Tag Archives: blogging

(Inter)National Blog Posting Month

NaBloPoMo November 2012It’s November, and I’ve decided to set myself two tasks. The first is to take part in Movember, partly to raise money for prostate cancer research but mainly because I reckon I can kick my colleagues’ fellow moustache growing attempts thanks to my swarthy Mediterranean genes.

But the other thing I’m planning to do is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). Or should that be International Blog Posting Month (InNaBloPoMo)? For that matter, I’m not clear if this is even a thing; the only reference to it I can find is the BlogHer portal in the US and they haven’t updated their Twitter feed for a year.

No matter. I’ve seen people doing this in the past and my colleagues Emily and John are planning to do the same – so this can be our thing.

I briefly flirted with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo before realising I was doomed to failure. I may have a novel in me, but extracting it isn’t going to happen right now (I’m also a little ambivalent about the whole concept – surely we should be encouraging aspiring writers to perfect the art of the short story first before getting them to inflict their doorstop sized magnum opi on us? Discuss).

In lieu of there being any clearly established set of NaBloPoMo rules as far as I can tell, I’m going to set myself a few. Unlike those brave NaNoWriMo souls, I’m not planning to bash out 1,700 words on this blog every day (although I’ve been known to write far more in a single posting). My only rules are that each posting must be an article and not simply a couple of sentences, and that I do a piece every day (if I skip a day for any reason, I’ll have to catch up – which could get challenging if I leave it for more than a day). I’m going to aim for articles to be around 300-500 words, with the occasional longer piece.

In the not so distant past, doing this would not have seemed like much of a challenge – I’ve certainly had periods where I wrote far more than that. Right now, it seems quite a task: I didn’t even manage to finish my A-Z of Dredd in the summer (although I plan to use this as a chance to rectify that) – it’s very true that writing is like a muscle; the more you exercise it the easier it becomes. Any suggestions about what to write on would be greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, please contribute to my Movember‘s efforts. Thank you!

The PCC: no regulation without representation!

Baroness Buscombe managed to jolt me awake with her stupidity on the Today programme on Monday. I really do advise you to listen to her interview while it is still available because it is remarkable for its vacuity, fatuosity and disingenuity. Apparently we are to believe that it is ‘joyful’ that the Sun can breach the PCC’s own guidelines and that the PCC will only lift a finger if Gordon Brown himself complains.

It gets worse, because it turns out that Buscombe wants the PCC to regulate bloggers (hat tip: Iain Dale):

“Some of the bloggers are now creating their own ecosystems which are quite sophisticated,” Baroness Buscombe told me. “Is the reader of those blogs assuming that it’s news, and is [the blogosphere] the new newspapers? It’s a very interesting area and quite challenging.”

She said that after a review of the governance structures of the PCC, she would want the organisation to “consider” whether it should seek to extend its remit to the blogosphere, a process that would involve discussion with the press industry, the public and bloggers (who would presumably have to volunteer to come beneath the PCC’s umbrella).

A terrible idea? Well, a totally impractical one for one thing. How on earth does she expect to be able to dictate what I can or can’t put on this blog?

But wait: a thought occurs. If bloggers are to be brought under the PCC, surely we should have seats on the PCC board? And, given the fact that our combined readership is somewhat larger than the newspapers’, shouldn’t we actually have a majority of seats on that board? It seems to me that having a majority of bloggers sitting on the PCC board would almost certainly result in a better system of self-regulation than we have at present.

Perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand? Of course, the chances of the main newspaper proprietors agreeing to that must be somewhat lower than a snowball’s chances in Hell, but we can dream.

And the blog post of 2009 is…

Parliament, The Telegraph and Jo Swinson. Gosh! Thanks a lot. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Obviously, I dedicate the awards to Jo herself and would like to use this opportunity to say fuck you Daily Telegraph (who at least respond to complaints promptly) and up your arse BBC (who don’t).

Congratulations too to Jo for winning the “Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat” award for her tweeting of Prime Ministers’ Question Time, to Mark Thompson for winning Best New Blog and to Slugger O’Toole for winning Best Non-Liberal Democrat Blog.

