0' speaks much more eloquently than any attempt to point out their shortcomings.

On the other hand it's fun to laugh AT them sometimes, but that's not a contestation of ideas by any definition. It's just the cyber version of mocking the village idiot.

One final point and I'll shut up.

'On the contrary, they're widely known in the blogosphere as pre-eminent clowns.'

This is true only of part of the blogosphere and in any event it's irrelevant. The importance of a pundit is evaluated by the extent to which s/he excites comment and attracts readers. By that measure, the News Ltd bunch are outstanding successes, enthusiastically helped along by bloggers. The fact some of the blog posts criticise the pundit is neither here nor there - as others have noted, they set out like radio shock-jocks to be controversial and divide opinion.

Should we all listen to Alan Jones and the like and write posts about their blathering because it would be wrong to let their nonsense go unchallenged? Life's too short for me to do it I'm afraid.

Ken is correct on this. A great majority of the most visited blogs - particulalry LP - reads like a series of extended Letters to the Editor of The Oz.

CNN, Reuters etc - Do bloggers not make more use of these because because of a shortage of Australian content? Yes, good news is hard to find and hard news is good to find. Maybe we just have a shortage of resources. Maybe things like OpenAustralia will make a difference

The MSM fools and ABC - smug and deluded yes, but I'd argue that pointing this out is part of scaring them witless. Although that does just relocate the smug.

There's not only a shortage of good conservative blogs, there's also a shortage of blogs willing the bridge the left/right, us/them divide. That seems to be changing though, slowly.

Constructive discussion with them, no, impossible. But constructive discussion about them? We're better off knowing and thinking and talking about the Taliban, creationists and media contortionists than just letting them get on with it, surely?

Your final point, ages ago someone asked you why you blog - one of those chain things I think. Different blogs do different things, obviously. One person's waste of time is another one's reason for living.

Personally I think there's enough space for a bit of everything. Departures from gravitas do bother some people, but who decides what blogs are supposed to do?

On Alan Jones, can't remember where I read it now but he's lost a substantial audience share without Howard. Who knows? Maybe that's the case with a lot of them.

Most of the time the 24 hour cycle thing is true. It's the nature of the world we live in. Is that part of what makes popular blogs popular, that they follow the cycle, or is it something else? I guess people only bother commenting on stuff that interests them which is, as you say, part of democracy.

JG, blogs tend to be national. The Oz is a national newspaper so it's reasonable that it gets a lot of attention. To the extent that blogs give people (textual) space to have their say I don't know what else they should read like.

Or did you mean that they devote more space to The Oz than other things?

it is important to acknowledge the insights amongst the rants of the op edders. Thus Burchell's desciption of political blogs:

the wheels of the political blogosphere are greased with the oil of personal vitriol....The blogger's goal is to solidify a tribe of acolytes around them, and to ritually degrade those who are seen as renegades from the cause.

This does describe some features of the Oz blogosphere and it needs to be acknowledged. What Burchell is doing is concentrating on the negative aspects whilst refusing to acknowledge the positive aspects--the development of a deliberative democracy.


I mean that those blogs are overwhelmingly REACTIONS to The Oz. That is, they read largely as no more than a series of Letters to the Editor. The effect is basically to greatly exapnd The Oz' Letters to the Editor page, without any subs. :)

This effect is compounded by the virtual silence on other media - Fairfax, ABC, SBS, magazines, and especially academic/scholarly journals.

JG, I don't see the problem with expanding Letters to the Editor without subs, but I'm undecided over whether reacting amounts to troll feeding. You're right about Fairfax and SBS, but the ABC is copping a fair bit of criticism, which they thoroughly deserve - witness the awful QandA.

It's a bit hard to talk about academic/scholarly journals stil holed up behind paywalls.


Don't get me wrong. I am not bitching or sneering like Burchell. In fact, it is a really bad attitude to dismiss people who spend the time and thought to use new technology to create ADDITIONAL "spaces for sociopolitical discourse" (fuck, now I'M sounding like a Luvvie! :))

My point is that Burchell and the LPers are in the same game. Of course, the killer is that one gets paid handsomely to "troll" while The Luvviespehere gets paid zip to "troll."

One thing I will say on the negative side and that is how dysfunctional the denigration "troll" has become. Sadly, it IS used almost exclusively by those who share a Leftist worldview. Its use nowadays reveals that these Leftists think anybody who departs from the 'correct line,' indeed who is a 'heretic,' can only be insincere and thus contributes to blogs purely for the resulting fireworks and spectacle.

This exposes a real insecurity and anxiety of purpose among the atheist Left that I have been pointing out for some time now.

None of this should be taken as me being prescriptive; I am merely highlighting the dialetic between The Luvviesphere and the MSM oped pages.

"My point is that Burchell and the LPers are in the same game." Point acknowledged, and to be fair the LPers aren't the only ones who do it. *raises hand*

"One thing I will say on the negative side and that is how dysfunctional the denigration "troll" has become, etc." I had a similar thought, but along different lines. Some trolling is clearly trolling, but there have been plenty of examples of people trying to introduce outside the square thinking who get the troll treatment. But in the greater historical scheme of things, trolling is a time honoured practice which used to be called polemics. Maybe by calling it trolling we create the impression something can be done about it.

"spaces for sociopolitical discourse" (fuck, now I'M sounding like a Luvvie! :))"

Now there's something I can print out and stick on the wall. As far as I'm aware your Luvvies don't own copyright on either the notion or the words. I don't think anyone around here is going to flay you for saying such things.

you can even use 'deliberative democracy' on public opinion if you desire.

I'm not persuaded that the left blogosphere can be reduced to the equivalent of letters to the editor of The Australian. JG only gives one example---LP---whilst saying that it is 'A great majority of the most visited blogs' who are so afflicted.

What this account misses is that there are public issues --global warming, water, energy, sexualisation of kids, on which there is an ongoing national conversation or public debate.

The political blogs have stepped into the debate because, as JG points out, virtual silence on the internet by other media - Fairfax, magazines, and academic/scholarly journals. Academia has retreated behind closed walls apart from a few open access windows, whilst the little magazines that used to play such a significant role in our public culture have faded because their digital presence is minimal.

I'm not persuaded that we should accept the notion of a 'left' blogosphere at all, but agree that it's more than OZ Letters. I think JG is saying it becomes that when we all respond to some twit op page in the Oz. I'm not persuaded that 'the most visited blogs' really means much either (half the lurkers are probably Oz op columnists). Also, JG has history with LP, as do others. It's not so much about being a leftish blog as about a particular way of operating.

Most of the time blogs do discuss public issues, and they do it better than media. The advantage for blogs, which academic and small magazine publishing don't have, is time. Lead times and pre-publishing peer review prevent timely discussion in traditional publishing, given the 24 hour news cycle. Blogs can do things immediately and editing and peer review happen later in comments.