Wednesday, 10 June 2009

My Welsh Blogosphere - Matt Withers

ENTERTAINING. Informative. Breaking stories and providing a much-needed forum for healthy grassroots debate on Welsh politics. That was the Welsh political blogosphere two years ago. What happened?

Like the economy, Newcastle United and Deal or No Deal, the Welsh blogosphere appears to have declined immensely in the space of two years, but there appears to be no obvious reason for it, unlike the first three (for the record: massive under-regulation of the banking sector, Mike Ashley, Noel Edmonds’ increasing mental breakdown). The Government of Wales Act, and with it the obviously stuttering LCO system, means there’s plenty for people to be blogging about. Surely there’s plenty of Labour and Plaid activists with issues around the nature of the One Wales agreement to get off their chests?

And what’s more, Wales’ lack of a pluralistic media should surely provide fertile ground for a healthy political blogosphere. 85% of those who buy a newspaper in Wales buy one written and published in London. What coverage of Welsh politics do you get there? The last incidence I can find is four pars in the News of the World last June after Alun Cairns’ little slip on Radio Cymru. Otherwise they routinely confuse ‘Britain’ with ‘England’, show no knowledge that health and education announcements have no relevance this side of the border and treat Assembly elections with all the gravitas of a parish council. ITV in Wales has all but given up. And while both Media Wales and the BBC do excellent jobs in a challenging environment - and yes, you would expect me to say that - there’s a gap at the heart of Welsh political discourse, and it’s one the blogosphere isn’t stepping up to the plate to fill.

In the run-up to the 2007 Assembly Election, the Welsh blogosphere looked on the verge of truly breaking through to the political mainstream, to the same extent it has in the US and (to a lesser extent) Westminster. Blamerbell Briefs was, and sadly remains, the best blog Wales has seen and the closest to an all-encompassing talking shop we’ve seen. Crude as it may have been, Arsembly proved the biggest talking point in Cardiff Bay for the best part of six months as everybody speculated as to who was behind it (for the record: not me, and I don’t know either). Ordovicius was at its peak (its writer, Simon Dyda, alas, posts less these days).

But where are we now? There are still some very good blogs by politicians. Peter Black AM remains the Blogfather. The sometimes gloriously off-message Conservative Glyn Davies is still a joy to read, particularly if, say, you write a diary column for a tabloid Sunday newspaper. They’re the best because they’re politicians speaking with their authentic voice. So too are Bethan Jenkins AM, often unfairly maligned, and David Jones MP. Paul Flynn MP can be infuriating but, by golly, the man can write. Of the politicians of the future, Plaid candidate Heledd Fychan’s blog is lively. But what few other politician’s blog which remain are dull, dull, dull.

But it remains that the best-written blogs are those by professional journalists. The BBC’s Betsan Powys and Vaughan Roderick are must-reads. My colleague Tomos Livingstone writes an excellent blog from Westminster. But where are the ‘citizen journalists’ who we are told are going to put these people out of jobs?

Where is Wales’ Iain Dale? Whether you like his politics are not, you can’t help but admire how he has built himself into a one-man political brand with a free Blogger account. Oh, for a Welsh Guido Fawkes to print the gossip Spin Doctor can’t. There isn’t an equivalent of a ConservativeHome for any of the Welsh parties. Labour tried it with Aneurin Glyndwr. We can safely assume it’s an experiment they won’t try again. Most promising of the newer blogs is Politics Cymru, which is run by three Cardiff University students and makes good use of audio. Watch them ‘do a Blamerbell’ when they get proper jobs…

Most people reading this won’t like it. But the fact is, the Welsh blogosphere has gone backwards. There’s a big opportunity out there, and it’s not being embraced. What is there is too much bitching at each other in internecine feuds of no interest to anyone except the protagonists. Or bloggers who moan about the mainstream media and then spend all the time just pasting links to MSM stories with a couple of pars of ‘comment’.

Wales’ relatively small media is leaving wriggle room for politicians to escape scrutiny, and deprives us of another talking shop in order to have a healthy political discourse. The blogosphere is failing in its duty.

I await the hate mail.

(Written by Matt Withers, Political Correspondent for Media Wales, Wales on Sunday columnist and blogger at A Change Of Trouble blog).

This is post twenty one of a series of articles giving a chance to 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

10 Responses to “My Welsh Blogosphere - Matt Withers”

Ifor Bach said...

"Or bloggers who moan about the mainstream media and then spend all the time just pasting links to MSM stories with a couple of pars of ‘comment’."

Written by a journalist who works for a company that produces papers full of recycled PA content. The difference Matt is that bloggers generally aren't paid and are amateurs so they source their stories from all over the net. Churnalists however are being paid good wages to copy and paste what comes down the wire.

As for the Welsh blogosphere going backwards, maybe it has but as an independent community it's still streats ahead of Wales Online's blogs. You can't even find them on the WO site!

I was going to argue with you, but that is what a pint is for.

