Blog Nation

BenSix, me and the Tory Troll

On Wednesday night, as evidenced in the photo above (thanks Sunny), I attended the Liberal Conspiracy/Comment is Free (CiF) Blog Nation event for bloggers of the liberal-left persuasion, at the Guardian Newsroom.

I’ve been to the Newsroom for a number of its exhibitions over the past few years, including a great tribute to their sadly missed cartoonist Austin, and more bizarrely the world’s first chance to gaze at the entire skeleton of the whale that swam up the Thames a couple of summers ago.

It turned out that the part of the venue which had back then been the whale’s temporary showcase more ordinarily doubles as a lecture theatre-type room, and it was in here that I began putting faces to bloggers’ names as they introduced themselves throughout the discussions, which covered topics from campaigning to coping with the likelihood of a Conservative government in 2010, and from feminism in the blogosphere to the signal-to-noise ratio in comments, particularly on CiF.

[I’m going to use a “Read more” link now. Personally I don’t like these when I’m reading a blog but they seem popular in long posts elsewhere so I’ll give it a go. Feedback warmly welcomed about whether these are good or not.]

The f-word

I intend to return to feminism in the future, particularly after last night when the gauntlet was laid down to male bloggers to try to engage more with those blogging on feminist matters, not least by doing so themselves. I’m happy to call myself a feminist, provided the core belief of feminism is not defined as the most vocal panellist defined it: "Women are better [than men]". I prefer to think of it as "Women are better – than much of society gives them credit for", or more straightforwardly, we’re all just people and our sex predetermines next-to-nothing about us (beyond the obvious physical differences!).

Comments are free to offend

As for the talk about blog comments, a lot was made of how abusive commenters can be, and particularly what a high proportion of CiF commenters leave offensive and insulting comments. Georgina Henry, editor of CiF, defended her site, gaining support from others, suggesting that those who engage with the commenters rather than ignoring them tend to get the best results. Once people feel they’re engaged in a conversation rather than shouting heckles, they tend to become more reasonable, or if they don’t want to do that, then they may instead disappear off to heckle someone else.

I’m delighted to say that I never once deleted a (non-spam) comment on the Stop Boris blog – a fact which I find surprising in the light of last night’s discussion, particularly given the unavoidably antagonistic nature of an anti-Boris campaign blog. Certainly, people wrote offensive, disagreeable comments at times, but I simply responded to them in measured terms and they soon got bored and left me alone.

The only exceptions were those secretly being paid to abuse me, and others like me, by the official Back Boris campaign. They only finally left me in peace after I exposed the true nature of their employment, whereupon not only did they cease to post any further trolling comments, but one of them also begged me by private e-mail to delete all his old ones too! (As I say, I never deleted any comments over there, so his pleas went ignored.)

Publicity stunted

One issue which struck a chord with me on Wednesday night was that of gaining mainstream media publicity for left-wing blogs. It’s true that there are more right-wing newspapers than left-wing ones, and it certainly seems that people like Iain Dale garner acres more publicity than they deserve in the mainstream media, but one question raised at Blog Nation was whether ‘old media’ coverage really matters.

Henry pointed out that CiF reaches far more people each day than does the Guardian in newspaper form, yet many politicians are reluctant to write comment pieces if they won’t be featured in print. While those kind of figures are hard to dispute in statistical terms, it is also worth considering the status still accorded to things which appear in print versus things which appear only online.

In running the Stop Boris campaign, I sent an initial news release to every old media publication I could think of which I thought might be sympathetic, or at least in one or two cases neutral, towards our campaign, along with a couple of specific London Mayor-related blogs. Of all those, only Dave Hill’s London: Mayor & More blog thought it worth a mention or link.

Later, detecting an appetite for Boris videos, I hastily put together the MYR of LDN video and again e-mailed a number of relevant mainstream media blogs, news programmes and so forth to point them to it. It seems their appetite didn’t extend to our song, whose video instead spread through word of mouth through a handful of smaller sympathetic blogs instead.

It wasn’t just that none of these places wanted to run anything about Stop Boris as a standalone piece, which wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. They equally didn’t even consider mentioning it in passing in a number of seemingly obvious places.

An article purporting to be about Mayor-related ‘cyber-squatters’ on soon strayed into reeling off the addresses of various web sites which had been set up by those opposed to one or other of the main candidates. Yet while what was then a one-page, plain text rant against Ken’s (non-existent) "plans" to expand congestion charging into the ranter’s beloved Bromley was listed, no mention was made of what was by then a successful (in terms of visitors, not its ultimate effect on the election, of course!) campaign site running broadly in line with the views of many Guardian journalists and readers.

