Saturday, October 02, 2004

Fifty thousand and rising

Well, we managed it. In just over five months this blog had 50,000 hits and the number is rising by leaps and bounds. Many of those are returns and many are unique hits. They come from Britain, from Continental Europe, from the United States, Australia and the Far East. (Two more as I wrote those sentences.)

Of course, you might say, this does not even begin to compete with the figures that established institutions like the Adam Smith Institute or the Heritage Foundation can show. Well, no. But we are not an established institution and we do not have staff. There are two of us, with the occasional outside contribution; we are not funded to do the blog and we do have to do day jobs and get involved in other activities. So we are quietly pleased and confident that our work will make a difference to the political discussion in this country. (Another three as I was writing that paragraph.)

We are grateful to those who comment on our blogs, positively or critically; who take the trouble to become involved in debates and discussions; who carry our blogs to other websites and blogs. Please keep doing so, because, make no mistake, we are not going to stop. (And another two, during the writing of that paragraph.)

This seems a good moment to have another reflection on the rising importance of blogs in political life and on the folly of not recognizing this.

As ever, the process has moved faster and further in the United States. We and others have commented on the role of the blogs in the humbling of the mighty and left-leaning networks, specifically CBS, and in the derailing of John Kerry’s somewhat peculiar political campaign. Our readers will, no doubt, remember that Kerry tried to campaign entirely on his achievements in Vietnam, which is an odd thing to do, as that war was thirty years ago and most people wanted to hear his opinions on the war that is going on now. Even more peculiarly, as it turns out, his memories of those three months in South-East Asia are at variance with everyone else’s, though the other non-Kerry supporting vets were not going to be given much time by the networks. So, they took to the blogs. If John Kerry does not get the presidency he has been working towards since he was about sixteen, he can thank, in part, the Swift Boat Vets (and his own arrogance, but that is another story).

With the blogs and the radio shows political discourse has changed in the United States. Depending on which side you are, it has become more balanced in that it is not run entirely by the “liberal” networks and press or has become more extremist and right-wing in that it is no longer run entirely by the “liberal” networks and press. Of course, there are left-wing blogs as well, just as there are left-wing radio shows. But the likelihood is that there are more right-wing ones for a very simple reason: they are a reaction to the established media.

This is even more true in Britain where we not only have an established media but a monopoly public broadcasting company, the BBC. We also have a far greater control of academic, artistic and intellectual life through various grants by either the state or the establishment. We do not have unlimited radio programmes or chat shows and a good deal of our radio is part of that vast carapace, the BBC. So the websites and, latterly, the blogs are the way we try to balance the discourse.

This is not yet clearly understood here. Unlike the two Conventions in the US, the party conferences have not invited any bloggers to be accredited journalists. The main stream media is still floundering in trying to understand what is going on and has reacted the way it always does to something hard and incomprehensible – ignoring or ridiculing it.

There is a widespread view that blogs are … sniff … just personal diaries on the web. Some are, of course, and these are the ones mentioned by the newspapers, who, having filled their own columns with personal reflections of “what my budgie said to me on the way to the supermarket or garden centre”, feel happiest in thinking that blogging is no different. Oh boy, are they in for a shock!

The Wall Street Journal Europe pointed out recently that it is the blogs that are producing the alternative view of what is going on in Iraq. While the main stream media, the networks and the “liberal” newspapers have concentrated almost entirely on the explosions, uprisings and rebellions, blogs and websites have explained that 15 out of 18 provinces are peacefully rebuilding their lives and that in a number of places local elections have been taking place in the full view of … anyone who cared to have a look. (That, clearly, does not include the NGOs who have no desire to get out of Baghdad or Basra, just in case someone doubts their neutrality.)

Then the article adds:
“Iraq already has good bloggers offering alternative content. They include: Iraqthemodel.com; Healingiraq.com; Hammorabi.com; and Messopotamian.blogspot.com. Ahman al-Rikaby founded and runs Radio Dijla, the first all-talk call-in radio show in Iraq (mirroring radio’s emergence as a political force in the U.S.)”
The alternative Iraqi story is important here, too. But it becomes part of a larger narrative, in which the blogs play a huge part. The mainstream media in Britain is terminally frivolous and when it tries to make serious comments it is anti-American either on the left or on the right. It is also terminally convinced of the essential goodness of international organizations. For that reason it has not covered in any depth the food-for-oil scandal. That would not fit into the accepted narrative with its evidence of corruption at the heart of the UN. It is left to the blogs to correct both the mindless anti-Americanism and the equally mindless pro-United Nationism. (Blimey. Ten more hits as I was writing this piece.)

This is not the first time the web has come into its own as an alternative to established sources of information. During the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic the lone but ever stronger voice of warmwell.com provided a welcome antidote to the mindless and badly argued propaganda for endless slaughter of healthy animals and destruction of people’s livelihoods from MAFF/DEFRA and other organizations around that ministry. Warmwell, run by one astonishing person, Mary Critchley, has become an indispensable part of the debate about animal health and welfare and the treatment of epidemics as well as the behaviour of various officials. That the debate is so wide is largely thanks to Mary’s indefatigable efforts. These days, few people would think of writing or saying anything on the subject without informing warmwell about it.

Since then technology has moved on and the blogs have been taking over, widening the political debate, yanking the established organizations into the twenty-first century. There are, of course, europhile blogs around (I think) but many of them are eurosceptic, liberal in the true sense of the word or libertarian for the same reason that most bloggers are right-wing in America. We are bypassing the control of a particular mindset that has been established over our media.

Well, on to the next fifty thousand. Please, keep reading us, commenting, arguing and telling others.

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