On a personal note I was especially pleased to see Brian Robson win the Tim Garden Award for Best Blog by a Liberal Democrat Holding Public Office. I personally recruited Brian to the Liberal Democrats almost exactly nine years ago today at the Leeds Universtiy Union Freshers’ Fair. I seem to recall that Brian was especially attracted to the Lib Dems’ commitment to scrap tuition fees. How time flies.

Finally, congratulations to the Blogger of the Year, Costigan Quist for Himmelgarten Cafe. Costigan couldn’t be at the awards because he has to look after the caff that he runs (obviously). In these harsh economic times, it is useful to remember that not all Liberal Democrats can afford to take a week off work to swan around Bournemouth.

Thanks a lot to Lib Dem Voice for organising the event, and commiserations to those who didn’t win. But please: let’s not use Harry’s Bar a third time? It’s a bloody awful venue.

The state of the Lib Dem blogosphere

Stephen Tall has issued these questions for Lib Dem bloggers to answer over the weekend and so I thought I’d try to bash out my responses before dinner (UPDATE: not quite):

What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?

Lib Dem Blogs remains a very powerful spine, although I personally find it is gradually being replaced by twitter as a tool for following blogs I know I already like. But its power as a means for helping good bloggers get quickly established (Mark Reckons and Himmelgarten Cafe are two recent examples) is as strong as ever.

The greatest single achievement in the Lib Dem blogosphere was the aforementioned Mark Thompson’s post about marginality and the MPs’ expenses scandal. This is a rare example of a blog post that actually helped set the national agenda.

What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?

We aren’t a collective and so to a certain extent I don’t recognise the validity of the question. As I’ve said before, I don’t consider my blog to be part of a movement. It exists for me to get things off my chest and to advance my own, personal agenda, nothing more.

But if I was to put my party hat on for a second, the answer I think would be that we fail to really engage in much of a cross-party debate. We talk too much amongst ourselves. I think this is true of all party blogospheres so I don’t want to belabour the point, but it does mean that the average punter who finds themselves reading, say, a bunch of Labour blogs has very little chance of crossing over.

The other, moderate, failure has been LibDig although I am contemplating having another bash at reviving it. I remain convinced that social bookmarking is a potentially powerful tool for promoting the best of what’s out there in the internet and that sites like Digg are too vast for people to navigate their way through, but I don’t know what the answer is.

How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?

LabourList appears to have settled down into a decent Labour answer to Lib Dem Voice. Con Home is more of a party hub than either of them will ever be, but is less readable to people of a non-Tory persuasion as a result.

For all Labour’s problems with the Red Rag controversy, and notwithstanding its predecessors like Lib Dem Watch (which it looks like would have been Red Rag’s direct descendant had it ever got off the ground in terms of a great many of the people involved with it), it is the Tories who have elevated partisan attack blogging to an artform. There is little disputing the success of this type of blog in terms of readership, but I’m not that fussed about our failure to compete in this area.

How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?

Mark Thompson’s achievement, above, aside, I’ve seen very little evidence of them being useful for setting the agenda outside of the rather incestuous blogosphere. I think their potential for marshalling the activist base however remains unexploited. It is notable that blogs were used by the party to encourage people to attend the Norwich North by-election to a much lesser extent than they were used in, for example, the Henley and Ealing Southall by-elections. Whether this indicates that the party centrally didn’t consider those earlier attempts to be particularly successful or just had other priorities, I could not say.

What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?

I predict that political blogging in general will degenerate into tribal name calling in the way that it did in the run up to the 2005 general election. Before then, blogging was much more cross party, albeit much much smaller. Personally I ended up all but giving up on reading blogs myself during that period although a large part of that was to do with the fact that I was semi-banned from blogging myself and had a target seat to run with a London-Glasgow commute to go along with it.

It will also become less tolerant of internal dissent, although to a certain extent even the most awkward of us tend to be less critical during general elections anyway. Honestly, it will be awful – part of me is tempted to just sit it out like last time.

