Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 5 September 2011

Howard Jacobson should read more blogs before attacking them all

Booker Prize winner and Independent columnist Howard Jacobson has taken it upon himself to make some comments about blogs:

“When I wander off from the newspaper and into the world of blogs I’m a bit chilled.

What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison. It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid… and you do wonder if they don’t have anything better to do than attack people who have written articles. And you do wonder whatever happened to the idea of the critic; of the reviewer… people who have given their lives to honing the art of what they do.”

This is a ridiculous tirade. To assume all bloggers are one homogenous mass is a fundamental error. To follow this through imagine if I was to apply to same reasoning to his own profession of newspaper columnists.

I often have problems with the writings of Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens, Richard Littlejohn, Liz Jones, Jan Moir and others. Perhaps not every single column they have written, sometimes each of them will have interesting points to make but I am very sure I could quickly pick out several from each of them that I could characterise as poisonous, ignorant, malicious and stupid. And then I could use this as a stick with which to beat all columnists with and dismiss them all.

But that would be to dismiss the writings of people like Matthew Parris, Matthew D'Ancona, Danny Finkelstein, Steve Richards, Mary Ann Sieghart, Julian Glover and countless others whom I respect and admire and who usually produce thought provoking columns of a very high standard. So of course I would never do something as crass as this.

For Mr Jacobson to make a statement like this suggests that he has not read many blogs at all which for an intellectual such as him who doubtless considers himself very widely read is odd. I mentioned this on Twitter and sometime contributor to Dale & Co Louis Barfe sagely suggested that it is probably because he has only ever read blogs that people have pointed him towards that are being negative about his writing. Hence he would be getting a very distorted view of what is out there.

If Mr Jacobson gets pointed towards this article, in an attempt to balance his experiences, can I suggest that he tries the following blogs:

People's Republic of Mortimer (wonderful writing on politics and lots of other subjects from Lib Dem Alix Mortimer)
Scarlet Standard (relatively new blog from a long term committed Labour activist who is thought provoking and highly politically aware)
Ellee Seymour (Ellee has been active in Conservative politics and works in PR - she usually has an interesting take on stories of the day)

I would argue that all three of these bloggers on their best days are up there with the best of the columnists I cited above and there are countless others out there too political and non-political. The idea that it is only people who are being paid to write their opinions and analysis that are worth reading is I am sorry to say ill-informed elitist nonsense.

And I am sorry if that is construed as a poisonous comment!

This post was first published on Dale & Co.


asquith said...

I've met people who've glanced at Paul Staines, for example, and dismissed all blogs on the grounds that since the top celebrity blogger is worthless, that makes all blogs worthless.

A friend said this to me recently, and I argued with him along these lines. We both agree that our local is a nasty place that we wouldn't go to. Yet anyone who tried saying "I won't go to pubs if they're all like that" is missing out on some good times in decent pubs. No one, having had a shit meal in McDonalds, can validly dismiss restaurants, or say that sex is bad because they had a regrettable experience one time.

These members of the commentariat went unquestioned foor too long, speaking only to each other, and our choice was to marvel at their wisdom or sod off. Yet haven't we learnt, not only through phone hacking, but also through the eforts of Nick Davies ("Flat Earth News" is a favourite of mine), Ben Goldacre, and what-have-you, that the printed press is actually not very auuthoritative?

I'd like to read an expert who has read the raw data, which I can have access to myself if need be. Even an unbiased account is only a digest of the speech, policy statement, report, etc, and I may read the original online: not often, but that's due to my other commitments and laziness. Anyone who devoted more time could do more.

There definitely is a place for printed and paid-for comment (I buy The Economist weekly, but now have stopped buying other papers) yet I really struggle with the concept of, for example, paying for The Times online when I'm in a position to become well-informed whilst utterly ignoring it.

This whole concept of a group of brahmins raining down their wisdom on lesser beings, such as myself, is not one that I want to be part of. I respect people who are cleverer and better informed than me, but I'm actually more likely to find them on blogs.

TLDR: In the unlikely event of my ever speaking to Howard Jacobson I'd echo your observation that he is on the wrong blogs.

I do, however, like to wind myself up sometimes by reading the very worst specimens of the blogosphere. I think a lot of us do.

asquith said...

Spelling mistakes are the result of having a keyboard that I can't operate properly.

Oranjepan said...

Well said.

The range, depth and variety of the blogosphere is absolutely breathtaking, which can mean it is difficult to make sense of.

However the same cannot be said of the browsing habits of the consuming readership, which is really what defines each medium.

Almost without exception in the anarchic amateur blogosphere what people set out looking for they will find, and they will only find their prejudices and preconceptions confirmed.

That's very different from the way people have traditionally consumed the authoratitive mainstream press where people want their prejudices and preconceptions legitimised.

Sadly Jacobson's rant is nothing more than standard professional snobbery with a bit of paranoia sprinkled on top for good measure - it could easily have been said by an academic about the commercial media in the days when coffee shops began supplanting lecture halls as the place where political movements fought to gain a footing, and I have a vague recollection that it probably was.

But it's also something which some bloggers have become fond of saying about twitter...

What was remarkable about Jacobson's comment was the lack of self-awareness and unintended irony of it coming from someone who defines himself by his artistic expression - it's almost as if it was ghost-written by an editorial hack specifically for the purpose of defending their livelihood they make from an industry which recent events at their establishment (Johann Hari) and within the wider culture (hackgate) has shown to be less than completely reputable against an unruly upstart.