07 October 2008

Because sometimes, friends need a telling

Today, Jeff reported the sad news that Kezia Dugdale has put her soapbox away. Her blog is no longer available for public consumption. Scottish Tory Boy offered a tribute to her. Stephen Glenn offered warm words. Kerron Cross offered understanding, and Jacq Kelly offered empathy. That elder statesman (in terms of length of service, I mean) of the Scottish blogosphere Bill Cameron offered exasperation, while Jess The Dog offered a conspiracy theory - refuted by Kez herself.

I've considered my reaction and I've opted for the only course of action that hasn't been explored and needs to be: I'm going to give her a bollocking. This is what I do to my friends, and up until now, I've always been able to get away with it - even if it isn't always taken on board.

Kez, I am absolutely baffled by your reasons for packing up:

"But I also think it's a very seedy environment - the vast majority of bloggers operate anonymously. And with anonymity, accountability completely evaporates..."

There is always accountability in the blogosphere. You can pre- and post-moderate comments on your blog. And you have the final say on what you read. Sub-standard blogs, full of rubbish that's plucked out of thin air, just won't get read. Or they'll get read a couple of times then people will move on. So weaker blogs get isolated, while stronger blogs gain a following. That way, every blogger is accountable to their readers.

"Blogging is no longer, in my view, a proper vehicle for debate. It's been saturated by partisan venom and that can be quite debilitating."

I've heard this lament before and I fail to see how it can possibly stand up, unless you actually view the blogosphere as some sort of cross between the Forum and the literary salon. While you do get some excellent, high-register, high-quality, well-considered blogs (see Ideas of Civilisation for a textbook example), the fact is that CMC as a whole is far less formal and stratified than F2F conversation. It's more like a chat over a coffee or a pint than a town-hall meeting. It's an online diary, where you put what you're thinking, not where you make a Parliamentary speech. That's the blogosphere's biggest strength, not its biggest weakness. And as for partisan venom being a turn-off, Kez, consider this: by my reckoning, you have produced 21 posts in the last month. Those 21 posts contain 18 primary attacks (by which I mean made by you, in your own words) on other parties or members of other parties, and a further four secondary attacks (producing an attributable, verbatim quote of someone else) on other parties or their members. That's 22 attacks in 21 posts. You can't just blame the blogosphere for that.

"I'll write a post and then 95% of the comments that follow will be negative. That doesn't mean I'm wrong every single time... but it does begin to feel that way when the blogosphere leans so heavily towards nationalism and/or a right wing agenda."

Understandable: people are more motivated to respond to something they disagree with than just to post "I agree!", unless they want to build on what you've said. And if you're worried that the blogosphere in Scotland leans towards the SNP (it does), or that the wider UK blogosphere points rightwards (it does), then in what way does it benefit the blogosphere, and in what way does it encourage other left-wingers and Unionists to start a blog, when one of their number pulls out?

"Blogging has become too much of a risk. I have an inclination that the vast majority of my readership are SNP activists just desperate for me to trip up spectacularly."

An inclination that you can't back up and way well be wide of the mark. You're in danger of disappointing those who want to see you succeed because of those people who you think want to see you fail. And if you're worried about tripping up, then here's my tip... don't trip up! Research your posts, check your facts and basically do what your doing now. You're good enough at this to have been doing it successfully and it's a mark of how good you are that I can't cast my mind back to a significant FUBAR moment on your blog. You've come too far to worry about failure and I don't understand where this doubt has come from.

"I'm not risk adverse and this is no act of cowardice but I have to make a judgement about whether or not blogging almost daily for the next three years..."

You know, I blame Iain Dale for this. Really, I do. I hate this whole, "Oh, you have to blog daily" nonsense. Blog when you're ready, when you're motivated, when you have the time. I always say that there are two ways of running a blog: posting because you have something to say and posting because you have to say something. The Dale approach is the latter and it's the poorer one. Now, frequent postings can still be top-notch (Jeff should change his name to Uncle Ben, such is his knack for producing perfect results every time), but lots of bloggers run successful sites despite letting things lie fallow for a time. If you have to pressure yourself to post, then don't post for a while. But don't stop blogging altogether.

"...in the run up to the next Scottish elections..."

When your presence in the blogosphere will be more valued than ever.

"...is good for me personally..."

How can having a place where you can get your thoughts off your chest be anything but good for you personally?

"...good for my career..."