That aside, I suspect Lib Dem Voice will go from strength to strength and may well find itself having a pivotal role during the election campaign and the post-mortem afterwards. Freedom Central, the Welsh Lib Dem ‘hub’ (presumably this particular hub isn’t based underneath Roald Dahl Plass), has the potential to grow into something significant. The Scots really need to get their own version up and running.

In terms of blogging however, the most interesting period will be after the general election, not before. The post-election period last time produced the Apollo Project, the Liberal Review and eventually Lib Dem Voice itself. I suspect that there will be an ideological battle being fought within the party after the election, with the classical liberal/libertarian Liberal Vision thinking the debate is about them versus the Social Liberal Forum, and the Social Liberal Forum thinking it is a much more nuanced debate about where the party makes the balance between economic and social liberalism. But fundamentally, the debate will be much broader than that and we can’t guess who the main actors will be.

The other factor will be technology. Neither podcasting nor vlogging have caught on in the UK political blogosphere; with a new generation getting older and attracted to politics by the general election, will we see this change in 2010?

Total Politics Best Blog Poll

It’s that time of the year for the Total Politics Best Blog Poll again and this year it is being supported by both Lib Dem Voice and LabourList.

As with last year, Tim Ireland is organising a boycott and as with last year I disagree. Nonetheless, I totally accept that the annual Dale blog poll has a problem in that it will inevitably have a certain Conservative bias. That doesn’t really bother me as I take all these things with a pinch of salt anyway, but it is nonetheless a problem.

I don’t want to get into a similar verbal punch up that I ended up in with Tim last year. All I will do is urge him, Sunny and the others who are refusing to take part to organise an alternative instead of a boycott. It would be interesting to see how the two polls differ and it might actually influence the media to look beyond the existing Tory blogging hegemony for a change. I’m sure plenty of people will happily take part.

It strikes me that that is a better use of time than bemoaning the existing one. I’d take part in it. But then I will also be taking part in the Total Politics one as well (indeed I already have).

Why is LabourList keeping silent about Tomlinson?

For the last week I’ve been critical of the rightwing blogosphere for its silence – up to the point when the Guardian revealed its video footage – about Ian Tomlinson’s death.

But there remains one other blog, which is broadly on the right but get desperately upset if you point that fact out, which has remained silent throughout. Indeed, with the Guardian story now nearly a week old it has continued to stay silent. That blog is LabourList.

What is most intriguing about this is that LabourList staffer Tom Miller has plenty to say about Tomlinson’s death – he just isn’t saying it on LabourList. Why? It isn’t as if he doesn’t contribute regularly – why is this topic off limits? By contrast The Fabians’ Next Left, which superficially you might think is just as insidery, has been commenting on the story at every stage.

Draper has spent most of the last weekend insisting to anyone who will listen that LabourList is independent of the party machine. Yet on this issue it seems to be more concerned about helpfully keeping schtum.

All this talk about ‘independence’ is a nonsense anyway. All that ‘independence’ tends to mean in politics is that it isn’t immediately apparent what one’s agenda is. It is a sign of how degraded our political discourse has become that so many people take ‘independent’ to mean ‘without agenda,’ which is why nonsenses like Jury Team get as far as they do (before self-destructing) every few years.

In the case of LabourList, ‘independent’ seems to mean ‘slavishly loyal, with the odd anti-New Labour rant to keep the proles happy, but not funded by the Labour NEC.’ I have to admit that Lib Dem Voice went through a period when it seemed afraid to be critical, but it has gratifyingly grown out of that stage. But will LabourList? Indeed, wasn’t that the whole point of it in the first place.

It will be interesting to see how long LabourList will keep up its new regimen of “ideas not smears” – thus far it has concentrated far too much on the latter and not enough on the former, as Peter Beckett on LabourList itself has pointed out.

So what is the LabourList analysis of what happened on 1 April? If they are serious about turning a new leaf, this would appear to be a good place to start.

Tory bloggers: they don’t like it up ‘em!

I was surprised by the size of the response I got to my post on Tuesday about the police treatment of Ian Tomlinson. The level of traffic to this site brought back memories of when people used to actually read this blog.

