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

political blogging: a comment « Previous | |Next »
December 31, 2008

Graham Young at Ambit Gambit has a post on blogging. He considers the argument that this kind of blogging in Australia has arisen in reaction to the flaws in a safety-first journalism:

So, a consequence of lack of experience, lack of understanding, lack of resources, lack of tools, lack of proper training and lack of aptitude may well be that journalists end up practising "safety first". Or it may just be that journalism is a social activity and we tend to herd in social activities, which looks like "safety first".

I concur with his account of the flaws of journalism in the mainstream media----it is a more sophisticated account than the one I mentioned here.

Young then adds that if practising "safety first" journalism in the mainstream media was so, then we would expect to see scuds of bloggers who disagree with each other. However, his observation is that this is not the case, as what tends to happen is that bloggers herd together in mutually reinforcing circles:

There may be more points of view than are represented in the MSM, so there is less uniformity and more niches, but as there are more bloggers than journalists I doubt whether this represents a real increase in the risk profile. In which case, perhaps the urge to blog is driven not so much by the tendency of journalists towards "safety first", but because journalists are by and large socially homogenous and don't reaffirm the views of most bloggers, who in reaction create their own social networks.

I concur with this observation about Australian political bloggers. It's a better and more accurate account of what is happening than that of David Burchill in The Australian mid 2008.

If you recall, Burchill's column dismissed bloggers as the political dark side of the web:

The chief purpose of the political blog isn't the production of argument, but rather the staging of ceremonies of degradation and purification. 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 vast outpouring of pseudo-expertise and vituperation serves mainly as a testament to Western societies' tendency for producing self-important, opinionated folks far in excess of our capacity to employ them...In this the blogosphere resembles the so-called literary low-life of the decades before the French Revolution. In those days resentful and under-employed scribblers amused themselves by illegally publishing salacious rumours about Marie Antoinette or the clergy, the better to strip away the sacred veil of monarchical rule. Except that, in those days, publishing even salacious rumours required a certain sort of bravery.

Young's account shows up Burchill's account for what it is: as a conservative polemic against left wing bloggers.

The missing categories here are power, public sphere, deliberative democracy, debate, critical reasoning and user generated content. These categories, especially the latter, take us away from the narrow frame of the citizen journalism literature which tends to reduce blogging to journalism. Instead of looking back we can look forward to what blogging opens up for us in the context of the decline of the business model of the press and the crisis in journalism.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:25 AM | | Comments (9)


Political blogging necessarily emerges from local social and political contexts, so Burchell's suggestion that everyone should emulate a Cuban blogger is a bit silly.

Rosen's argument, that it comes about because of problems with the media, has more to do with Rosen's own context as a proponent of citizen journalism I think.

"The missing categories here are power, public sphere, deliberative democracy, debate, critical reasoning and user generated content." Apart from user generated content, I'd argue that these are less useful categories for thinking about political blogging. Except maybe power if you're thinking about hierarchy within political blogospheres.

there is a space in society where people talk/write to one another about things that matter to them as opposed to buying things at a checkout counter. That space is the public sphere.

Why is this category not useful for political blogging? The latter presupposes the existence of the public sphere.

the category of deliberative democracy is useful re political blogging because it differentiates that kind of user generated content from Rosen's citizen journalism.

Are we talking Habermasian public sphere or the common or garden version?

Either way, I'd argue that the tendency toward herding around and among like minded blogs erodes the ideal of deliberative democracy. The Habermasican pubic sphere and deliberative democracy are very important ideals, but to what extent do they really exist in practice?

the common version of the public sphere---there are many theories or interpretations of this space. Mine leans towards an agonistic conception and rhetoric, classically understood.

The Senate functions in terms of a deliberative democracy. Hardly an ideal.

Then I'd agree the common public sphere is a useful tool for thinking with when it comes to blogs, although as you point out, there are many understandings of what the common public sphere is. That's why I tend to the public culture model - anything public is in it and it does a multitude of things.

I'm cautious about claims made for public affairs blogging and democracy though, for several reasons.

Bloggers tend to be highly educated, highly articulate, and specialists. Same for most commenters. So blogs don't really alter the existing distribution of advantage.

Having said that, there's no way around it in a textual environment.

Also, the blogging hierarchy is less than ideal for the big fish, little pond problem if broader participation is the goal. If deliberative democracy is the goal, then herding is a problem.

There are plenty of other reasons, but I appear to be having a dumb day.

The process of democratisation in liberal democracy is uneven. The established media institutions are struggling to respond to the rapidly shifting balance of power between the individual and the institution radically disrupted by the Internet that provides space In a networked world, an unaffiliated, networked individual with a laptop, camera, an Internet connection and access to research materials. It is a democratic response to consumerism without citizenship that has been favoured by Murdoch and co since the 1980s.

On the other side, we have the continuation of the core twin principles of Howard's regime: the intensification of centralised executive authority and the cultivation of an elite order at ease with a politics focused on winners, wealth and corporate logic - a neo-liberal regime primarily concerned with making Australia more competitive as a player in the global marketplace.

"The process of democratisation in liberal democracy is uneven."

Fair call.

For mine, the biggest positive is not so much the access to alternative views (circumventing corporate media) but direct access to specialist information. The psephs are the obvious example. That's also a positive for specialists of all kinds who've had their messages mangled by media.

There's been a lot of focus on bloggers/journalists/authors at the expense of thinking about information and how it circulates now. If we can abandon this thinking habit there is no centralised authority. If we don't, bloggers just replace the old information overlords at the top of the heap and we continue to misunderstand what's going on.

"Instead of looking backwe can look forward to what blogging opens up for us inthe context of the decline of the business model of the press and the crisis in journalism."

We appear to be in furious agreement.

What I see happening is that the hierarchical model of information based on government and mainstream media is being slowly replaced by them becoming modules or nodes or hub in a network.

So there are different information hubs in formation. Maybe yesterdays little magazines will become hubs plus the odd academic based site.