The impact of political blogs

Like whistling in a wuthering Wellington wind…

Anthony Robins has asked Questions questions at The Standard about the impact and future of political blogs in New Zealand. At the end of the day’s commenting Anthony posted his own views which are very much in line with my own (quoted in full below).

What is the impact of political blogs in NZ? Is it increasing or declining? Why?

Political blogs have a minor impact, occassionally. Compared to mainstream media they are a small side trickle. The vast majority of people are not aware of the existence of blogs so obviously aren’t influenced by them. Politicians and their parties are aware (and wary) of blogs.

Media keep a watch but only very occassionally report on what is said on blogs. Much of the comment on blogs is as useful as public bar conversations.

To what extent are the views of the active blogging community representative of, or different from, the average NZ voter? Is it fair to say that bloggers tend to have views that are more “extreme” than the norm?

To an extent blog views represent what average voters may think but they are frequently more extreme and persistent.

Most voters aren’t interested in politics most of the time, while most in the blogging community want to be actively involved in the political discourse, they want to be heard and they want to make a difference. But most blog discussion is ignored by the wider public and futile.

Some blog topics keep coming up, they attract a lot of comment but rarely get anywhere. Flogging dead horses is far more common than useful debate. In yet another climate change debate on Kiwiblog yesterday I responded to a comment:

“I am suggesting we do not run off half cocked. There is no evidence of anything out of order with our climate”

That is not half cocked, it is cockless.

These days I usually avoid climate ‘debates’ here because they’re futile, they have been futile since well before Griff added hisn two bobs worth. Your mindless certainty and petty attacks on anyone you disagree with are the height of that futility. Nothing will be changed by what is said here.

Another regular, RightNow, replied to that:

I’m inclined to agree, and not just about climate topics.

That’s the reality of political blogs. They are a pastime, an opportunity to vent, an outlet for nastiness for some and for others a perceived political battleground where point scoring skirmishes are attempted. Usually futilely.

Blogs can be useful for discussions, and things can be learned from them if you filter out the masses of mindless meandering and mouthing off (most participants seem to be uninterested in learning, they want everyone to agree with them).

Occassionally blogs can become a part of the mainstream discourse but are likely to remain a small slice of media.

The best way of being noticed in media is to monitor Twitter or Facebook and volunteer for being a participant in a ‘new’s story, TV and newspapers are often looking for ‘ordinary people’ to pad their stories.

And it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of people take little or no notice of much the mainstream media anyway.

Ultimately political blogs are what we as individuals want to make of them – because most of New Zealand is blisfully unaware of their existence.

Anthony Robins answering his own questions:

As requested I will at least have a go at giving my (current) answers to my own questions.

What is the impact of political blogs in NZ? Is it increasing or declining? Why?

I think the impact is relatively minor. I think it is increasing slightly as readership increases, as “real reporters” increasingly keep an eye on blogs, and due to Bryce Edwards’ NZ politics daily abstracts which make a wider readership aware of blogs. I also think that blogs may be peaking, and that other forms of media (Twitter, Facebook groups) may come to assimilate their role.

I think that the impact of blogs will remain relatively minor unless they find ways of going beyond their current role as forums for discussion. For example, by becoming a focus for shared community projects like policy development (which is why I’m so sorry that Policy Progress didn’t seem to take off).

To what extent are the views of the active blogging community representative of, or different from, the average NZ voter? Is it fair to say that bloggers tend to have views that are more “extreme” than the norm?

I don’t read the right-wing blogs, but speaking for the left-wing I think the views of bloggers are significantly more extreme than the norm. For example, there’s a lot of energy and passion here at The Standard. But if I can say so without being branded a bastard oppressor of free speech, I think too much of that passion is turned destructively inward, instead of looking for solutions and positive contributions. What goes on here at The Standard is not the way the average NZ voter sees the world.

Bearing in mind the answer to the above, how should blogs relate to political parties in NZ? How should political parties relate to blogs?

Maybe the first part of that question doesn’t make much sense, but the second part does. How should political parties relate to blogs? In an ideal world I would like to see parties and politicians actively engage with blogs, each contributing to, and bringing out the best in each other. Labour MPs have popped up here occasionally (most recently Annette King) and as far as I can tell it has always been appreciated and often been productive.

But I don’t think it’s an ideal world, and I don’t think the engagement between parties and blogs is likely to develop further. Because it’s a dilemma to parties. To win office they need to win over the majority of “averagely engaged” voters (I hate the term “center left”, but there it is, that’s what wins elections). Labour, for example, almost certainly can’t win over the center, and win over the (significantly more left wing) Standard community too. That limits the extent to which they are willing to engage here, and motivates the publicly dismissive attitude that some of them profess about blogs. Sadly, the audience of The Standard can’t win Labour the election, they are after the audience of the 6 o’clock telly. In short, I think the tension between parties and blogs is likely to remain.

A blog disseminates information and opinion, a successful blog builds a community. Could or should a blog / web based community do more?

There’s no “should” about it, each blog charts its own course. “Could” blogs to more? Probably, but not with their current resourcing and volunteer writers. Again in my ideal world, I would love to see The Standard much more engaged with left-wing parties, with the MSM, and with developing policies and ideas. But I just can’t see how it can happen with a part-time volunteer crew.

I also take the point of BLiP’s comment at 11:43 AM. We should recognise the limitations of blogs, and that writing or commenting here isn’t enough. I hope that we are all actively engaged with the political party of our choice.

What is the role of blogs in the run up to the next election? What can the community here at The Standard accomplish in that time?

I don’t think it will change match – forums for information and discussion, a minor but definite voice (or cacophony of voices!) in the national debate. I think there is the potential for this community to accomplish much more, but that would require a significant rethinking of attitudes both on our part, and the part of left-wing parties. At the moment I don’t think there is any realistic chance of that happening, which is a pity. But, steady as she goes, it is enough.

The major political blogs will need to vastly improve their quality to noise ratio if they want to be seen as serious political commentary and make themselves influential and newsworthy.