In terms of the people who have directly responded, they seem to fit into three categories. A number, including Thunder Dragon and Iain Dale, have unfussily expressed their concerns, and that is fair enough. Mr Eugenides offers a balanced response, rejecting some of my criticisms but accepting others.

It is fair to say that people had not had much of a chance to respond by 11-ish on Tuesday night, but this story has been rumbling on for several days. By last Thursday evening, less than 24 hours after Ian Tomlinson had died, the police’s earlier spin that their only involvement had been to try helping Mr Tomlinson whilst being pelted by bricks and bottles, lay in tatters. Yet this wasn’t picked up by any of the blogs I cited on Tuesday – although many of them were very exercised indeed about the treatment meted out by the police on The Adam Smith One, Eamonn Butler. To quote Dizzy:

I didn’t really care about a bunch of crusty hippies marching about London. I had a job to go too. People should get off their high horses and go fuck themselves.

… which is entirely my point. You do tend to lose any claim to moral authority if you openly admit that the death of a “crusty hippie” isn’t worth caring about (the view looks fine from up here, Dizzy, thanks so much for asking).

This brings me onto the third category – bloggers who are very angry at what I wrote but agree with every word. Dizzy is one. Letters From A Tory is another. LFAT’s response has been to explain how the police’s response may well turn out to have been entirely reasonable once we have established all the facts. Why? Because there is something entirely dubious about that Mr Tomlinson fella, and he was probably begging for it.

I paraphrase, but in his Wednesday post, he arguments consist of the following:

1. Tomlinson may not have been “attempting to get home from work” on the basis that he was wearing a football shirt. If he wasn’t “attempting to get home from work” by definition he can’t have been an “innocent bystander”.

2. (My favourite one) “The video said Ian was ‘walking away from them’ – this is outright deceit, in my opinion. Yes, he was physically facing the opposite direction but if you watch the video carefully you will see that he is deliberately antagonising the police by walking slowly right in front of them as the cordon tries to move people down the street.” Yes, that’s right. Walking in an “antagonising” manner is entirely deserving of police assault in LFAT’s tiny mind.

3. He got up again, so what’s the problem?

Now, following the Daily Mail revelations that Tomlinson may have been drunk, a triumphant LFAT has offered us the coup de grace. Apparently we are to believe that these photos are as revelatory as the Guardian video.

It’s almost too easy pointing out the stupidity of LFAT’s position – he’s done all the heavy lifting for me (the sad thing is, he seems to genuinely believe these are intelligent points to make), but let me spell it out:

Whether Tomlinson was a protestor or drunk or not is entirely irrelevant. Whether he was walking in an “antagonising” manner is entirely irrelevant (as a Londoner, I have to put up with people walking in front of me in an antagonising manner every single day). Ultimately, the fact that Tomlinson died of a heart attack is irrelevant in this context (except for the fact that it may make the difference between whether the policeman in question is guilty of manslaughter or common assault). The point is a policeman lashed out at him while his back was turned and his hands were in his pockets. In a civilised society, that is not acceptable under any circumstances. If you don’t actually agree with me on that point, I’m sorry, but you are utterly beneath contempt.

LFAT isn’t representative of the rightwing blogosphere in this respect, but lamentably he is not alone in suggesting that somehow Tomlinson was responsible for being attacked. I offer this fact merely as an observation of what we are up against.

A Lembit Blog! Of sorts.

Thanks to the diligent detective work of Costigan Quist (something which perhaps we should draw a veil over), I can reveal that Lembit’s Daily Sport columns are now available online (Warning: NSFW).

So, given my call for him to have a blog, is this mission accomplished? Well, the very fact that I have to label it NSFW suggests that there is more work to do (if I never have to look at Jo Guest’s starry chuff hole ever again it will be too soon), and it would be nice if he didn’t have to bang on about the Daily Sports’ ‘babes’ in every other sentence. Frankly, I’m a bit sceptical that the hairy-of-palm need politicians to connect with them. They seem to be more than adequately represented on the benches of both Houses of Parliament already in my experience.

Still, at least we can now read the column now. The fact that it doesn’t include even the basics such as an RSS feed suggests that the cash-strapped Daily Sport may not be around much longer.

