Polly Toynbee is a recipient of a lot of hatred on the web from a lot of people- she lectured about the blogosphere and the press gazette reported on her lecture this week. Iain Dale has written a cogent article criticising her piece and being relatively positive about some of her comments. His agreement with her that its worth considering how difficult political choices are and be tolerant of politicians is something that I agree with. I want to discuss one point that she raises which I think illustrates something rather interesting about the blogosphere as opposed to the traditional media.
In the traditional media, as people often point out there is a choice of very few options- you have the Guardian, the Sun, the Times etc- who all appoint people of the same kind of experience. Most of those who write about politics in the mainstream media are people who hang around Westminster and talk a lot to politicians- many of them write pieces of incredible insight based upon these contacts they make at Westminster and Toynbee is right to say that that is an incredibly good way of thinking and writing about politics:
here is a skill in crafting a column with a beginning, a middle and an end, a coherent argument and at least three facts readers don't know, preferably information gleaned from talking to the leading players in the case.
She is right that this is one approach but as later in the speech she confessed her experience as BBC social affairs correspendent struggling to get her views in instead of the Westminster lads on the politics of social affairs that isn't the only perspective. One element of this can be seen in the rather difficult analysis of Islam that is produced often in the papers- some commentators seem not to understand at all that a religion is not a timeless thing or a regionless thing but varies- statements like Islam is peaceful or warlike are nonsense- some Muslims are peaceful, some aren't. The majority at the moment live in peace.
What the blogosphere does offer is a place where people can write who know more about specific issues and take a more academic attitude. There are virtues to being away from Westminster and being a consumer of articles, books, manuscripts and a professional in some other way of life. I'm always intrigued by policeman's blogs, nurses blogs and academic blogs. There are blogs like Iain Dale's which are more like the journalist's but most of them are out there talking about their author's knowledge of some area. Indeed the majority of blogs aren't actually political but they may deal tangentially with political issues.
Personally that's where my interest in blogs lies- its that kind of supplement to the media that I think they can provide- say with Juan Cole's blog about the Middle East being a prime example- that I am really concerned. In that way the blogs can actually improve output by providing another perspective- not supplanting the media but just providing a different way of looking at the world.