Iain Macwhirter and the relationship between the media and bloggers

Part one of this article was published yesterday

Further evidence that Iain Macwhirter is struggling to see beyond the model of the media comes from the fact that the blogs he cites as “very good and intelligent” are both offerings from the media. Paul Krugman’s blog is funded by the New York Times while Robert Peston’s is run by the BBC.

Interestingly, the one he criticises — aside from Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes — is by established journalist Alex Massie, whose blog is hosted by The Spectator. (Incidentally, Alex Massie’s evisceration of Iain Macwhirter’s original article is well worth a read.) There is still no sign that Mr Macwhirter will deign to read the output of someone who isn’t sharing his ivory tower.

He also makes the point about bloggers being geeks, citing the fact that a lot of it relies on the dark art of SEO. He says that “there is a science to blogging”. This may be so, certainly for the larger blogs out there. But let’s be clear about this — you don’t need to know SEO to blog. You just have to write. The barriers to entry are incredibly low. I started blogging when I was at school and it was years before I even learnt what SEO was, never mind begin to implement the techniques. It didn’t stop me from blogging. You can learn as you go along. Or you can choose not to, if you wish.

Whatever, it is a hell of a lot more accessible than the media. How do I go about getting a column in a newspaper? The short answer is that I can’t. Want to be a blogger? Sign up to WordPress.com or Blogger and you’ve already made it.

Where Iain Macwhirter is probably closest to being right is in his point about personal attacks on the blogosphere. It is true that there is rather too much of this. But it usually comes from the same four or five bloggers, and I don’t read any of them.

Sometimes people (including, I confess, me) bemoan the fact that there is still no Scottish Guido Fawkes. But in a way we should be relieved that this brash and divisive model is not replicated in the Scottish political scene.

The Scottish blogosphere is actually a fairly pleasant place, as has been noted by IoC. Will Patterson, in his letter to The Herald, pointed out that you can read about the great blogging that goes on every week on Scottish Roundup.

I like to think that the Roundup has helped foster a friendly atmosphere in the Scottish blogosphere. We do, of course, have our differences. But that is what you expect in a debate. By and large, we are a respectful and friendly bunch. Despite our political differences, I think there is a clear Scottish political blogging community. A fair bunch of us will be attending a meet-up later today. And it always amazes me that even those with the strongest political views can put their differences aside and give rival viewpoints a fair airing when they are invited to edit the Scottish Roundup. Stephen Glenn is a typical example of this.

There is, of course, the phenomenon of the Cybernats, which is a problem. But it’s not a problem with blogging. The truly swivel-eyed will never find a decent platform for themselves on the blogosphere. That is because it is too easy to ignore a bad blogger — you simply don’t read the blog.

Where Cybernattery is a problem is in comments. As I have pointed out a number of times before, the nature of comments is very different to the nature of blogging. I suspect Iain Macwhirter’s impression of blogging comes mainly from the comments to his own pieces, which is a shame because they are no doubt awful. He says, “This has now become institutionalised in the form of the blog, which is an extension of this kind of citizen journalism.” But it is a major mistake to assume that bloggers and commenters are the same people, or even vaguely close relatives.

As Macwhirter himself points out, bloggers want to be read. But as I have noted, it is easy to ignore a blogger by simply not reading. So the truly awful commenters would never succeed as bloggers because they simply will not get read and won’t make any impact.

That is precisely why websites like The Herald, Scotsman.com, Comment is free, the BBC’s Have Your Say, Digg and YouTube suffer from having terrible comments. Because these are huge websites, commenters know they are guaranteed an audience. Unlike a blogger, they don’t have to build an audience by producing quality content. They already have the spotlight they crave so that they can spout out their nonsense. Bloggers produce a higher-quality product because they need to come up with the goods or people will not read. Commenters believe they will have people reading anyway.

That is not, of course, a criticism of all comments. Small and medium-sized blogs generally have great comment sections, and I am lucky to be able to count this blog among the medium-sized blogs that generally have thriving and friendly comments sections. It is the big media sites that attract bad commenters like files on a poop.

To tie all the loose ends together, the point — as everyone agrees — is that the media landscape is changing. Kezia Dugdale has a good overview of what’s going on.

A recent piece in the Sunday Herald suggested that my blogs get the sort of readership that a local newspaper can expect. That was news to me, and it rather sums up just how different the world of the media is becoming. While the blogosphere grows and grows, the likes of The Scotsman and The Herald are struggling to scrape together enough coppers to fund next week’s editions.

This makes the way the media approaches the web all-important. Johnston Press’s decision to rip the perfectly adequate Scotsman.com to shreds and implement their own shaky template has effectively put a nail in their own coffin. Traffic has halved since they took over. The Herald’s web presence has always been dire, and signs for the future are not good.

Given this state of affairs, the relationship between blogging and the media will become ever-more important. Everyone in this arena is still feeling their way around in an uncertain new world, and everyone will make mistakes along the way. The media could be helped significantly if their most high-profile commentators had a modicum of awareness of what the real strengths of blogging actually are.


  1. Thanks for an excellent couple of articles. They served as my introduction to your blog and I will follow you with interest from now on. I would add that I normally pull the RSS feeds of the blogs I read to my Google Reader account so this acts as a further filter from unwanted comments. (Although I could also grab the feed from the comments thread)