Your blog does (or rather, did) what it says (or rather, said) on the tin. It is (or was) a Soapbox. What better way of raising your profile, and reaching a wider audience? And when you bear in mind your willingness to take on political opponents, when that's apparently something valued in the Labour Party, having a means of doing that, and showing that you're capable of it is absolutely crucial. Why kill off that opportunity to show what you can do? If it's done right, a blog can be a boost for your career. In your case, then, it's an advantage.

"...and good for the Labour Party."

Care to explain how Scottish Labour losing one of its most articulate and personable online voices benefits the party?

No, Kez, the reasoning seems thin. It doesn't seem to make sense and it's completely out of character. That means that at least one (and perhaps both) of the following statements is correct: it is the wrong decision completely, or there is more going on than you state. I'm not talking a conspiracy or pressure from other sources (you've ruled that out, and you're not a liar), but I believe you have your own reasons which are really behind this decision. Now that's your business, but I can't for the life of me figure those reasons out and by taking this course of action, you're wasting the not inconsiderable ability that you have at your disposal which lots of people would give their eye teeth to have.

You've found the button to lock your blog up. Please, please, please find the button to unlock it again... you know you want to.


Bill said...

'Elder statesman!' - I've never been called THAT before - lol

Will said...

It was only a matter of time, Bill... :)

Bill said...

Now that I've recoverec from that 'sleight' ;) and rad your article thoroughly I have to say I agree with a lot of what your write, although I think the bit at the end about there being other unstated issues might possibly be the reason for this unwelcome cessation of blogging activity.

Bill said...

Sorry about the miss-spellings; put it down to too much port! (All in preparation for the McCain/Obama jousting match in a few hours.)

Stephen Glenn said...

Will I agree with a lot of the sentiment in this.

I've seen it before with other PPCs or potential PPCs who consider that their blogging, or are told that their blogging is detrimental to their campaign. Thankfully my local party are quite the opposite in that extent, and I think the party know that they cannot shut me up no matter what. (I think I may even warrent an emergency motion at conference should I fall silent again)

The fact that she has 'hidden' the content from public view would suggest to me as someone who has too sadly witnessed the pattern in the past be told that her words will come back to bite her. My take on that is so what, I've said something on the issue that is on the record where are my opponents' take on it. Some people may agree with me all of the time (if so I'd like to meet, marry and have children with them), Some may agree with me most of the time, but I doubt any agree with me all of the time, that includes my fellow Lib Dems. But providing I've argued my case and given reasons for it so what.

Jeff said...

Brilliant post Will!

I am afraid I can't agree with all of it as I can see why the cons were outnumbering the pros for the Kez and the old Soapbox.

I do suspect the inner blogging demons will have Kez back, at the very least in comments, but I share your frustration.

PS "Jeff should change his name to Uncle Ben, such is his knack for producing perfect results every time"

Very, very kind of you. But I didn't realise I was so easily won over, I've been grinning ever since I read it!

Will said...

Bill, the phrase was meant in the nicest possible way! ;) And I agree, that the other reasons are the ones that drove this decision. We'll never know what they are, I fear, but this just doesn't seem like Kezia at all.

Stephen, I agree with everythng you've just said. But I'm not ready for kids just yet.

Jeff, I'm really not sure... maybe I'm just so used to bloggery, maybe it's just such a part of my life now that I don't get what the cons may be. Or try to look for the pros either. It's just a sort of natural reflex these days and I hope that Kez feels the same and will be back.

And you're easily pleased. :D

stuart w said...

Kezia Dugdale makes some very good points in her criticism of the blogosphere, but Will’s retorts arguably trump them.

However, if Kezia thinks that her time could be better spent elsewhere and makes a plausible argument for doing so, then clearly that’s up to her.

I do wonder at her general point about “negativity”, though; perhaps that indicates that she’s insufficiently thick-skinned and thus in the wrong job?

But again perhaps she’s right in that blogosphere negativity is not worth the effort, and that negativity in others spheres would be outweighed by the benefits(!)

topher said...

I too am sorry Kezia is giving up. I too am SNP but want a labour party which is confident about its values so it can operate as a decent opposition and even a Scottish government post independence if the voters feel that way.

Blogging should not be incompatible with that. There are a few SNP nutters who rant a bit but mostly the arguments are well put and a lot better than some of what passes for public debate.

If Kezia has been advised not to blog, she needs to work out why she has had this advice. She reads like an honest person who is capable of thinking straight.