I didn’t participate in this year’s Total Politics 2009 Best Blogs Poll, because I couldn’t get interested in ranking without the constraints of a set of criteria, and none of the vote-soliciting bloggers proposed owt. I also came over a bit Marxist – “any club that would have me as a member…”
Call this shutting the stable door, but here are some criteria I’d have brought to bear if I had got my act together.
Beyond political values I have two particular influences – in the areas of effects and, since this is political blogging and moods run firey, conduct, respectively.
Stephen Downes (Canadian online learning theorist and national-level advisor) rightly rejects the usual metrics for blogging and proposes an alternative set which he encountered in Douglas Wort’s Journal of Museum Education paper. I would like to adopt/adapt some of these too because I’m only interested in political blogs from which I learn, and learning about politics should be nurtured as a deliberate act which involves your readers taking responsibility for what they know and what they value.
Tim O’Reilly called for bloggers to collaborate on a bloggers’ code of conduct and proceeded to start the ball rolling himself, which was received with a fair amount of scepticism, even opprobrium but which, while I reject much of it, had more than a lot good in it. The most exciting part is the approach to dealing with trolls: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Much good came out of O’Reilly’s brave initiative.
Then there are some other criteria of my own (note that this blog doesn’t fare so well and I wouldn’t vote for it).
So, on to my list of desirable qualities, which I’ll turn into criteria against which to rank political blogs:
- Is secularist and democratic.*
- Is transparent about its values.
- Engages a diverse public.
- Stimulates interactions between its readers.
- Addresses vital and relevant needs or topics for its readership.
- Catalyses action.
- Links existing groups or spheres to one another.
- Respects and nurtures the reasoning faculties of its readers: is accurately informative with sources; flags gaps or areas of controversy; avoids take-my-word-for-it assertions; avoids bombast and inflammatory rhetoric; causes readers to work hard; scaffolds this work.
- Exploits the blogging media in creative ways which distinguish the blog from established media.
- Understands the difference between civility and decency; deals decisively but gracefully – even creatively – with recidivist (abusive, spiteful, demeaning, hateful, bigotted) commenters; defends other commenters against these kinds of attacks; is not – intentionally or otherwise – gladiatorial.
- Allows commenter anonymity and pseudonymity; allows commenters to advance opinions online that they would not be able to advance in person
- Keeps faith with comment; values its commenters as a community
- Maintains confidentiality
- Has a sense of humour
All for now.
Update: I would like to add “Is informative” to my list of criteria. The campaign around Vestas has me realise afresh how flimsy most political blogging (particularly green blogging, sadly) is in this respect. I have trawled widely and shallowly (acting like most web readers) for a reassertion of the environmental credentials of wind turbines, for an explanation of why it is an environmental good to site a factory like this on the Isle of Wight, and for a discussion of our planning laws. In vain. I’ve been trying to research a post on it for ages now, but the info is buried. Being informative is fundamental to political blogging – all commentary and analysis is predicated on it. That’s why I’ll try to finish it.
*Vegan, feminist, socialist, environmentalist – but there is, after all, a point to political opposition and it wouldn’t do to only vote for blogs whose politics you share – even if I could find them.