Tuesday, 5 May 2009

My Welsh Blogosphere - Adam Higgitt

The only thing we can agree about the Welsh blogosphere is that it we cannot agree about it. Some evangelise it as new, influential, participative and egalitarian, an open forum for debate and a plural source of news and opinion. Others deride it as overblown, abusive, trashy and insular, a CB radio for the noughties and a parasite on proper journalism.

My truth, for what it’s worth, is that it’s probably many of these things, because it is many things. Only the distribution platform links the astringent Lone Voice (top article at the time of writing: “Jacqui Smith is a Cunt”) with the cerebral WalesWatch (top of which is a discussion about the use of legislative mechanisms to tackle ill health)? In what other respect do they deserve to be mentioned in the same analysis?

Novelty is part of the answer. The ability to easily publish at virtually zero marginal cost was once certainly a new sub-medium of the internet, and so deserved a new noun in the “blog”. With the attendant rapid explosion came the blogosphere, and with the intensification of interest in politics around the last Assembly elections came the Welsh (political) blogosphere.With rising internet penetration it became possible to imagine a new medium of reach, impact and participation: a politics 2.0 born of web 2.0.

But there are other reasons why we talk the blogosphere instead of just bloggers. Blogs link extensively to one another. They repeat and recycle what each other has to say. And their author’s interact directly. In important respects, therefore, they exhibit characteristics of group behaviour. But like discussions of “the media” (or “mainstream media” if you prefer) the idea of a Welsh blogosphere now has its limitations. The medium has matured and fragmented, and many of its early pioneers have moved on.

I suggest it is now possible to think of at least three types of political blog in Wales. We might think of the first - and most populous - type as that of the “advocate”. These are blogs of the party politically committed, such as Plaid’s Guerrilla Welsh Fare, Labour’s Aneurin Glyndwr, the Conservatives’ Right Student and the Lib Dems’ Freedom Central. They are also where the ideologically motivated are found, such as Unionism’s Stonemason and Nationalism’s Independence Cymru. These are blogs with a grievance to air or a cause to advance. Occasionally they will break a story, but most often they will give an opinion.

The second type is that of the “broadcaster”; blogs who have a brand rather than a cause to promote. It is where we find the politicians such as Peter Black, Bethan Jenkins, David Jones and Huw Lewis, the professional commentators such as Tomos Livingstone and Vaughan Roderick and the amateurs such as Politics Cymru. Commentary here, along with that of the mainstream media, supplies nearly all the raw material for the advocates.

Finally, we have the “dissectors”: often non-aligned blogs with a mission to analyse, expose and discuss. This is where the think tanks such as the Bevan Foundation sit alongside the curious such as Valleys Mam and the hobbyists such as my own site.

This is less a trichotomy than a Venn diagram. Dylan Jones-Evans could well inhabit all three categories. Cambria Politico veers unpredictably from grotesque smear to conventional journalism. Plaid’s Bontnewydd Branchand Synaidau analyse as they advocate. Still others don’t fit at all. But whether the theory is sound, it at least shows a medium that should no longer be described in the singular.

Then there is the question of quality. Inevitably for a largely amateur pursuit much Welsh political blogging is self-referential and preoccupied with the influence it has on its subject, as Simon Dyda’s contribution to this series attests. Yet there are also others, such as Glyn Davies and Alwyn ap Huw, who clearly blog for their own amusement, and are all the better for it.

But there are also sources of excellent writing, news, commentary and analysis. Of the above, the Bevan Foundation, IWA, Tomos Livingstone and Politics Cymru are four I read most avidly. To this can also be added John Dixon’s Borthlas, Marcus Warner’s Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Paul Flynn, Adam Price and the Davids Cornock and Raybould. Of the newer blogs Progressive Comment is very strong, and the return of Miss Wagstaff is most welcome.

What I don’t do is consume these as if courses of a meal, or as part of some special movement. I read blogs alongside comment from mainstream organisations and mainstream sources. Like many, the novelty of the blog for me lies in its content; the medium itself is far less significant. Let’s kill off the blogosphere and let the bloggers live.

(Written by Adam Higgitt, Welsh blogger, creator and author of Welsh Political History)

This is the third in a series of posts giving a chance for Welsh bloggers to have their say on the state of the blogosphere and where it's going. If you're interested in contributing place feel free to contact me at welshbloggers@gmail.com

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