Other similar opportunities were missed, including in Zoe Williams’ now infamous election-day anti-Boris ‘hatchet job’, which condensed and summarised many of the reasons not to vote for Boris but could easily have linked to the Stop Boris blog’s coverage for those seeking further information or more in-depth explanations of some of the issues she had skimmed over due to space constraints.

I don’t say this out of (much?) bitterness about my specific site not being linked to by any specific newspaper. (Although, while most blogs may not have any sense of urgency towards attracting a huge audience, with a campaign like Stop Boris, which was necessarily run almost wholly online to preserve my anonymity, every visitor counted towards opening people’s eyes to concrete reasons not to elect Boris. These could be taken away into pub and workplace arguments and potentially help change people’s minds, so of course in the case of that particular blog I was desperate for all the incoming links I could get!)

I merely think these examples are illustrative of a general disconnect between the old media world and blogs. While of course (as many said on Wednesday) most bloggers don’t strive for some sort of recognition or validation by the mainstream media, if a particular blog can offer a newspaper’s readers more information or analysis on a particular topic, why not mention it? They’re happy to outline Primark’s use of child labour and refer us to the BBC’s Panorama programme for more details, after all. Is that really so different?

Perhaps some journalists are distrustful of blogs, unsure of how reliable their information is. But isn’t working out which blogs are worthy of a link just the same as giving prominence to the BBC’s Panorama press release while throwing Five’s documentary department’s press release about the man with two sets of genitals (or whatever) in the bin? (Or vice versa if you work at the Daily Sport, I suppose.)

Meeting of like minds

This post has turned out to be far longer than intended; if you’re still reading, thanks. I’ll just add that it was great to meet several fellow Boris-Watchers on Wednesday, and indeed to meet a whole load of other people too, thanking several for their support of Stop Boris and garnering URLs of blogs I’d never before heard of to check out and consider for my sidebar. May there be more such events in the future!


7 Responses

  1. Goodness, I wish that I could have gotten as drunk as I look. My fringe appears to have gained an independent life as well.

    A very interesting write-up, Mr SB. I’d no idea that you were targeted by ‘shills’ for Boris, but wonder whether you also saw this comment from ‘jeh’ on the Telegraph website:

    “Kick Ken and the members of the Communist Party (Nu-Labour) out of the greatest city on Earth, Boris! Ken is a charlatan and has stacked London neck deep with fellow ideological twits. Lee Jasper has been removed, time to take the scalp of that newt-loving so-and-so. Incidentally Ken, I hear that Fidel Castro shortlisted you for Cuba’s leader, shame another slimey commie got that post. Zimbabwe maybe? Or how about China? Your ports of destinastion are endless! Caracas?! You used to like the IRA – try Ireland – Bertie Ahern is gone too…My my my what tangled webs we weave.”

    If only they could have known.

  2. Heh, yeah, that’s the bloke. He’s now a paid member of Boris’s transition team, although not one of the higher-paid members, shall we say.

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to be paid to post drivel like that on the internet, then get caught out and yet still keep your job and indeed get a subsequent one and get paid public money to do it? How grateful we should be that jeh and his colleagues kicked out cronyism from City Hall though… 😉

  3. That is a truly awful picture. Some strategic blurring would be welcome!

  4. Great write up. That’s great if you decide to write more about feminist issues. Can I also suggest thinking about the gender angle on issues you might not think of as feminist? E.g. immigration, the environment, etc. There’s lots of overlap… And on Boris, apparently he’s decided to cancel Capital Woman, the annual conference Ken used to deliver on women’s issues. So, no anti-racism at Rise, no feminism at Capital Woman…


  5. Zohra: Thanks for the comment. I hope my feminism will come through in my coverage of any and all issues touched by it – e.g. my post about the Heinz ad including mentioning its use of a stereotypical ‘mum’ figure making sandwiches being the most offensive thing about it, which pre-dates my attendance at the feminism session of Blog Nation 😉 So I shall certainly try to bring a feminist perspective to other areas beyond just straightforward, obviously feminist matters. Hope I’m not over-raising expectations though!

    The Capital Woman news is interesting and I don’t *think* has yet been mentioned on Boris Watch, so I’ll see what references I can dig up on that front and put something up about it later hopefully.

    Tory Troll: bring a mask next time 😉 If you’d actually like to be blurred out I’m sure I can arrange this though! After all, you know my real name and have a high-profile blog, so your wish is my command 😉

  6. Why not just transpose the head of Boris onto our faces?

  7. […] the debate on feminism at Blog Nation, as a feminist myself, I vowed to endeavour to highlight the topic in my blog postings wherever […]

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