If you are going to report on the world of politics, you need to have a strong instinctive sympathy for the political process and the very difficult task politicians face in getting anything done at all. Even if you lean strongly to the right or the left in your views, you need an underlying respect for the business of politics. If you start out assuming that all politicians are
ill-intentioned knaves and bounders who are all out to feather their own nests, you will illuminate nothing for your readers and discover very little of interest. You will be adding to the dangerous anti-democratic mood that is creeping up on us at the moment where every lazy comedian or chat show host regurgitates the current knee-jerk view that Westminster is a palace of rogues who should all be sent packing. There really is no point in becoming a political
commentator if you despise the business, no more point than there would be if
you became a football writer and you hated football.
Me: So far so good.
The world of media is becoming an ever-noisier and brasher place with ever more competition to be heard among the great cacophony of views. And that's before you even click on the internet and get that great explosion of blogging rawness. The quiet reasoned voice does seem to get trampled under the elephant heard of opinionators. But I'm well aware of the insidious pressure to keep turning up the volume, to shout louder. Editors tend to nod with more approval over a piece that will really get the readers going. People say: ‘What's the difference between a blog and column anyway? Isn't MySpace just as good as the Guardian comment pages?' I think not. There is a skill in crafting a column with a beginning, a middle and an end, a coherent argument and at least three facts readers don't know, preferably information gleaned from talking to the leading players in the case.
Me: I'm not sure why that should necessarily be any different from a well argued blog column
There is a risk that the style of the blogosphere is dragging us all along to shout louder. It may be that the short burst of opinion is all anyone can absorb and the longer column becomes too much of a time-investment. A number of us columnists are anxious about it because it is a different style. It's not crafted, you haven't had the time to ring someone up, they want it now. There's a danger that it becomes more opinionated.
Me: Anxious you may be, but yes, it is a different style. I have never seen my blog as attempting to compete with a newspaper column and have been vaguely amused at the reaction of columnists such as Polly Toynbee to blogs. Yes, we can write quickly and get a piece published more quickly than she can, but she has a massive platform in a national newspaper which bloggers do not. Even the most popular bloggers don't get more than 20,000 readers a day.
I have around 50 arch-enemies who seem to get up at about five in the morning — they have obviously never bought The Guardian, they wouldn't contaminate their fingers with it, and they are right-wingers who hate The Guardian and everything it stands for. Letters used to be quite polite, emails were a bit ruder, but this is of another dimension because you can't answer back unless in public because they're anonymous. I think that's wrong — they should have to put their own names up there. It would make them stop and think twice if they thought their colleagues and families would see what they wrote. Anonymity brings out real mischief in us. It is a debased discourse.
Me: This is where I have some sympathy with her. I too am concerned about the validity of anonymous posters. Often I have considered banning them, but as I believe in open discourse I haven't done so. Most of the trolling on blogs is done by anonymous posters. Not all of them are vicious or vile but many are.
There's an old traditional thing if you're a woman, middle class, middle-aged — it goes right back to the beginnings of the Labour Party. You are a class traitor. They really, really hate me. But if you look at middle class women in the Labour Party like Tessa Jowell and Harriet Harman, these women have had far more personal, harsh, vile criticism of them non-stop from Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail than the men have. It goes with the territory.
Me: I'm not sure using Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell helps her case. And to say that women get a worse deal from the tabloids than male politicians do is a joke. I am not sure Prescott would have much sympathy with her on that one. Polly Toynbee is an intelligent woman. She knows the media world is changing, and like most of her colleagues is flailing around at those who threaten the status quo. Her comfort zone has been ruptured and she doesn't like it. I don't blame her. The forces of conservatism are being deployed by her to maintain things as they are. She won't succeed, but there's no need to be quite so rude to her as she struggles to come to terms with the New Media World. Is there now?
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Polly Is Wrong...But She Has a Point
In this week's Press Gazette Polly Toynbee has a right old go at blogging and bloggers in particular. You can read the full article HERE. However, I thought it would be useful to give you some of her main points