The Lib Dems don’t need a blogging strategy. They need a Lembit strategy

Alex Singleton has written a wonderfully charmless little attack post on about the state of Lib Dem blogosphere (it is always nice to find an article like this has been written by someone I have already dismissed as an idiot).

Leaving aside the usual crap about the Lib Dems not standing for anything (bizarrely, he seems to think that Cameron’s Conservatives are a good example of a consistent party – clearly he has never read ConHome – in particular he clearly hasn’t read this article about the Tory’s own internet fail), one can marvel at the sheer ignorance about the subject matter in question. Describing Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem Blogs as “rivals” is simply gigglesome. It is as if he has never come across the idea of an aggregator before (let alone the fact that Ryan Cullen is in fact the sinister puppetmaster pulling the strings behind the scenes of both websites). He cites Guido Fawkes for attacking Labour’s blog activities, yet seems to fundamentally misunderstand Paul’s real complaint. As I understand it (and I did speak to him on the topic last week), the Guido analysis is that any blogging strategy is fundamentally a waste of time because it will only reach out to the usual suspects.

I broadly agree with that, which is why I’ve never really gone in for this whole puffing about the party via my blog thing. This blog is a way for me to develop my thoughts, to mouth off and to relieve tension (a bit like wanking). Engaging in a dialogue with similarly interested individuals is a plus. Proselytising isn’t even on the radar.

There are good examples of blogging to the unconverted, but you won’t find them at the “top” of the blogosphere but rather in the long tail. Take Mary Reid for example. A great community blog with crossover appeal between political hacks and Kingston upon Thames residents. Mary’s blog works in that way because Mary gets that engagement is about more than blogging – she’s one of the party’s (indeed the UK’s) leading e-mancipators. But you won’t see her at the top of the Wikio rankings or the Total Politics league table any time soon – to do that she would have to make compromises, talking to the political hardcore at the expense of local residents. That would lead her to disengage and ultimately be self-defeating. But Alex Singleton would of course approve.

Generally speaking it is fascinating how journalists consistently fail to “get” the internet, even at its most basic. A couple of weeks ago, a PR Week journalist by the name of David Singleton (coincidence?) reported that the Lib Dems are going to hold a “bloggers’ summit” at Cowley Street on 28 March. Not so – the party is holding a coders’ summit, a far more productive exercise. And of course, there is this incessant and persistant attack on Twitter – which sounds remarkably similar in tone to the incessant and persistant attack by the mainstream media on blogging before every journo and his/her dog started blogging. The phenomenon of mainstream journalists confusing the medium for the message is one of the great mysteries of the age (perhaps it is something Charlie Brooker should investigate on his new Newswipe series).

Are the Lib Dems getting everything right with their internet strategy? Of course not. I would suggest the following:

  • The party doesn’t send out anything like enough emails and the emails it does send tend to be a bit haphazzard. I’m a bit of a social bookmarking evangelist myself, but even I would question the point in encouraging everyone on our email list to help promote the latest Nick Clegg video via Digg. By all means put Digg buttons everywhere, but every second you spend explaining it to the general public is a second you should be communicating the party’s vision and policies.
  • Every party campaign and initiative should be focussed around collecting email addresses (legally of course). Never mind Digg, we should be letting individuals forward information about our campaigns to their address books in a way that is now old hat on sites such as Avaaz.
  • With the Liberal Youth currently mid-nervous breakdown, it is time for the party to make a strategic decision about how it intends to communicate with young people. For years now, it has tended to be left for the youth wing to organise. That was fine when they were the innovators (launching scraptuitionfees.com for instance), but they’ve been bungling it for years now. Following on from Alix Mortimer’s seminal piece last week, it is probably time a group of 20-30 somethings got together and had a serious chat about an alternative that isn’t modelled around a quaint 19th century private members club but rather is a serious attempt to create a liberal grassroots movement that is has strong ties to, but ultimately independent of, the Lib Dems.

