Wednesday, 27 May 2009

My Welsh Blogosphere - Bethan Jenkins AM

I've never been one to keep a diary. I tried and failed to sustain one as a teenager by means of tempering my classic teenage angst, but I discovered that living my life was far more enjoyable an experience without mulling over fleeting situations and scenarios about teachers who annoyed the hell out of me in school, or about stupid crushes, or the best gigs I'd been to. I also had this vision (I had a creative mind, so bear with me) of somebody discovering my diary a la Anne Franks in years to come (obviously in the full knowledge that I would not be vaguely as interesting) and that thought alone made me stop writing down my train of thoughts there and then.

When I heard about blogging therefore, I was initially put off by the fact that it was described as an online diary. Opening my heart to the World was even less attractive than an emotional Bethan reading my own diary back to myself all those years ago! However, a quick fire session on the glories of blogging from my brother Ciaran-aka Blamerbell Briefs made me realise that it could be utilised in a way to benefit me as a Plaid Cymru Assembly candidate. It could potentially raise my profile during the campaign, and allow me to engage with people along the way. Of course, I had a profile of some sort for the campaigns I'd been involved with as President of Aberystwyth Guild of Students, but I wanted to try and reach out to other people, and put forward opinions on other topical issues of the day.

Did it work? I think so. Where newspapers failed to pick up on stories or opinions of politicians, I pursued it on the blog. It made me feel that I was in control of a given situation that I might not otherwise have been. For example, if I thought that I had been misquoted or misrepresented by other bloggers or news outlets (e.g. putting forward the reasons why I was against the Rainbow coalition during those famous post election negotiations in 2007) then I turned to the blog like comfort eating. It was useful also in keeping a campaign diary, in letting people on the blogs know what the issues were on the doorstep.

It’s fair to say that I am a blogger anorak, and even though I sometimes consider giving it all up, I cannot imagine that I will..for now, at least! It’s difficult to describe how I blog. I guess I try and be laid back and honest about my opinions. Someone once said to me that politicians who blog will never climb the greasy poll to influential positions (most probably as we say too much too often in the public domain) but shock horror, that is not my motivation. Whether it is true or not does not concern me. I try and tell people about what I have been doing as an AM, what my thoughts are on certain issues, and sometimes delve in to topics outside of politics if only to keep myself sane. The uber blogger Iain Dale describes my blog as 'readable, personal and gossipy'. I wouldn't say that it's gossipy per se, but I try and be as upfront as possible. I may not 'break' as many stories as other Welsh bloggers, but again, that's not really my intention. I just want to share my thoughts, and if someone out there is interested and wants to initiate a debate then that in itself is a bonus. You would expect me to say that I don't appreciate vicious or sexist anon comments- both of which I have experienced, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger as they say. Hence my moderation of comments on the blog.

What I should mention however is the recent phenomenon of twitter and its use by more and more politicians. Saying it like it is in 140 letters is the lazy blogger's idea of paradise, or the busy politician's answer to communicating in fast and efficient way. What is interesting however is the way journalists are now picking up on stories from twitter. My car crash, my views on taxation, my dispute against a tweet that the BNP are left wing, my love of the Manics, saving the Vulcan pub have all made news stories in different ways. Whether this means that journos are also lazy and looking for a quick story is for you to decide, but the blogging v twittering question is a novel one - although I don't think that it will replace blogging in the long term.

Now, on to the shape of the Welsh blogosphere in general. It is fair to say there is an eclectic mix of Welsh blogs out there. If John Snow were to do a graph analysis of the Welsh blogosphere then it would crudely look quite varied - peaking in 2007, taking a dip in 2008, and rising again in 2009. Bloggers come and go, but that keeps us on our feet, ready for the next challenge. There is surely some sort of blogging bubble, where those who blog look out for fellow bloggers even if they are from different political persuasions. It is dysfunctional on occasions, back stabbing, critical, sometimes complementary, but it has a unique capability to unite us.

Blogs are shaping the political agenda more and more in Wales as print media and broadcast media lags behind. The mainstream media covers many stories that have been discussed on the blogs for weeks, giving us an air of vanity in the process! There is still a long way to go in the development of the Welsh blogosphere, of the way it could be used far more effectively in analysing the One Wales government programme, and in embracing discussions on International affairs. It would be great to see more organisations follow the example of the Bevan Foundation and the IWA and start a blog, and I would like to take this opportunity to challenge Richard Wyn Jones from the Wales Governance Centre to start one- to spark debate and discussions online as an add on to breakfast seminars and conferences.

At the moment, Plaid bloggers are by far the most prominent, although I have to say my daily reads include the affable Glyn Davies and the ever present Peter Black, just to check what the opposition are saying. I also enjoy Politics Cymru-a good example of an innovative non party blog that has really plugged a gap in the way it engages politicians, and tries to sell politics in a new way online. I do read Valleys Mam also, but I am still aggravated at the lack of female bloggers despite the welcome arrival of Heledd Fychan. Anonymous bloggers do not worry me so long as they have valid and reasonable political points to make, and do not go out of their way to smear individuals or resort to personal attacks. To sum up my blogging habits however, I tend to scan most, and read the posts that genuinely take my eye.

I sincerely believe that blogging will continue to be a key tool for politicians in campaigning and in communicating with the electorate. Some politicians will continue to ignore it, much to their peril, although some of them secretly scour the blogs for personal references. …

So to all you bloggers out there- keep up the scrutiny, keep up the discussions, and happy blogging!

(Written by Bethan Jenkins, Assembly Member, Welsh blogger, creator and author of her own self titled blog)

This is the sixteenth of 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

5 Responses to “My Welsh Blogosphere - Bethan Jenkins AM”

Great post, enjoyed that.

It is interesting, because I am not sure if I was a politician I would blog. Good stuff Bethan...

Alan Davies said...

Good article but one comment: "Blogs are shaping the political agenda", I'd challenge that.
It's not blogs per se, it's social media in all its forms that now lets anyone have their say, sometimes to a wide audience too.
The people that understand this shift to social media are of course less likely to live behind moats!

Al Iguana said...

"There is surely some sort of blogging bubble, where those who blog look out for fellow bloggers even if they are from different political persuasions."

I'd agree with that. We may bicker like children sometimes, and slag each other off the rest, but when the chips are down we look out for each other, because we are all the same. Welsh people who need to express ourselves.

Like Marcus often says: I might argue with you, but I'll buy you a drink down the pub. I may argue with him about politics (and music lol), and probably wouldn't vote for him, but I respect him and and would probably go out of my way to help him out. It's all good. Same with Dave, Heledd, Simon, Mam, Peter etc. (ooo.. first name terms. That's another plus!)

That's the empowering thing about blogging (and social media - Alan is right on his point too). Whatever your background, salary, education, skin-colour, accent - if you start a blog you start as an equal. And I love that. The Prime-Minister and the dustman have an equal voice. Your ability to speak, and be heard, doesn't depend on party affiliation, who you know, what old-boys network you're part of.

Good points Al.

The key thing is collaboration when you think about social media. We often share information, argue, agree, laugh, cry and all things in between via social media. That network of information is OF the internet, it is powered by it.

It breaks down the hierarchial barriers also, i regularly discuss things with elected politicians of all persuasions via twitter, ten years ago that opportunity was not available to citizens.

Valleys Mam said...

Bethan I to wish there were more women blogging , its lonely out there. The new Change of Personnel I think is female, very good and thoughtful blog too.
Men go down the blogging Pub , women I guess have a glass of wine in the geggin and muse.

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