Bits and Pieces

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Blogging in the UK

Much has been made of Iain Duncan Smith's comments in Saturday's Guardian about the future of British blogging (h/t Wizbang). Smith claims that we are about to see in the UK the same 'revolution' we have seen in recent years in the US - and, as in the US, it will be the right who benefit.

I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong - as a UK native I'd be more than happy to see my hobby take on a more professional status; to be in a position in which I can affect the political landscape of my nation through nothing more than sitting here typing while watching the FA Cup on TV. Bring it on. Alas, I'm not confident.

Bloggers in the UK, in my estimation, are at least 2 years behind the US. 2 years ago US bloggers couldn't have dreamed they'd one day have the power to bring down Dan Rather; to humiliate Jordan Eason. Politicians on the left would have scoffed at the idea that they could raise millions - millions - of dollars by running ads in the blogosphere. Nobody would have expected that, 2 years later, some of us would be doing this as a career.

That's the way it is today in the UK. We - UK bloggers - don't have anything like the power over the MSM that exists in the US. The reason for this, of course, is that nobody here knows what the hell a blog is. I couldn't tell you how many times - in job interviews, especially - I've been met with blank stares when asked what my interests are and I respond with 'I write a blog.' It's getting better, but it's an uphill struggle converting the masses.

The other reason I'm not optimistic about the future of British blogging is that we have a vibrant media - vastly more vital than that of the US. The only sound we hear today from the US print media is a death rattle - the final breaths of a medium outmoded, usurped from its niche by the more responsive TV - and the ubiquitous, almost omnipresent Internet.

But it isn't entirely the fault of the newspapers that they are reduced to partisan sniping and desperate drives to retain their dwindling reader base. Part of the reason is simple geography. The US is a considerably larger chunk of land than the UK - making it nigh on impossible for a truly national newspaper to exist. Instead we find regional journals - usually named for the city at the centre of their range - controlling portions of the country. The New York Times; The Washington Post etc - followed on their heels by much smaller local papers covering a county or town. It isn't cost effective to market nationally. Instead, they preside over their little fiefdoms like feudal lords. Of course, the advent of Internet news has enabled these lords to reach a truly national market for the first time - unfortunately it has loosed their stranglehold over the fiefdoms.

The UK, however, is more than compact enough to allow national newspapers to thrive. While the Times is correctly named The London Times, it arrives on newstands in Birmingham and Manchester at the same time as it arrives in Westminster. I can go to my local newsagent just outside Manchester at 6AM and take my pick of any of 20 or so national newspapers. If I'm in the mood for an international paper I can go for the Wall Street Journal Europe, USA Today or the Herald Tribune. Whatever my tastes, whatever my political views, there will be something for me on the newstand.

Pleased as I am that I have such wide choices in my reading, I worry that the blogophere over here will not as readily break through into the national consciousness.

Unless... I wonder what skeletons Rupert Murdoch has in his closet. Hmmm...

Others blogging: Wizbang, DailyKos, Instapundit, Powerline
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