14 April 2009

Trouble brewing

It's amazing how things can snowball so rapidly. Iain Macwhirter's article generated a reasoned response from Yousuf and a rather hacked-off response from myself (backed up with a letter to the Herald) at a time when I'm still dealing with overwhelming feelings of shame that there are fewer than the customary six degrees of separation between myself and Derek Draper (incidentally, the other week, I was at a wedding reception with a former schoolmate of his: "a bit strange, even then" was the verdict).

Following that, Jeff wades in with a measured response, Malc links the whole issue back to the row that initiated it - namely, Drapergate - and Stephen produces a post celebrating the blogosphere's strengths. Meanwhile, Alex Massie performs the textbook fisking, going through the Macwhirter article and practically gutting it, taking it apart point by point, and responding with clear, well-presented arguments of his own.

All of these posts represent the good of the blogosphere, not the bad. All of them show that we are - get this - adult human beings capable of having an argument (not a row) and make clear points to justify our case.

Iain Macwhirter, however, disagrees with that analysis, and has dusted off his blog in order to say so. In so doing, he fulfils his own prophesy, playing the man rather than the ball, making no attempt to actually engage on the issues or the points raised and opting for comments that are frankly uncalled for, and unworthy of one of Scotland's sharpest political commentators.

I had initially wondered if Macwhirter was trying to use irony to prove a point. But his follow-up suggests that the joke has gone horribly wrong, or he was actually being serious. Which begs the question, what is he playing at?

Three ideas spring to mind.

Firstly, it's possible that despite what he says, he didn't actually expect the response, that he thought his article would pass by un-noticed or that we'd all line up to admit how rubbish we all are. Therefore, his response has something of the cornered animal about it, lashing out at his attackers. But that doesn't measure up: why would he make that mistake in the first place, and why would he waste such time and energy responding?

Secondly, it maybe that his article, its response and his follow-up were all attempts to prove a point about the blogosphere. In which case, it's possible that we're playing into his hands but even so, he's still doing more on his own part to show the blogosphere as a venomous pit of hatred in his post. The bloggers have simply taken him to task for a poor article based on faulty premises, and have shown themselves at their best. Macwhirter has seen the Draper/Guido row, seen the blogosphere as a place where people's darker impulses get a run out and is aiming to prove this. Even if he's the proof. But just a quick analysis of the Scottish blogosphere - where most of the reaction has been - shows that, in the main, we can all get along with each other (though there are exceptions). While Macwhirter thinks that we may be proving his point, the response by bloggers lends itself more to my argument that we do challenge inaccuracies and we do go after lapses of taste. That we are now placing Macwhirter under the microscope says more about his distorted view of bloggery than it does about us. So this may be what he's doing, but the blogosphere's response actually serves to undermine his point.

The last possibility is that he is eyeing up a presence on the blogosphere - and he would be a welcome addition were that the case. Yet he comes to it from an odd angle: while most of us just start blogging, and develop a following over time, he already has the status and could easily bring it online - if he gets involved fully in the blogging community, that's a mouth-watering prospect for all of us. But he's making all the mistakes that Draper - who is in a similar position - made: he has misjudged the blogosphere very badly, and there's a patronising tone that grates with us. Even now, he still doesn't get it: he thinks that by attacking Alex Massie he'll be welcomed into the club, just as Draper thought that by starting a flamewar with Iain Dale and Paul Staines, he could create a left-wing blogging movement that people could rally around. It doesn't work like that. He has misjudged his audience. If this is an entry into the blogosphere, and if Macwhirter has started as he means to go on, then strange as it sounds for one of Scotland's best political analysts, I don't envisage him making it into many Roundup. Could we have John Curtice instead?

You'll notice that I keep using superlatives to refer to Macwhirter. I used to believe them, but the way he's approached this subject is grim, and none of the possible conclusions regarding what he's up to leave his standing with me intact. I suspect a few other people feel the same, but he doesn't nned to worry about that: he has his wider readership.

And that's the scary thing: through his writings, they're getting a false impression of a creative activity. My name is on my site, because I'm proud of what I post and I want my name to be put to it. I've even used examples from it as part fo a portfolio which I submitted for a job I've applied for - that's how much I care about this. I get a buzz when I'm producing good work and I feel hacked off when it seems like I'm simply going through the motions. Could I - could any blogger - truly feel like that if this were so squalid?

That's why we need to respond. We put our hearts into this, all of us. It should not be undermined by two unhinged spin doctors, a right-wing gossip merchant and a bandwagon-jumping pundit.

I do not intend this post to be the response or the rebuttal to Macwhirter's assertions, merely my take on where we are now. The response is the blog itself, and the blogger. By being the positive side of the blogosphere, we will prove ourselves right in the end.


BellgroveBelle said...

I see that same Mr MacWhirter is masquerading as a blogger on Newsnight tonight...

Will said...

A thought occurs: has Mr Macwhirter survived the Herald's restructuring? When is that supposed to take place?

subrosa said...

I said earlier I though he was running scared Will. It's not in Ian MacWhirter's character to destroy a media in which he participates (or has done until the past few months).

You're so right when you say he could so easily become a top Scottish blogger if he had the right attitude and was open to criticism as most of us are. Oh how I wish I had the talents of 99% of my Scottish blogging colleagues.

Belle, I've just been listening to him as I've been reading Will's post. Blogger indeed. I think a few wee emails to Ian may just let him know the Scottish blogging opinion. Let me be the first.

Ted Harvey said...

Will, I share your sense disappointment at Iain Macwhirter’s really quite disastrous misreading of the blogsphere and bloggers. I’m uncomfortable with saying so, but have to agree that there are Draper-like overtones.

One of the early comments (pre the recent scandal) Ian Dale made about Draper when he ‘arrived’ was that Draper underestimated the degree of commitment on the part of bloggers and the high resource demands of trying to operate a worthwhile blog… I then recall that Iain Macwhirter’s attention to his own blog has been, to say the least, a bit light and periodic.

Given recent events at the Herald (and possibly fellow journalist Fraser’s seemingly successful re-positioning?) perhaps Iain did just get a bit panicky in amongst it all?

I’m just finding it all a bit sad and tawdry.

On a related point - I don't at all see or read that 'all bloggers' are being blackened by this episode. The only people asserting this seem to be the 'older conventional' type of main media writer or commentator (seemingly now joined by Iain Macwhirter).

When I listen to the man and wummin oan the street, at least the ones that know about the Internet, they have a solid grasp of the fact that Draper and his number 10 ponces are what they are - chancers from mainstream media and politics that goat fun oot.

I'll wager Will's money that any significant damage, whether at populist or more political-insider level, has been caused to the Labour Government, Gordon Brown personally and maybe the Labour Party.

Administrator said...

McWhirter isn't staff at Newsquest/Gannet. Therefore has no concerns along the forced renegotiation of contracts.

He is in fact one of only a couple of journo's who has been with the SH since it first rolled out ten years ago.