Friday, April 06, 2007

Once more unto the breach, dear blogger...

James Higham has been mulling over the "Guido on Newsnight" sensation, and I agree with his conclusions.

He points to an article by Oliver Kamm—which I did read but was too busy to comment on. Now seems to be a good time.
I know nothing of the pseudonymous Mr Fawkes, but I'm deeply sceptical of the value of political blogs and hostile to the whole medium of blogging.

I don't know much about Mr Kamm beyond his Wikipedia entry, but did he not get his MSM column as a result of blogging? If so, this attitude does seem to be redolent of pulling up the drawbridge (and dropping the portcullis) after one is safely across.

Anyway, that point is not tremendously important as it is obvious, from his writing, why he got his columnist job; his posts carry all of the hallmarks of the smugness and lack of willingness to engage (he doesn't allow comments) displayed by almost every other MSM scribe. Although, Kamm is worse than many combining, as he does, the massive self-assurance of the MSM with the sanctimonious self-justification of the left into a kind of uber-righteousness.

Which is, of course, why I don't read him: I find both his politics and his writing style tedious beyond words. But—lucky, old Ollie!—I'm going to comment briefly. Let's look at that quote again.
I know nothing of the pseudonymous Mr Fawkes, but I'm deeply sceptical of the value of political blogs and hostile to the whole medium of blogging. (I argued the point here and here.)

Before we deal with whether or not political blogging has any significance, let's look at Ollie's reasons for dismissing the medium. I think we'll take the Thunderer column first.
[Ariana Huffington's (also a bore)] latest is the notion that the internet — and specifically the type of online diary known as a weblog, or blog — has changed the way that news is gathered and reported. Whereas newspapers address readers impersonally, the blog “draws people in and includes them in the dialogue”.

Well, this is true if you allow commenting, not something that Mr Kamm does.
This is largely nonsense. Similar claims for the transforming power of the internet were made when it was still known as the Information Superhighway. In practice, while the medium of delivery has changed, the content of newspapers remains the same. The online and print editions of this newspaper are almost identical.

Note that Mr Kamm does not even consider the possibility that this fact might be a failure on the part of the paper paying his wage, nor that the paper might simply be superannuated. That would require him actually to engage his brain.
Internet evangelists believed electronic newspapers would be storehouses of information; in fact most people want not more information but more efficient ways of organising the information they are given.

This is, of course, very true to a large extent and forms the basis of the irritation at Private Eye's lack of online implementation. However, most newspapers are actually still vbery bad at delivering information in the first place.

Let me explain; this blog has become, over the two or so years that I have been writing it, as repository for my own opinion and, of course, the opinion of others. However, what it has also become is a reference archive for numerous reports, fact sheets and data tables; most newspapers do not publish or even link to the information that they comment and report on. (In the case of Polly Toynbee, this is usually because if anyone had easy access to her source material it would be even easier to show her distortions.)

So, this blog has become, consciously, an archive of veracity: an archive of data that can be examined to see whether the assertions that I've made and the comment articles that I've fisked have actually been true. In many cases, this blog—aided and abetted my many "reference blogs" has collated and exposed the lies of those who deliver our news. In that sense, your humble Devil has joined the conversation and added to the sum of information.
What blogs do effectively is provide a vehicle for instant comment and opinion. Some newspapers have established blogs for their journalists or other commentators. But the overwhelming majority of blogs — no one knows how many there are — are set up by amateurs using software that is easily available and almost free.

All perfectly true.
These are not a new form of journalism, but new packaging for a venerable part of a newspaper. Even the best blogs are parasitic on what their practitioners contemptuously call the “mainstream media”. Without a story to comment on or an editorial to rubbish, they would have nothing to say.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. It is true that your humble Devil is fairly parasitic on the MSM but I, and others, also write long and involved opinion pieces that are not parasitic (James Higham was kind enough to quote my piece on the differences between UKIP and the Tories in this category. He also picked out Timmy's fisking of the Stern Report: this was most definitely not parasitic on the MSM, which almost universally backed the Review without, it appears, any of the "professionals" actually having read anything more than the press briefing).
Most blogs have nothing to say even then.

