One blog post that caught my eye last week was Dave Osler's piece on blogging and journalism. The argument will be one familiar to most bloggers and politicos. Most daily and Sunday titles are in long term decline, as this corner of the Guardian's site illustrates. This means less ad revenue, less resources available for "proper" journalism, more stories recycled from press agencies or the internet, compounding the decline in the press.
Commenting on a piece by Andrew Sullivan, and tacitly accepting the argument that the explosion of political blogs is partially responsible for the decline in the mainstream press, Dave argues they cannot be substituted for it. Blogs do not have the connections or the resources to plug the gap. For example, the stories "broken" by the likes of Guido and Iain Dale on the right and Liberal Conspiracy on the left are small beer. The story might be different where localised blogs are concerned. Stoke-on-Trent's Pits 'n' Pots carries better political news and gossip than the local rag, for example.
But is it as grim as all that for the bourgeois press? It seems the more highbrow titles are doing all right, thank you very much. The Economist is up 5.6 per cent to 183,539 in UK. The Week and Spectator are circulating at all-time highs (source).
Anyway, what I want to look at is the relationship (or should that be tension?) between left blogs and the left press. Does the plethora of leftist commentary online unduly impact on the fortunes of the likes of The Socialist, Socialist Worker and the Weekly Worker? Beginning with last things first, many have commented on the WW's decline since left blogs have colonised its sect news niche. Why wait every Thursday for the latest SWP-related scoop when it's been on Socialist Unity and dozens of other left blogs for days? Its attempts to generate interest with interminable polemics with the AWL and their erstwhile ultra-leftist bedfellows in the ludicrous Campaign for a Marxist Party has probably driven more of its readers away than anything else. If Peter Manson's last article on John Rees's can-carrying is anything to go by, part of their solution is to go more in-depth and use more inside information.
For The Socialist and Socialist Worker, most of their circulation comes from street sales. In that respect both titles are indifferent to the effects of blogs. But can the same be said of their online presence? Their content is split between activist-generated news and reports on struggles the parties are involved with. But when it comes to articles on bigger issues, the reportage is not qualitatively different from what many bloggers do. Except one kind of commentary is backed up by a party imprimatur and the other isn't. But does it mean people are less likely to swing by, say, the CWI website than a wide array of blogs who offer their own take on the issues of the day? Without the visits figures for the Socialist Party and SWP's websites to hand it's hard to say. I do suspect though that the figures are not as high as they could be.
When I was in the cpgb we used to receive (and I assume comrades still do) a weekly email outlining the most popular articles from the previous issue. Without fail the letters were always a top destination. It remains a strength of the WW that it is always willing to use its post bag as an opportunity to critically engage with its readers and opponents, something that the letters in The Socialist and SW rarely do. Blogging as a general rule invites responses to what is offered, and plays a large part in developing the reputation and profile of a given blogger. As much as SWP-supporting trolls try to derail the comments at Socialist Unity, again generally the debates that take place there are sophisticated, involved and interesting.
I think my organisation and the rest of the left ought to try and learn from this. The AWL and Permanent Revolution allow for comments on their material, so why can't we? Comments received could become the basis for letters. Replies and discussions could build up an audience who are regularly reading our material and might even encourage others to do so as well. So what's there to lose?