The effectiveness of blogging (part 1): the Tory Stories story
In an interesting post on the internet-based campaigning, Anthony Painter says that the new blog Tory Stories, set up by Chuka Umunna and Jon Cruddas but as yet with no obvious direct contributions from them, “seems to have got off to a good start”.
In what way can Tory Stories possibly be said to be “off to a good start”?
There have been a total of nine posts, none of them written by the two ‘names’ under whose auspices it has been set up. There are no comments, because they are not allowed.
All the stories appear to have been covered somewhere or other in the media already. None of the reports on Tory actions in local councils has been picked up again by any of the mainstream media as far as I can see; nor have the stories themselves, rather than the general site, been linked to by other bloggers.
I sent a first ‘story’ in at the weekend about my own local area in Lancashire, with a proposal for another one and the promise (this from the 2nd placed councillor blogger in the 2009 Total Politics awards) of much more to come if it was wanted. I’ve not yet had a reply. Even if they think the first story I’ve offered isn’t quite right (in fact it is), my reputation within the blogging industry should, if they’ve got any sense, mean they get straight back to their elders and betters in appropriately deferential terms.
In what way is Tory Stories, then, “off to a good start”?
Now, I know that sounds really mean and negative, but I start like this in order to make my point (and, yeah, to attract a readership that thinks there might be a good old blogfight starting up).
Actually, I’ve got a lot of time for the whole Tory Stories thing. I take my hat off to Chuka and Jon for putting their name to a blog over which they know they’re unlikely to have much editorial control, in order to get it up and running with a few thousand hits. Even more, I take my hat off to the two young activists, Jeremy and Joe, who are committing so much time to the endeavour. The posts that have appeared so far are well-written, and the approach smacks of the determination to source all assertions which is helping to develop the reputation of what might be seen as its national level ‘sister blog’, Left Foot Forward.
And I don’t really mind that I’ve not had an answer to my email yet. I know that the blog is being run by Jeremy and Joe on a volunteer basis, and I’m happy to wait till they’ve got time.
My point is not to criticise the effort and energy behind Tory Stories, but rather to question Anthony (politely), and any other bloggers uncritically celebrating the arrival of Tory Stories and Left Foot Forward, on their assumptions about what makes an effective blog. (See here for a more critical review from the right.)
The key problem for the leftist blogosphere (I’m not interested in what problems the right blogosphere have) is that it’s becoming too self-referential. Judged by any objective measure of blogging effectiveness, Tory Stories cannot yet be judged any kind of success; even judged by Tory Stories’ own stated objectives, there’s nothing to show yet. The sole reason it’s being glorified is that it’s been publicised initially by two people who are known to the blogsophere.
Of course, promoting a blog in this way in its early days is no bad thing; it’s just a bit of hype. But underlying this desire on the part of the left blogosphere in general to ‘big up’ Tory Stories’, and indeed Left Foot Forward, is a wider malaise; quite simply, we have no real conception of what effectiveness is when it comes to blogging.
Is it about the number of hits? Is it about the number of links? Most bloggers will respond that it isn’t, that this is only a measure of reach, not of effectiveness. What effectiveness is really about for Labour-supporting blogs, surely, is reaching out beyond the tiny, tiny confines of blog readership and actually changing the frame of the debate, so that in the coming election people vote differently in the coming election from the way they might have otherwise have done. (For proper leftwing bloggers, for whom electoral success is only one dimension of the struggle, success will be measured by increased levels of general activism, and I’ll come back to that in part 2).
Perversely, it falls to Guido Fawkes (LFF) to make this clear in his comment on the effectiveness of Left Foot Forward.
LFF is, and most of the right-wing blogosphere gives you credit for this, the best new offering from the left. But what do you think you will achieve electorally? My estimate is slightly more than zero.
It may make tough reading, but he’s right.
Does that mean we should abandon all blog hope?
No, it doesn’t. I look forward to seeing how Tory Stories and Left Foot Forward develop, and I admire the talent and energy on both. I hope that they are able to draw in for a wider readership, and then for pick up by the wider press and the party’s election machinery, stories which not only compile existing information on Tory policies, but also break new, locally sourced revelation about Tory hypocrisy and incompetence-in-power.
They need to get beyond the facts and figures, and develop a message for wider consumption about the real effects on real people of Tory rule, and in so doing start to get more people out on the doorstep and on the phone to voters.
The job of the blogs is not to counter Tory policy as an end in itself, but to use the information to encourage activism, albeit an activism currently restricted to a narrow electoral purpose (see part 2) amongst members and supporters, and especially the group of people who are disaffected with New Labour but horrified enough at what the Tories might do that they can still campaign for Labour as a less bad alternative.
What these blogs shouldn’t fall back on is a reassuring but ultimately pointless growth in hits and links, if all these hits and links don’t make a difference beyond the self-containment of the blogosphere.
Beyond that, there’s a more important job for the left blogosphere to do, and one which hasn’t yet started: to bridge the gap between writing about systemic injustice and activism to do something about it. But that’s for part 2.