It may be true that "most" don't, but the hundred or so on my RSS Feed Reader do have a lot of sensible and well-written things to say and that, coupled with an occasional browse around others, is more than enough for me. Whatever they say, they do, in any case, say it in a rather more interesting and engaging fashion than Mr Kamm.
Without editorial control, they are unconstrained by sense, proportion or grammar.

Really? Are you saying that you are unable to write your own pieces without an editor telling you how to do it Mr Kamm? I feel so sorry for you.

One could equally well argue that, "uncontrained by editorial control, political interests and proprietor partisanship, blogs can be far more impartial, unrestricted and honest than any MSM publication."

Naturally, I doubt that Ollie sees it that way but, even if he did, we wouldn't know it because he's paid to follow the editorial line.
Almost by definition, they are the preserve of those with time on their hands.

Er... yes. And your point is? We all have spare time, Ollie; some people go caving, some watch TV, some spend their time sucking Murdoch's cock and some blog. That people like Timmy choose to spend their time actually reading the Stern Review, rather than taking the quick route and repeating the press digest, is entirely a good thing, in my opinion. It meant that this area of the blogosphere was aware of its flaws on the day it was released, rather than catching up three months later like the BBC did.
Blogs have a few successes in harrying miscreant politicians or newspapers, but they are a vehicle for perpetuating myths as much as correcting them.

Poor old Ollie; as far as he is concerned, Huffington and Fawkes seem to be the only bloggers he's heard of. Still, there's some irony to come with the very last line of the article.
The author’s blog is here.

Ha! That's right: having spent a couple of hundred words decrying blogs, young Ollie's blog is then highlighted (although they have failed to actually put in a link). Nice one! Irony and incompetence in one sentence. Come on, you've got to laugh...

Kamm's other justification is that blogging narrows debate by filtering out dissenting voices. This is such self-evident horseshit that I simply cannot be arsed to fisk it: I'll just point you to the many left-wing bloggers on my blogroll (e.g. ChickenYoghurt, Ministry of Truth, PigDogFucker, Rhetorically Speaking, etc.).

So, after that entertaining diversion, what of Mr Kamm's original assertion: are all political bloggers effectively worthless? Well, I would say not (what a surprise, eh?).

Firstly, many bloggers are just as entertaining and often more highly qualified to comment than many journalists. Professional commenters are just that: professional commenters. Many bloggers are working people and can bring their own, considerably better-informed opinion to bear on an issue. To try to pretend that Polly Toynbee, for instance, knows anything about being poor simply because she lived in the minimum wage for a week (or however long it was) is laughable; and yet she is employed to write about such aspects of government policy twice a week.

Second, people such as Burning Our Money look at government reports, in a way that MSM journalists have neither the time nor inclination to do, and bring us their findings; the sheer scale of government waste would often go unnoticed were it not for their work.

And what about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill? As Daniel Finkelstein admitted, it was Tim Worstall who brought that to his attention: without the scrutiny of Tim and others, the so-called "Abolition of Parliament Bill" would almost certainly have passed through parliament unrestricted and uncommented upon. In your humble Devil's opinion, political blogging is worth its salt for that alone.

So, I think that we have established that political blogging does have worth, and that Oliver Kamm os a smug, socialist twat who doesn't know what he's talking about. Does that mean that I support Guido? Not exactly, for the reason that James states.
Trouble is, Guido had to be on a hiding to nothing to take on a rabid Michael White who was clearly out to show up the blogosphere. A scandal mongering blog is no match for researched 'assault' questions - the questioner is always going to have the advantage in this situation.

What I feel Guido has done, through both his ego and his ludicrous and long-ago-exploded anonymity on television, which it was wrong to do, is to allow the blogosphere to be tarred with the same brush, which sets us all back somewhat in the public estimation, including for the estimable Iain Dale.

