In the past, when people wanted to get an inside look at certain subjects or topics, they would rely on columnists in newspapers, specialist magazines or tell-all books. Now, however, they are increasingly looking toward what bloggers have to say.
Blogging really took off when some individuals started revealing the internal affairs of the companies they worked for. Readers were drawn to these insiders for a number of reasons: The company in question was very controversial, such as Wal-Mart, and people hoped to find some dirt that they could use against the company. Or the corporation was the envy of many in the same industry, e.g., Microsoft, and they hoped to get their hands on some inside information they could use to their own advantage.
Soon, we saw the rise of political blogging. In the United States, for example, some political bloggers have become celebrated pundits with a lot of clout – not only among their readers, but in politics. Dan Rather, of CBS News, lost his job as a result of concerted blogging action.
But with the rise in status and power of political bloggers, one cannot help but try to define what political blogging should be all about: Should political bloggers be impartial or driven by their affiliation with a certain party?
The most powerful group of political bloggers in Canada is the Blogging Tories, an association of conservative-minded bloggers, including members and officials of the Conservative Party of Canada. Not only is it the one blogging group that has seen the fastest growth, it is also the group that is often credited with swaying public opinion in favor of the Conservatives in the last federal election in Canada, which the Conservatives won. After all, the Blogging Tories website does claim that its affiliated blogs are collectively viewed by 30,000 people every day.
A recent study of Canadian political blogs has shown, though, that most partisan bloggers seem to be missing the point of what it is they are supposed to do. According to the study, which examined conservative, liberal and social-democratic bloggers, most of them do not write positive stories about their own parties, but, instead, spend most of their time and energy attacking, criticizing and denigrating the leaders and politicians of other parties. In short, the Canadian political blogosphere is filled with a lot of negativity.
The study authors apparently believe that it would strengthen political discourse if bloggers used their power for good, rather than “evil”. If this is, indeed, their general conclusion, one would have to agree. As a matter of fact, I would go even further and posit that a good and effective political blogger should not be affiliated with any specific political blogging group, but remain independent and as non-partisan as possible – despite, perhaps, being a member of a political party in “real life”.
Some of the most interesting blogs I have come across are not affiliated with any particular group, and they dish it out left, right and center. Just as in newspaper columns and op-ed pieces, you tend to find real gems in those independent blogs.
By contrast, a group like the Blogging Tories generally produces tons of posts every single day, but most are of an “incestuous” nature: Bloggers congratulate each other and slap each other’s back for having written one or the other “great post”. Dissent – with other bloggers or the Conservative Party – is strictly prohibited, as is even the slightest trace of criticism of the Conservative Party. One Blogging Tory, therefore, recently terminated his affiliation with the group and has gone independent.
When bloggers simply repeat the same old mantra and follow the “leader” like sheep, the blogosphere deteriorates into an “echo chamber”. As such, it will never be able to compete with the mainstream media on an equal footing. Like any good columnist, bloggers need to be able to analyze issues from all angles and sides, even if this means that sometimes they will have to speak up against their own party.
Am I particularly fond of liberals? If you have read any of my columns or blog posts, you’ll know that liberals and I aren’t exactly friends, but as a blogger and political pundit, I am not afraid to write something positive about liberals if the situation warrants it. I don’t believe for a minute that Conservatives are infallible, and when they do mess up, I feel it’s my duty as a blogger and pundit to speak up. Blogging Tories, on the other hand, are not afforded that freedom of speech and thought: Voice any concern that might make the group or the party appear in a less than favorable light, and they’ll kick you out. That’s what happened to me about a year ago when I hypothesized that Belinda Stronach (a member of the Conservative Party who had switched to the Liberal Party at the time in an attempt to prevent the Liberal government from being censured) had been a “Liberal mole or infiltrator” all along. Within literally four or five hours of my posting this, the powers-that-be at Blogging Tories removed my site from their blogroll, and I became the subject of collective name-calling.
My little theory did not even involve any real criticism of the Conservative Party; it was rather a reflection of how low the Liberals would stoop in order to cling to power. Still, it was perceived as a slight, and my Blogging Tories membership was history (and I am still convinced that my theory is spot-on).
If you look at other blogging groups, such as Liberal Bloggers or Blogging Dippers (bloggers dedicated to the New Democrats [NDP]), you’ll find that they are more open and diverse in how they treat certain issues. They, too, have been found guilty by the authors of the study I mentioned above of mostly criticizing others, instead of singing the praises of their own respective parties, but overall, they are more tolerant of dissent and even outright criticism within their own ranks.
Nevertheless, political bloggers should be independent and provide impartial (to such extent as is possible and/or reasonable) analysis of current events. If readers wanted only the usual spin, they might just as well turn to certain newspapers or news channels – or even to the political parties themselves. Clearly, though, this is not what makes blogs attractive. What does, however, is the input and views of average people, like you and me, who take today’s issues and problems and present them in a way that, hopefully, may enlighten others.