A lot of bloggers have had a lot to say about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s little tirade against blogging. (You can’t read the article now because it is behind a subscription wall. Independent please note: this is why Guardian Unlimited and BBC News are the most popular news sites on the net and yours isn’t.)
It is not unusual for a ‘proper’ journalist to complain about blogging, so I wasn’t going to comment on it. But one of the old cliches that Alibhai-Brown trots out is that blogging is somehow excessively time consuming. The article begins:
Where do blog writers find the time? Do they never go to the theatre, read books, make love?
I might well ask in response, “Where do theatre goers find the time? Do they not have a blog to maintain?” It’s good that Alibhai-Brown thinks we should all be going to the theatre. The thing is, I don’t know anybody who goes to the theatre regularly. That’s mostly because there isn’t a decent theatre anywhere near here, nor can anybody really afford it. Oh, and it’s really time consuming.
You see, everything in the world is time consuming. Cooking and eating a meal takes ages. Going to the gym uses up time. You never hear people saying, “Where do you find the time to go to the gym? Don’t you have anything better to do?”
When they first burst onto the scene, films, television and video games were all criticised for being time-consuming, spoddy pursuits. Some people still say they are, but they are a part of everyday life which many of us cannot imagine living without.
Blogging is the latest in the list. And just like watching films or television or playing games, blogging is an activity that you do in your spare time. It’s not as if I’ve ever said, “Oh no, I can’t go out tonight — I’ve got blogging to do.” People don’t phone into work saying, “Sorry, I can’t come in today; it’s that blog again.”
The only reason I’m writing this post is because I had some spare time. A little gap in my day needed filled. We all come across this from time to time. Some people like to read a book in these situations, which is good. Most people might sit in front of the television. If I wasn’t writing this then I would almost certainly be spending a couple of hours sitting in front of the idiot-box. But I’ve decided to write a post on my blog. Is there something wrong with that?
Of all the things that people find to do in their spare time, blogging is surely one of the most worthwhile. I have learned so much by both reading and writing blogs. For one thing it has opened my mind immensely. You really learn to appreciate other people’s viewpoints. I now have an understanding of opposing viewpoints which I would never have gained if I was just left to read newspapers or watch the television news.
Real, ordinary people expressing real, unfiltered opinions. How can you possibly be against such a thing? In any other sphere such a culture would be celebrated. Did Yasmin Alibhai-Brown criticise, for instance, anti-Iraq war protestors for campaigning or expressing their views? I hardly think so. But because the debate amongst bloggers takes place on computers it simply must be nerdy and time-consuming; a preserve of pale men who never go outdoors and vanity publishers who only blog because they can’t get a proper writing job.
But here is the thing. Why should I trust (or pay to read) what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown or Polly Toynbee or Simon Jenkins or anyone else in the ‘commentariat’ ivory tower has to say? Not when I can read the most diverse range of opinions imaginable from ordinary people who are passionate about their views — all at the click of a mouse and for free.
This is why a lot of journalists — especially op-ed writers and suchlike — often complain about blogging. A lot of nonsense is spoken about ‘citizen journalism’. We need to get real here. Bloggers won’t usurp real journalists or the mainstream media. But bloggers can and do threaten the need for newspapers to have comment pages.
This very article in The Independent said — if I remember correctly (I can’t find out because you have to pay for the priviledge of having information in Indy towers) — that commentators are unsure exactly what qualifies them to be commentators, other than an interest in current affairs. Well look at us bloggers. We’re all interested in current affairs too. And we have the added bonus of not being stuck in an ivory tower. And of being free to read.
Before blogging came along I read the comment pages of newspapers quite often. Now I never do, because I can get all the opinion I want from bloggers. And I have found it to be a far more fulfilling experience than reading the same old tired writers in the dead tree press, whose banal opinions you can usually predict in advance.
Columnists are actually quite dangerous in my view. For some reason politicians are always fair game, but whenever the spotlight is turned onto the professional commentators themselves they throw up their arms in horror and write a kneejerk ill-informed piece criticising blogging.
But why shouldn’t columnists be held to account? In many cases they are just as influential and powerful as politicians. But nobody voted for these commentators. Nobody ever holds them to account, unless it is the odd paragraph here and there in the letters page — which is only included at the whim of an editor anyway. And you seldom see commentators getting properly stuck into a debate.
Even away from those who blog exclusively about current affairs, is there something so wrong about having an outlet to express yourself? To talk about what’s on your mind? An easy way of communicating with people? Having a Sarah blog? Because here is some headline news for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: for a lot of people, blogging is great fun. It is as simple as that.
It should therefore not come as a surprise to anybody that the great unwashed are turning to blogging.