Home > General Politics > The effectiveness of blogging (part 1): the Tory Stories story

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.

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Categories: General Politics
  1. January 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    The question begged here is, if you can’t comment on it, is it a blog?

    Perhaps the need to ask themselves what a blog is, the word certainly started out meaning weblog and therefore some sort of personal diary published to the internet, but now the word blog surely means a website others can comment on.

  2. January 7, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Brilliantly written and completely spot on. For me there are two big challenges:

    1. How do we gain traction in the mainstream media and, in your words, “develop a message for wider consumption”? We’ve had some success with our progressive red lines on the PBR and, before all the nonsense yesterday, Gordon Brown even used our piece on Education Maintenance Allowances in PMQs to highlight David Cameron’s flip-flopping. But we need this to happen more rapidly and with greater consequences.

    2. How do we use our blogs to encourage activists? We have some ideas on this in terms of both policy crib sheets and organising for the most progressive candidates. Very keen to link up with all other blogs, like yours, in the same space.

    Will

  3. January 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I’m also a bit confused by how Tory Stories can be regarded as a blog if it doesn’t allow comments. It’s also an odd decision on their part – surely comments would, at least occasionally, prompt new stories for them. There’s sure to be instances of people posting comments that could themselves provide the basis for new material. I suspect the fashionable word ‘blog’ is being used to help promote the venture.

    I think Tory Stories has received such disproportinate attention for two reasons. Firstly, it has a relatively big name behind it in Jon Cruddas. Secondly, it strikes a chord with a particular strand of political opinion, i.e. broadly left Labour, who are starting to gear up for opposing a Tory government. That’s when Tory Stories can really come into its own, as it will have a more clearly oppositional stance (hard to manage when your party is in power), and it’s likely that stories about Tory national government will become just as important as those about Tory local government.

  4. January 7, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    It seems a broadly Compass-type venture. And if the “think pieces” of Compass form the more considered part of Compass policy, well then this new ‘blog’ is to be the sharp end, the 50-state strategy crib sheet, with something for everyone from as many localities as possible, readily accessible.

    I’ll regret that it doesn’t have comments though. It won’t get as much engagement from other strands of opinion if people can’t argue their point with the site.

  5. January 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Michael @1: Yes, I did think about lookng at the definitional stuff, but decided not to in the interests of relative brevity. I’m not that fussed about the terminology, but I do think Dave @4 and Alex@3 are right that a comments facilitate would assist engagement and therefore development of new angles; I can vouch for the fact that engagement with commenters here at TCF is reflected in the posts I now write as my thinking develops on stuff. On the other hand, I appreciate why the deicsion has been made simply to make it a ‘crib sheet’ for people to pick up if they want to. Joe and Jeremy are quite explicit about their lack of time and resource to devote to this, and as far as I can see Jon and Chuka think they’ve done their job by giving it their name and a publicity wumph. Going forward, I just hope it doesn’t die quietly, yet still be seen as THE local tory website when there are other more active sites (e.g. Labour Matters) doing the same thing better but getting less hits because of Tory Stories.

    Will @2: Thanks for dropping in and engaging. On your points:

    1) Yes, I think I’ve understated the successes you’ve had around the (ongoing) EMA flip-floppery. I’m not sure specifically how your PBR stuff played out in the media, but I’m happy to know that it’s gained some traction.

    Moving forward…..well my piece here is really only a lead into a part 2 which looks at how blogs in the longer term can be ‘localised’ and action-focused. If I’m absolutely honest I don’t see blogs having a massive impact on activism levels for the coming election as I think it’s simply too late for any new blogger-reader dynamic to take effect in a more ideal ‘conscioussness’ raising way, not least because there are simply not enough local politicised blogs.

    In the shorter term, then, until the election, we’ve got to focus on getting stuff picked up by the media and by candidates/campaign teams, and taking additional involvement from Lab members/supporters as a good by-product if we get it. I’ve no magic wand for this, and you’r more media-adept than I am, but I think amongst the tasks are:

    a) thinking through each blogpost for what it’s key ‘emotive’ message about the Tories is, and making sure that comes out in every press release which flows from that post. By emotive message I mean a wording that points to the Tories a) out for themselves (‘a change only the rich can afford’ etc) b) simply incompetent when in power c) ravaging services etc etc., which shines through the facts and figures of the evidence base.

    b) Trying to tap into regional and local news media outlets directly, by ‘localising’ the key messages based on your originial sourcing. more likely, though, you won’t have the resources to do the cutting and pasting on that and will need to pass stuff on to candidates/agents etc to get them to do it. With local media of course, they’ll play ultra-safe once the election is called and do nothing even vaguely political (in general, there will be exceptions) so there’s only a two month window for that stuff now.

    b) In the case of LFF particularly, tying your work into the New Left Political Economy Network thing being established by John Rutherford with quite a few ‘names’, to ensure maximum media coverage. My worry about this group is, valuable as it may be, as at 1) above, they’ll be focused on detail to the exclusion of key messages about ‘real impacts on real people’, and that’s why I (the only real politician and non-journo/academic/formal economist in the group)am looking to be involved. Not sure if you are in on it as yet. Prob best for you simply to email Jon Rutherford if you want in (they’re looking to keep it ‘elite’ and I only got in while back door was unlocked).

    What does all that amount to? Not much really, other than that sourcing and then blogging the blog is only really about a quarter of the writing/messaging/calling re: the info that needs to be done. I suspect, however, you know this and are doing it (I suspect other blogs like Tory Stories do not).

  6. January 19, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Fascinating conversation. Thank-you. I’ll respond on post 2 if I may.

  1. January 15, 2010 at 11:53 pm

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