The Reading Room
Where have all the bloggers gone?
Are independent political blogs a lasting part of the media furniture? Or are they a noughties phenomena that will one day appear on those “Do you remember 2005?” programmes alongside with Girls Aloud and George Bush?
The breathless talk of a few years ago where new media gurus predicted the death of mainstream political commentary has gone strangely quiet over the last six months. Last year Iain Dale, the publisher and Tory political candidate who made his name as a political blogger, declared that the influence of independent political bloggers was waning. They were being crowded out, he argued, by in-house bloggers on the payroll of newspapers and established columnists who were supplementing their two columns a week with regular postings. “The mainstream media has eaten up the blogosphere” he said.
And It’s not just Dale who is tiring of the rigours of blogging several times a day. Tim Montgomerie, who established Conservative Home has said he wants to move on to “another phase” in his career. Even Paul Staines, who set up Guido Fawkes, now shares much of the day-to-day writing with his deputy, Harry Cole.
This is not to say that blogs are not influential in setting the news agenda. Over countless political issues, Guido Fawkes has made the running – from William Hague’s unorthodox bed-sharing arrangements with his researcher to Andrew Marr’s super injunction.
But it’s striking how the political blogosphere in the UK has never quite added up to its billing. Few star pundits have been generated by the blogosphere. There is no equivalent to Andrew Sullivan in the US, whose blog has made him seriously influential as well as rich.
The few UK writers or politicos who have risen to prominence on the back of political blogging tend to channel their energies into old-style media or politics. Ian Dale now has an old-fashioned LBC phone-in. Tim Montgomery has become a fully paid up pundit. And Will Straw, who invented the pugnacious Left Foot Forward Blog, has found himself a highly conventional political job with the IPPR.
The pressures of writing three or four times a day combined with the difficulty of making money online has led many independent bloggers to give up. They have struggled to build large audiences beyond the policy elites. Meanwhile, venerable print dinosaurs like Simon Heffer, backed by the patronage of Associated Newspapers, and Norman Tebbit on the Telegraph, are getting readership figures that the new kids in town can only dream of.
A final irony is that as newspapers started to imitate the informality and rapid response of blogs a few years back, so blogs now increasingly resemble newspapers. Ian Dale’s “Dale & Co” is presented as if it’s a straight online publication, barely distinguishable in tone and content from the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ or the ‘Telegraph Blogs’ pages. RB.
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