I am not a journalist, an insider or anything in between. My blog is my own thoughts, including my other main passion – music. The very fact that people read my blog is off my own back, and its content. Indeed, I am beginning to now be asked to go on mainstream media outlets, including this week Radio 4. Music wise this has included Radio Wales and Radio One.

It is not there to compete with anything, be part of the pluralistic media or anything else. Anyone who reads my blog, which touches 500 hits a day, does so without me doing anything other than writing what i feel like - petty arguments i have promised to leave and all. I leave the professional stuff to the professionals, having recently begun to reading genuine copy for a online media project currently in development (which will knock the socks of 99% of stuff in Wales – you heard it here first), I know how hard it is.

Anonymous said...

May be Mr Withers you are reading the wrong blogs Most of the ones I read and enjoy you have nt even mentioned.I think you have a very narrow view and need to review and update your reading list, you seem to read the old ones.

Al Iguana said...

he's right about there not being a Welsh Dale or Guido.

cambriapolitico said...

Mr.Withers is disappointed that we are 'failing in our duty' to go after the political class in the same way that Dale or Guido Fawkes do. That may well be so but is it really our duty? I don't think so. We have to live in the real Welsh community be it for business, social or politics and it is never a good thing to 'shit in your own nest' to put it crudely.
This doesn't mean that we cannot have a view and I think that the Welsh blogosphere is improving on the whole as the software tools for doing so are becoming easier to use and more available to non-techies.
The rapid decline in quality has been in the highly paid old media hacks, churnalists and presenters many of whom cannot or won't make the transition to online activity because there is no money in it for them.
The so-calld attack dogs have failed - Gordon Brown is still there, New Liebour is still there, Peter Hain is still there. In many respects Leighton Andrews is correct in categorically stating that 'blogs have no influence on politics' and not to bother with them. That's fine but online conversations are going on and increasing, people are finding an online voice so that can only be a good thing.

"he's right about there not being a Welsh Dale or Guido."

Well yes, but is that desirable?

Fact is Iain Dale was a well connected member of the Westminster bubble – hardly some organic guy with a ‘blogger account’. He was a ‘face’ on the scene, able to break stories – well done to him, I like his blog, but it is not as simple as having a ‘Welsh Dale’. Iain also has no shortage of ambition to become a politician, his blog serves that purpose.

Guido is more of a mixed bag, and his McBride story will mean he will dine out forever on it. But once again, he was there at the beginning, has the resources to do it full time and now has the benefit of people giving him stuff. The fact is that he is wrong more than he is right, but people don’t care about that. Parties are getting clever to this – ‘red rag’ was a horrible example of political insiders seeking to basically write unattributed, nasty stuff about people that they couldn’t do on or off the record in the media.

Plaid Cymru have even latched onto it – with central Party staff writing blogs anonymously. This blog accused Paul Murphy of fixing a welsh language consultation – now where is the divide between a Plaid HQ press release doing so, and them doing it via an anonymous blog? Could you imagine if the Deputy First Minister had said that?

Aneurin Glyndwr certainly has its faults - but you know who is responsible for it.

Natwatch was another one, before my time so I don’t know too much about it.

My concern is that in the race ‘to have a welsh dale/guido’, people are looking to merely make a ‘splash’ rather than joining any debate. It is why you saw those nasty blogs that emanated over the Luke Ellis thing – which I hasten to add gained a load of force via a pretty poor story in the Western Mail.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind there not being a Fawkes or a Dale - a better model is Slugger - surely the best in the world and more of a collaborative effort - and thus IMHO more interesting. Blog Menai worth a mention though.

cambriapolitico said...

The main attraction of Guido Fawkes and Dale isn't necessarily the stories they break or write but in the hordes of commentators that they have around a small clique of highly vocal regulars. None of the significant blogs in the Welsh blogosphere attract more than one or two comments even Betsan BBC. This is the trick that must be achieved because the comments section can take up a life of its own when it has a large number of regular commentators. Our best posts rarely attract above the 20 comment mark even though our audiences are 500-2K per day.
This suggests that many pople are still very reluctant to express themselves online even anonymously.

Valleys Mam said...

I am glad we dont blog in the gutter like Guido.
May be Mat doesnt realise that we are not professional jounolists or Pr people. Are blogs there to break stories, provide gosspi, prompt accountability. I blog on what prompts me to express an oppinion.
I also agree with one of the comments that most of the so called professionals only look at a very few Blogs and mostly those they feel most akin to.
May be if we were paid and had lots of time to think about issues or were students and had a blog as a project, the Mabiblogion would be different
But do you know I like it as it is and we have some excellent contributors that you should go and take a look at Mat

Anonymous said...

"Or bloggers who moan about the mainstream media and then spend all the time just pasting links to MSM stories with a couple of pars of ‘comment’."

Is it as bad as a professional journalist who nicks stuff from blogs and passes it off as his own work in gossip column?

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