The real long-term value of blogs in politics is very much an open question – in many ways a living experiment in progress. We’re all finding out the answers and exploring the solutions as we go along. What I wish to explore is how things have gone to date and what can be done to increase the chances of things developing in a way which maximises the potential benefits for political processes.
The aim of this paper is not so much a monologue of my views or ‘findings’ about politics and blogging, but an outline (and hopefully some discussion) about my own developing involvement with blogging – writing, reading and corresponding - from a number of perspectives:
-as it relates to politicians themselves;
-as it relates to people interested in improving the effectiveness of political processes for themselves and others
-as it relates to people wanting to enable greater understanding of political processes and issues
-as some degree of solution or ‘antidote’ to the dismal level and nature of information about political matters available through the (increasingly narrow) mainstream media
It is reasonable to argue that blogs can bring significant benefits to our political processes and people’s engagement with and understanding of political and policy issues. However, how real and how influential these benefits may end up being is very debateable. One question that needs to be answered is whether attempts should be made to crystalise some specific goals for the benefits blogging can bring and some specific processes for trying to achieve these goals.
The infinite and ever-changing variety of online communications tends to encourage a feeling that it is futile and possibly even ideologically objectionable to some to attempt to ‘steer’ or shape any particular mode of online interaction. Whilst there is no doubt that something as organic as the Internet will always evolve in a variety of uncontrollable and unpredictable ways, this does not mean that it is impossible or pointless to attempt to be proactive.
Some key questions that will be explored are:
1. How widespread is blogging by politicians overseas and in Australia and what styles of blogging are being used?
2. What are the positives and negatives than can be drawn from the early examples of blogging by MPs?
3. Should MPs be encouraged to blog and/or to engage with other relevant blogs and online activities?
4. Do or can blogs help address some of the current failings of the political process, such as:
a. lack of availability of information;
b. improving the level of public engagement with and understanding of political issues
c. minimal diversity of opinions
d. secrecy, lack of accountability and the ‘dumbing down’ of political discourse through existing mainstream channels
e. the mainstream media’s treatment of politics as a combination of soap opera or pseudo-sporting contest
5. Should efforts be made to develop an informal set of aims or goals for political blogging (across the ideological spectrum) that may assist in maximising the possible benefits of blogging for political processes.
Some tentative answers to these questions will be posed by drawing on existing politically oriented blogs (including the relatively small number by elected MPs) and feedback from writers and readers of these blogs.