Are we making the most of blogging?

My recent blog posting about Twitter (it’s a text message blogging service, which I’ve just started using) was unusual -in that in triggered off a sequence of other blogs posts, both on Liberal Democrat sites (e.g. on this site and on Alex Foster’s blog) and also on others (e.g. Puffbox).

I say unusual – because it’s rare to see a story start on one Liberal Democrat blog and then be picked up and spread across the Liberal Democrat blogosphere, let alone beyond the confines of the party.

The contrast with the American political blogosphere – and even right-wing blogs in the UK – is, to me, striking. And I say that particularly because, from what I’ve seen of the stats, my blog has one of the largest readerships of any Liberal Democrat blog – not in Liberal Democrat Voice’s league, but possibly second only to it. So why is it that it is so rare for my stories to be picked up and spread online, even when they are newsworthy enough for mainstream journalists to be picking them up and running with them?

Perhaps you think it’s because of something I don’t get right with my blog – but the same question applies to all the Liberal Democrat blogs I’ve seen. Despite the impressive and growing range of Liberal Democrat blogs – it seems very rare for a story to be picked up and spread.

Where stories do get spread you see two benefits – they reach a wider audience, as we don’t all have exactly the same audience, and also along the way they often pick up more facts and details as different people chip in with their own pieces of information. To go back to my Twitter posting example – if you read the three pieces linked to above, you’ll end up with a more rounded picture of how politicians could and do use Twitter than if you’d just read my original piece.

Bigger audience, better information – that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it? So why doesn’t it happen more often?

It’s not as if we don’t know what each other is saying. Through things like the Blogger of the Year awards at conference, the excellent LibDemBlogs aggregator, the group blogger interviews with leading party figures etc etc I think there is a real sense of community amongst Liberal Democrat bloggers, and everyone spends time reading each other.

So overall I think this is symptomatic of a wider issue – and that’s that Liberal Democrat bloggers tend to be either fairly inward or local looking. There are many blogs that really talk just about what is happening in the party, along with a smaller number of – often excellent – blogs which are clearly aimed at a particular local audience (including some particularly good councillor blogs aimed as residents in those wards – understandably enough!).

What we seem to be mostly missing are those combative, outward looking souls who spot a story and want to help spread or extend the message or the point or the attack, as opposed to inwardly looking expressing their own views on it. So you tend to get stories not spreading, and where they are commented on, they are only commented on by those who have reservations to express.

Mark Pack made a similar point at the first Blogger of the Year awards in 2006:

A lot of people feel that blogging is very much them commentating on something. They’re expressing they’re views; they’re putting them out there; they’re letting people see what they think. [But] one of the trends that is very clear in the US is that a lot of bloggers feel that rather than being commentators actually they want to be really active participants in the political process and quite deliberately use their blogs to campaign.

At the moment, it is as if Liberal Democrat blogs provide the online equivalent of committee meetings and pizza and politics events – vital but inward looking – but don’t provide the online equivalent of those outward looking activities such as leafleting and canvassing.

To me, that is the collective challenge we face if we really want to help build the party into leading a wider liberal movement that doesn’t just bring greater electoral success for us, but also brings a stronger voice to liberal causes and which reaches out and engages with those audiences that are so often disaffected with politics.

Lynne Featherstone is the party’s Youth and Equality spokesperson.

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25 Comments

  • Grammar Police 28th Mar '08 - 11:43am

    I think your last para, Guido, is exactly the opposite of what I think. A working democracy needs a healthy scepticism, but an active engagement – not a lack of interest.

    Holding politicians in a low esteem, no interest, leads to terrible polticians, both locally and nationally, making increasingly authoritiarian pronouncements that aren’t challenged or even considered. It ruins any pretence of accountability.

    Like it or not, there are many things that require some form of collective decision-making process – although I certainly don’t want to see central Government doing it, and I think the proper line between representative democracy and direct democracy is a hard one to get right. I also think that there’s a lot that the “state” of whatever level should stay out of.

    But the way to ensure the state stays out of my business, is not to encourage my friends and neighbours to take no interest in the decisions being taken in their names and mine.

  • Grammar Police 28th Mar '08 - 11:48am

    As to the proper place for blogs and blogging: if anyone becomes engaged with small ‘p’ politics because of a blog then that’s a good thing.

    That said, they are a minority interest and will remain so for the near future.

    If the aim is to use them for campaigning (as opposed to interest and discussion) then I seriously wonder if they’re worth the time and effort. Far better to knock on some doors and ask people what they think, or to acheive something locally.

