Friday, November 17, 2006

Matthew Taylor blames the blogs

It is not surprising to see politicians complaining about the effect of the Internet on their profession. Nobody likes it when technology makes you more accountable.

His specific criticisms are that the Web and in particular blogs fuel "shrill discourse of demands". The article continues:

he said more needed to be done by the web community in general to encourage people to use the internet to "solve problems" rather than simply abuse politicians or make "incommensurate" demands on them.

The blogs certainly do encourage a certain type of dialogue. But so does the mainstream media. Is it really the case that the mainstream media that has reduced all politics to personalities and all policy to focus group tested soundbites are any worse?

Blogging has been possible for over a decade. As some readers know I ran a political web site in 1992, the first politics site on the Web in fact. Back then it was the mainstream politicians who were trying to find ways of getting their message out without having it intermediated 'filtered' by the press.

What blogs are really a reaction to is a combination of the mainstream or 'legacy' media and the strategies politicians have adapted to manage it. The most frequent complaints in the blogosphere are not about personalities or politics but about the blatant manipulation of the legacy media.

The Friday afternoon document drop that comes after the deadlines for the national newspapers is now a staple of every Western country. The Mathew Taylors of the world are upset only because it no longer works as well as it used to. The Friday afternoon drop takes place after the professional reporters have already started writing their stories but just as the amateur blogger logs in after the day job. The information that the legacy media ignores is grist for the prime weekend blogging newscycle.

rather than work out these dilemmas in partnership with their elected leaders, they were encouraged to regard all politicians as corrupt or "mendacious" by the media, which he described as "a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage".

Again this seems to me to be much more true of the legacy media than the blogs. The blogs are partisan and many blogs make a full time profession out of muckraking but they are considerably more focused in their criticisms than the legacy media.

It is true that the legacy media has paid considerably less attention to the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals in the US than the blogosphere. The blogosphere on the other hand has paid much less attention to Hillary Clinton's haircuts and Al Gore's choice of suit. Five years ago these were the leading stories in the legacy media for several news cycles. Meanwhile the question of whether it was possible to increase spending and cut taxes without busting a huge hole in the budget was ignored.

The blogs are having a profound effect but that effect is being felt directly by the legacy media rather than the politicians. The effect on the politicians is indirect, they have to unlearn the habbit of using soundbites and start actually discussing policies.

Contrary to what Mathew Taylor believes the people are not behaving like irresponsible teenagers, it is the politicians like him who have been treating them as such for the past twenty years and that is why they are so angry.

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