Finally, if there is to be a Lib Dem blogging strategy, then the thing it should be focussed around is building up our existing personalities’ web presence. At the start of this year, I avowed a wish to see Lembit Opik start blogging. I’m serious. Lembit’s claim that turning up on light entertainment programmes (catch him tonight on Ant and Dec) helps him reach out to people the rest of the party doesn’t reach is a perfectly sound argument but is poorly executed. Imagine what a plus it would be if he gave people who had seen him on these programmes a place to go; a website which bridged his particular obsession with celebrity and politics? Sadly, he is so steeped in denial that he will no doubt assume this constructive criticism is yet another “pernicious” attack on him.

To a degree, the same could be said about Vince, although his particular brand of personality lends itself better to helping to promote the party. But if you think the party’s success is dependent on having yet another blog to feed the obsessives, you are so wrong you ought to begin a career as a Telegraph journalist.

How dominant is the “blokeosphere”?

Rowenna Davis writes about her experience as guest editor on Labour List on Comment is Free. What interests me about this experience is that while I think the so-called “blokeosphere” is out there, it isn’t universal across political blogs and, as a “bloke” bores me to tears as well. A few observations:

It is hard to see how you can infer a wider principle from LabourList. With Derek Draper at its head, LabourList is one of the most testosterone-fuelled blogs out there. It has reached its existing readership primarily by picking fights with people. I have to admit that even then I was surprised to learn that it has an all-male editorial board (and presumably will continue to have an all-male editorial board after today), but it does figure.

If you want change, you need to more than have a guest female editor for a couple of days. This was an oddly patronising way to mark International Women’s Day – bring the women out for the special occasion and then put them back in their box. LabourList has been significantly more interesting with her as editor (weirdly, I understand she isn’t a Labour Party member) than with Draper and there is every sign that we will be back to business-as-usual in the next couple of days. Indeed, with LabourWomen now established, the boys will be left to it. Only in the Labour Party is such a phenomenon seen a progress.

You can make a systemic shift – and the Lib Dem blogosphere proves it. I don’t wish to over-emphasise this as I am hardly in a position to claim to have expunged macho blogging, but eighteen months ago the Lib Dem blogosphere was as male-dominated as the Labour blogosphere. For whatever reason, it became apparent that there was a distinct increase in female bloggers, seemingly as a result of the relatively high profile blogger awards at the Autumn Conference and the excitement surrounding the leadership election. And that increase has proven itself to be relatively sustainable: the party’s top blogger is a woman, Lib Dem Voice has a good mix of men and women on its editorial team and most blog meetups that I’ve attended have been equally well balanced.

Why is this? I suspect it is a combination of the fact that a certain critical mass was reached and the fact that we talked about it. Much derided at the time, the Campaign for Gender Balance’s decision to launch its own awards in Spring 2008 helped create that dialogue. A great many women seemed to feel patronised by the awards and several men howled with outrage; as a result I (as one of the instigators) didn’t particularly push for a 2009 event. But I do think that the awards – or more precisely the debate that surrounded the awards – helped create a shift in attitudes.

There are plenty of female political bloggers out there – they just aren’t labelled as political. This is a point that Jenny Rigg makes repeatedly, and she’s absolutely right. Partly this is because of how women perceive themselves, but a lot of it is down to the different way they seem to get labelled, as opposed to men. My blog, for example, has always been a mix of politics, film, comics, television and general toss; yet I’ve always been regarded as a political blogger. As Jenny discovered, by contrast she tends to be regarded as an “other” by default and even feminism is assumed to not be political (as opposed to something to do with women’s bits).

Some of what Rowenna says is arrant nonsense. Sorry, but the idea that only Harriet Harman and other female politicians gets personally abused on the internet is simply not the case. Google “Nick Clegg” or “Menzies Campbell” if you don’t believe me. And “Cif is a good exception to the rule” of political blogs being male dominated? I don’t even follow the comments threads on my own articles on Cif because they are so full of bile and the first three comments in response to her article have been censored presumably because of their sexist content – if that is what Rowenna considers to be a feminist utopia she needs a wakeup call. It is hard to shake the impression that Rowenna is little more than a tourist when it comes to this subject and hasn’t really explored the blogosphere outside of LabourList at all.