    If they can help spread stories wider through journalists, then that’s a good thing – but perhaps that’s something for press/pr officers to be doing. Journalists know what angle they want, when they come to the blogs they know what they’re looking for to back up the stance they want to take (eg disquiet about Ming or right-wing “Tory grassroots” on ConHome).

  • Martin Land 28th Mar '08 - 3:12pm

    I’d have to go along with Mary. The problem Lynne is the nature of the beast. There are thousands of Tories blogging away because they wouldn’t dream of writing a leaflet, knocking on a door or talking to members of the public. Lib Dems (with the honourable exception of Lawrence Boyce) do all of this as well as being very involved in their local communities. Most of us blog irregularly and more often than not on local matters. I think you are right Lynne, but unless you can get legislation through to create a 30 hour day….

  • Guido’s last paragraph is interesting, but flawed by the way it correlates state with government.

    I’d say the measure of esteem politics is held in is a direct reflection of the level of informed awareness of the population, while the level of interest reflects the relevance the political process has to any specific individual.

    I also support an increased non-politicised space in culture and society, but we should know and be conscious that doesn’t mean anything is de-politicised or disengaged from the social mix (except in the abstract). Less group-state is concomitant with increased individual engagement and responsibility – politics and government are unavoidable.

    Blogs are one further step towards providing the full means for personal government, but I think there is still a long way to go.

  • Well im a combative soul lol but seriously I see the point here and I have often lamented the contrast with America and admire how things are over there in this regard at least. I blog quite frequently on Daily Kos which is a big liberal blog and quite vibrant.

    If you want to reach out to those disaffected then my advice would be to produce a more rounded culture. I think political blogs in America often are more newspaperish in that there is consistent diet of politics but also more what you might call lifestyle content too (though this isnt really true of Daily Kos). After all part of the problem with political engagement is that it is seen as elitist, the preserve of a rather weird species of human being who possibly come from another planet. Of course this isnt true but I think it is certainly a preception out there….

    In reality although people may abhor poilitics, they almost certainly hold political views of some sort although they may not think so. If you want to connect to people then you have to start showing that politicians and activists are people too who just happen to take an active role in politics….

    I think the danger in politics is to be inward looking but the internet can be a place where we cure that…that doesnt mean diluting politics in anyway….then the other thing is to have everything in its place…quite frankly id rather blog on LDV than have a blog on my own with minimal visitors but when I write on it I am primarily expecting to address fellow Liberal Democrats who are already in the process and the party…however I think LDV does synthasise opinion well with news…a LDV like approach in a more outward facing blog addressed to people not currently engaged with politics would work wonders to my mind…

  • Lol…Laurence makes a good point about owning your own blog…id rather pour my effort into LDV and something like it than have a blog of my own….

  • Re: “…only 13% of voters are very interested in politics.”

    Only? That is a vast audience which — forgive me — none of you have yet cracked. Not even Guido.

    Most of the political blogs in the UK are far too focused on what I would classify as big-P Politics — ie, Parliament, the Parties, the Policies. Institutional politics. Frankly, it’s the easy stuff, because the mainstream media cover it. All you need is a URL or two, a pithy observation, and you’re done. PMQs, the latest poll, a leader speech….whatever the MSM have covered or are likely to cover.

    I don’t think one needs to be especially populist, in the tabloid sense, but finding a distinctive mission and putting passion into it surely is step one. I find a certain bloodlessness in the UK blogosphere, together with a good deal of cynicism.

    Guido is monitored because he’s a bit of fun, and because politicians are afraid he’ll mention them. But Iain Dale is watched because he’s human and humane, not because he outdoes the Sun or the Express.

    And, for what’s it’s worth, my vote for best political blog in the UK would have to go to a blog which isn’t very political at all – Rachel North’s blog. Just look at this: http://rachelnorthlondon.blogspot.com/2008/03/blackstock-road-raids.html

    Intensely personal, filled with tangible detail, her posts contain authentic emotion and experience with which people can identify.

    Difficult for an MP, I realize. Your experiences are bound to be different. But perhaps that’s the opportunity – to share what you see behind the scenes at Westminster in ways us ordinary folks can connect with. Could you have gotten away with disclosing ambiguous feelings, assuming you had some, when told to sit out the EU treaty vote?

  • A rather thoughtful take on this issue here: http://clickeral.blogspot.com/2008/03/blogging-and-stuff-part-2.html

    Chris makes the point that American liberals and conservatives constitute formidable movements not dependent on the Republican or Democratic parties. I think that’s correct. In fact, the party-affiliated blogs in the US aren’t much different from our own.

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