Politics and Blogging- my answers

Lucinda McNally sent me this email interview as part of her postgraduate thesis research.

It’s long so you can use the More link to read it all, if you like how it starts to shape up. The best stuff is near the end, so I know you’ll all be clicking like goodo.

INTERVIEW

Impact of Blogging in 2007 General Election

Interview with:
Simon McGarr

Organisation:

VoteTube and Tuppenceworth

Date:
Tuesday 5th June 2007

1. A bloggers perspective

(i) When did you first start blogging and why?

(ii) Can you tell me a little bit about your experience as a blogger?

Answers
(i) I started the blog section of Tuppenceworth.ie in July 2003, as an extension of the site, which I had edited and very occasionally written for since 2001.

Not sure if you’re looking for my qualifications, but as I say it was intended to be a way to post shorter, more immediate thoughts. The tuppenceworth essays are usually 1000+ words and not everything worth saying was worth saying that much about.

(ii)
Em, I’ve written lots and lots of posts on topics from a dissection of the Data Protection Commissioner’s Annual Report to Ancient Rome. I’m not sure if that is what you wanted.
2. Barriers to blogging

(i) Is blogging really taking off in Ireland? Why/Why not?

(ii) Would it really matter if blogs never evolved?

(iii) Why aren’t people blogging on in Ireland?

Answers
(i) Yes, in that more people are taking to publishing their thoughts, findings, research etc. The why springs from technology (blogs, in their various guises make it closer to a non-technical task to publish to the internet) and from a kind of critical mass. As more people blog and talk about it to their friends, it becomes a more mainstream activity. Things like Yoga and recycling have had similar paths from subculture to mainstream

(ii)
Hmm. I’m presuming this is a question relating to how blogs work. I think it would matter as, although the tools are more straightforward, they’re still not self-explanatory. Until its as easy as turning on the TV, blogging will still have room to evolve, if it wants to make the choice of whether it is done independent of any technical ability.

If it relates to the content of blogs, I think it might be a misnomer to say that blogs evolve, any more than any other way of writing. People’s modes of expression change over time- their writing style and their areas of interest. So I suppose it would matter if that didn’t happen with blogs, but only because the writing would be stale.

(iii)
Money, primarily. It is expensive to have a computer with broadband, which is usually needed to read and write blogs. And unless people already know that it is important to them, if they do have some money to spend on personal entertainment, a new TV or other familiar entertainment expense will be much more attractive.

In Ireland, unlike other countries, people mostly interact with the internet from their work, as broadband is less common in homes- either because they just don’t see it as worthwhile for them or they can’t get it. (See Damien Mulley’s response, no doubt, for more on this)

Finally, one of the reasons frequently given to me as to why people don’t write a blog is that they feel they have nothing to say. We have very few outlets for putting thoughts into the public domain, and it can be daunting to take a public position on things- even if its only the story of a trip to Tescos.

I think this might be a cultural reluctance to stick your head above the parapet- an extreme form of a longstanding aversion to open discussion and debate. See Joe Lee’s Ireland 1916-1985 for a fuller discussion.

3. Blogging in Irish Politics

(i) How do you feel about blogging in the political arena?

(ii) How important is blogging in Irish politics?

(iii) Are Irish politicians responding to or resisting the blogospehere?

(iv) Have you had a look at some of the politicians blogs? What do you think of them?

Answers
(i)
I think it’s a potential source of new and interesting voices. It might also encourage voters to highlight, discuss and debate what they find important, rather than be a passive consumer of what reporters tell them ought to be important.

It also lets elected representatives talk directly to their voters, something which is difficult to do in a sustained way though traditional communication methods.

(ii) Currently, not in the least important system-wide. But in individual areas it could make a difference- in dormitory towns where the voters aren’t at home for the traditional canvass, for example.

(iii) Politicians are reacting differently depending on the kind of voters they’re appealing to. But for the majority of politicians, it isn’t even on the radar.

(iv) I have. The politicians who are blogging, as opposed to republishing Press Releases in blog format are doing it well.
4. Democracy

(i) Are blogs democratic?

(ii) Do blogs only reach groups who are politically active and tuned in anyway?

(iii) Are there blogging guidelines?

Answers
(i)
Well, nobody elected me.

However, if the question is do blogs contribute to a functioning democracy the answer has to be yes. A requisite of democracy is an informed demos. Wide-ranging, diverse and even, who knows, sometimes informed discussion contributes to an electorate who are able to make meaningful choices at the ballot box. See Victor Navasky’s (Publisher and Editor of The Nation in the US) A Matter of Opinion for more on this.

(ii)
Not at all. Blogs reach readers who find them interesting. A music blog won’t reach a necessarily political audience, for example. Politics blogs, if they’re interestingly written may reach people who don’t pay attention to mainstream politics discussion. On VoteTube, we found that political videos by citizens were watched, on average, twice as often as those by politicians. Ordinary people are interested in what people like them have to say.

(iii)
Manners and the Defamation Act should cover it.
5. Age groups

(i) Do you think blogging creates a motivation for the younger generation to get involved in politics?

(ii) Do you think consequently the older generation are being left out?

Answers
(i)

A motivation? Perhaps a way in- as I said above videos from ordinary citizens were watched more often than videos from politicians. But all mainstream politics coverage is designed to allow politicians to broadcast out to a presumed passive audience.

I think blogging is a way for young people to
(a) Put their strong beliefs into the wider context of other people’s political argument.
(b) Gauge whether the people asking for their vote are really as they wish to appear. It is very difficult to be convincingly misleading in a blog.
(c) Articulate their own beliefs and points of view.

(ii)
Politics is an old person’s profession. It is increasingly, and dangerously, becoming an old person’s interest. There is a long way to go before we have to worry about older people being muscled out of the way by eager young politicos.
6. The General Election 2007

(i) Do you think blogging/ political blogs had any influence on the 2007 General Election? Why/ Why not?

(ii) Do you think they will have more of an influence in future elections? Why/ Why not?

(iii) Some researchers believe that the growth of this phenomenon has come too little too late for Ireland. Do you agree?

Answers
(i)
Very little. There was interest (and hostility) from the media and blogs were mined for story ideas, but in terms of political impact the internet videos seemed to matter more. Some received viewing figures in the Tens of Thousands. And, though we might think that they must have had some result, without further research we can’t prove it.

The primary reason again was audience size. If you’re not commanding an audience, or occupying a position of influence where other influencers with a large audience will discuss you then you are unlikely to have an impact. The only possible exception to this, and it didn’t happen in this election, would be if a blog broke a news story or caught a gaffe on camera.

(ii)
Yes, because they will have more readers because there will be greater internet use. Also, as the current Bebo users move into their early voting lives they will be more used to internet communication than any other previous generation.

(iii) Odd claim. It contains the implicit suggestion that Ireland will run out of time. What do these researchers know that the rest of us don’t?

Things will move at the pace they move at. This isn’t a commercial matter, there are no deadlines to be met, and nobody has a duty to blog.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions!

UPDATE: Joe Lee’s book mentioned above was shorn of four rather vital years. It is, of course, Ireland 1912-1984.

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