This is true to an extent; it is not so much that Guido has set blogging back, exactly, but more that he might have confirmed the prejudices of a certain section of the population. But that would not matter were the MSM not so desperate to pigeonhole "political bloggers" into one niche.

To describe people like myself, Mr Eugenides, Matt Sinclair, Worstall, Guido, Wat Tyler, Chris Dillow and ChickenYoghurt (for instance) merely as "political bloggers" is like looking at the most wide-ranging collection of Charbonnel & Walker truffles, and say that they are all chocolates. Whilst it is true that they are all chocolates, that does not convey the sheer variety of flavours or the quality of the produce.

Guido peddles rumour and tittle-tattle and does it rather well: if he did not, he would not be the most popular blogger in Britain, would he? But there are many other aspects to political blogging—investigative, analytical, commentative, humourous, satirical—and each has their value to someone (to themselves, if no one else).

It is this variety, and the valuable and painstaking research work work that is undertaken by so many political bloggers, that both Oliver Kamm and the Newsnight team have woefully and wilfully ignored.

Fuck them: it's their loss. The rest of us will carry on commentating, linking to our sources, researching, analysing, hassling our elected representatives for answers, and attempting to tell the truth (from whatever political perspective that might come).

Besides, at the end of it all, your humble Devil did not look for power through blogging, only catharsis.


Colin Campbell said...

Nothing personal about Oliver Kamm, but he has got to be the most boring blogger out there. I clicked through a couple of times, but left after the third sentence both times.

The greatest thing about blogs is their diversity and that is something that the MSM cannot duplicate. Why would most bloggers want to lead the way on sources. They have much to add and a vastly more entertaining.

Longrider said...

Kamm is a fatuous prick. I've commented on his arrogant pronouncements before. As Colin points out above, not only is he a hypocrite, not only does he talk arrant bollocks, he is also deeply, deeply boring.

Martin said...

Kamm is Martin Bell's nephew.

Meritocracy in action.

wonkotsane said...

"Almost by definition, they are the preserve of those with time on their hands."
What a load of shite. I catch up with news in the morning sitting on the khazi with my laptop. I blog during breaks at work or late at night after the kids are in bed. I've even blogged from my laptop in a hotel room over a GPRS connection from my mobile phone. I don't have time on my hands!

Anonymous said...

It is their loss, quite. One day in the not-too-distant future poeople will (on the subject of political blogging) turn to the BBC and say: "where the fuck were you?"

Incidently, the "Welsh Guido", Arsembly, has just been snubbed by the BBC after I brought up the subject of Welsh political blogs.

Peter Risdon said...

I'm going to disagree here... Kamm is an essential read. While he is eye-wateringly arrogant, hypocritical (a blogger denouncing blogging...), and a complete ignoramus outside his fairly narrow sphere of knowledge, within it he is unimpeachable. There is no better critic of the fascist left than Kamm, and his command of modern history (especially with reference to the Balkans) is encyclopaedic.

Gracchi said...

And the mainstream media is pretty awful as well. Considering that 99% of the newspaper coverage of Iraq doesn't mention what the difference between Shia and Sunni are whilst talking about them being at war with each other- one would wonder whether Kamm should regard his own house first.

As for blogs I think you are completely right- the nonsense of the whole issue is that political blogs do all sorts fo things- some basically take government reports apart, some work on academic texts and do the same thing, some are gossipy some are analytical- there are as many kinds of blogs as there are kinds of people.

Johnathan Pearce said...

Oliver has been great at skewering idiots like Milosovic apologist Neil Clark, not to mention the odious Noam Chomsky. It therefore seems a bit odd that he should turn on the medium that has widened the number of voices able to challenge conventional wisdom.

A lot of people who generally like Kamm have given him a bit of a hammering for this.

jailhouselawyer said...

That looks suspiciously like a Fisk to me.

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