First Panel: Politics and Blogging

Participants: Senator Andrew Bartlett (AB), Prof John Quiggin (JQ) and Duncan Riley (DR).

Peter Black asked the panellists to reflect on the blogging revolution over the past five years.

JQ – Always wanted a website and feel the technology was “waiting to happen”. Desire of people to diarise is a fundamental urge of humanity. The growth of LiveJournal as a diary online, read by a vast collecftion of unknowns was something that many wanted without knowing they wanted it. All sorts of issues that have motivated peope to blog. Politics – the likelihood of mass change – is something that people want to reflect upon. We have so few newspapers here in Australia that blogs provide an avenue for an alternative perspective, and more critical debate. What’s interesting about political blogging is that the quality of some political blogging is as good as any critical analysis available in mainstream press.

Technically it hasn’t got easier to blog and with spamming on blogs, it is even harder to run a single author blog. Seems to be that multi-user blogs is the way of the future.

AB: Obviously I’ve followed the political blogs rather than knitting or food blogs (which are more popular) but what has been fascinating has been the social networking aspects of blogging. The viral aspect of blogs that feed the generation of ideas and corss-pollination of ideas is interesting and powerful – perhaps not as revolutionary as it is often portrayed but generally quite interesting in terms of peer influence over public issues and concerns. The other aspect with comments in the political arena is quite interesting.

To have people outside the sphere of mainstream media commenting and providing feedback on the manner in which politics and public policy is developed is a useful means of gauging genuine feedback on issues. Cross fertilisation of comments is useful in providing a forum for civil discourse and sustaining interest in public policy issues.

The less filtered mechanism of access to public opinion (ie: outside mainstream media) is the most interesting aspect of blogging – though a lot of it is dull and boring.

DR: Disagree that future of blogs is multi-user. Single author blogs will always remain strong. Interested that the best news stories coming out of Burma at the moment are bloggers.

In Australia, the media characterisation of blogging is vilifying. In the US, blogs are more respected than here. 250,000 MySpace users, 200,000 Facebook users in Australia. All have access to a blogging platform. Talking potentially to 3-4million Australians either blogging or having access to a blogging platform. In terms of political blogging, we have missed the tipping point in blogging in Australia in having a stand out blog which has captured the imagination of the population. We need to do more collectively to generate the excitement of blogs in Australia.

AB: Never quite understood Facebook<> but it is clearly a great way of getting people to connect with one another. What they should know and what they shouldn’t is somethng that probably teaches us all about how to communicate more effectively and more thoughtfully.

JQ: Net drain of time in blogging is significant, but the act of blogging has led to the development of a research profile in areas covered in blogs. Invitations to develop a research expertise in the blogosphere can act as a catalyst for academic research. Investment in getting involved in a debate through blogs is a way of maximising payoffs from the act of thinking critically about ideas.

[[Peter black asked DR if there is anything unique about Australians]]

DR: Australians have a unique voice. But as Australians we tend to be a little bit shy with personal thoughts on an open access blog – this isn’t a defining feature but it has held us back. On the good side of things, Australians tend to be more interested in writing about world issues in a way US citizens simple *don’t*. I’ve always been conscious of writing for a global audience. Australians tend to have an outward look on the world.

Question: Mainstream media influenced by comercial interests… To what extent is there a danger in the blogging world that commercial interests will have an effect on editorial opinion.

DR: Obviously some people can be influenced by commercial interests. Not many.

[[JJ added that QUT has questioned me in my critique of the university when I was employed by the institution]]

Question: Is there any value in using blogging as a mechanism for democratic practice?

AB: Possibly no votes in it. Surprised that more people don’t use blogging at local council level. Putting up authentic genuine Australian blogs is possibly too difficult. Advertising in YouTube is often done just to get media coverage. It is the networking aspect of Facebook that could be powerful for grassroots politics.

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