lessons from America

blogging as journalism or campaigning?

Congrats to those long listed for the Orwell prize for blogging. I put my writings on this blog up for award, but didn’t realistically expect to be chosen. But I was slightly disappointed by the blogs chosen. Not for their quality, but for the limited range. Quite a few of the long listed entries were blogs written by professional journalists and for their employers – Mark Easton of the BBC, Andrew Sparrow of Guardian Unlimited – or by professional political operatives – Iain Dale. There were relatively few selected written by amateurs or rather citizen journalists. There were few that were about reaching out beyond an already interested audience.

Blogs can serve many functions, be written by all types of people and for many purposes. And all are valid. But when it comes to ‘political’ blogs – and I take that in its wider sense – it is even more important that there are some people out there who are not just reaching out to the already converted or the already interested, but instead make political discussions and engagement accessible to a wider audience. And not just accessible – participatory, inclusive and serving a wider democratic ’good’.

That function can be served by journalists. It can be served by politicians and party political sites. But it also needs to be filled by ‘ordinary’ people who show their passions and interests and who it is easier to relate to. A more personal connection if you will.

A good blog – or any form of online communication – is not just about getting your piece on the news, or getting one over the opposition or being well known in the Westminster Village. There is an alternative, esp suited for the progressive sphere -community blogging. Learning the lessons from the Obama campaign may be a cliché, but this is one that isn’t getting picked up in the way I’d hoped. Spreading something “block-by-block”, or by word of mouth works precisely because you are speaking to people who know you (or have some connection with you) and a reason to trust or at least listen to you. So perhaps some of the most effect online political campaigning can be done by people setting up their own blogs or using their facebook or twitter accounts – which they already use to connect with their own family, friends and networks – to now communicate more political messages.

Approaches to online campaigning and social networks are another area which the political parties are struggling to get to grips with. Labourlist seems to take a very top-down, loyalist approach; and is serving the purpose of a mouthpiece for high level party views and debate. At first I thought John Prescott’s site was a similar beast, but feedback from friends suggests that – because of the personal nature of the site and John fronting it – it actually works as something more. As a campaigning site for Labour activists.

But what Labour has not yet got; what we on the progressive side of politics have not yet got is something which is not just a home for party activists and partisans, but is something more, a place where single issue campaigners and the mass of social justice activists can feel comfortable.

I write this on my way to Labour 2.0 ‘campaigning for the net generation’ conference. I suspect I will get both excited and frustrated in equal measure by today’s speeches and discussions, as some of the above is addressed and other aspects not.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment