State of Ozplogistan

This post by Gary Sauer-Thompson on the decline of solo political blogging prompted me to take one of my periodic looks at the state of political blogging in Australia. I used the blogroll at Club Troppo, which is as close to a representative sample as I’ve seen, to get an idea of some trends. Comparisons are to my recollection which may be inaccurate

First up, there’s no doubt about the rise of group blogs. Although there are still plenty of individual bloggers (in fact the number is increasing, I think) group blogs are clearly much more important now than in the past. Most of the individuals who were blogging back in 2002 or 2003 have either given up or joined a group.*

The other striking feature of the Troppo list is the extent to which it’s dominated by the left and centre-left. Troppo uses the classifications Leftish, Centrist, Moderate Right and Right Wing Death Beast, but most of the Centrists could be counted on to prefer either Labor or the Greens to the Liberals or Nationals most of the time. I count 50 Leftish blogs, 24 Centrist, 10 Moderate Right and 16 RWDBs. What’s more, a large proportion of the latter two groups of bloggers have either shut down or shifted away from political topics. No doubt there have been some new entrants who haven’t been counted, but there are no obvious (to me) omissions of major political bloggers in the list (feel free to point out examples).

This is a complete reversal of the situation when I began blogging in 2002. At that time, the number of leftish Australian bloggers could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand (Rob Schaap, Rob Corr and Tim Dunlop are the only examples that come to mind, again feel free to remind me) while (IIRC) there were more active rightwing blogs than there are today, reflecting the upsurge in what used to be called “warblogging” that took place after the September 11 attacks. The obvious reason for the shift is the fact that, much more than general public discussion in Australia, blog debates have been focused on issues that have gone badly for the right, such as the Iraq war, global warming and the Bush Administration. A few bloggers have bitten the bullet and changed their views on these issues (for example, Ken Parish was a global warming sceptic until the evidence became overwhelming) but the more common response has been to close up shop.

A more recent development has been the adoption of blogs by the commercial media, who first ignored and then derided the whole thing. Even a year ago, the MSM was mostly keeping its distance, but now all the major newspaper sites I visit have blogs, and often lots of them. They’re guaranteed a big audience by their location on highly-trafficked sites, but they seem pretty mediocre taken as a group (MRD alert

Those are my thoughts. Comments, criticism and prognostications for the future are most welcome.

* I’ve had two bob each way on this, having joined the international group blog Crooked Timber a while back, but maintaining a solo identity for Australian stuff

14 thoughts on “State of Ozplogistan

  1. “A more recent development has been the adoption of blogs by the commercial media, who first ignored and then derided the whole thing”.

    John, I find it hard to see how they could be called “blogs” and would suggest commercial media should not be able get away with it, without a fight. Maybe a new term could be coined to express their pathetic attempt to take over the blogosphere. Any suggestions?

    A ‘smog’ comes to mind, then ‘dog’ and ‘hog’.

  2. It is a well known made up fact that lefties have more time to blog because they are all in universities and the public service and don’t have much to do.Evidenced by the traffic between 9 and 5. These people barely have time to get coffee!

  3. Was Chris Sheil’s Backpages up and running in 2002? If not, it must have been soon after. Doesn’t take the tally onto a second hand, but I thought it might be worth a mention.

  4. iirc backpages didn’t get up and running until mid to late 03. but oddly enough sheil was part of a group blog (troppo, no less) before he went solo.

  5. Most of the group blogs are sponsored by someone eg the Labor Party, a university, an interest group…blah blah blah de blah. Independent ones like this one (even though most of the time it’s beyond my mental capacity), Gandhi and Anonymous Lefty are the cleverest – biased opinion is so yesterday!

    Prof Quiggin, you have this remarkable blog, but you also have an opportunity to write in the Fin. It would be interesting to know where you get the most readers.

  6. There is a class of aussie blogging which hasn’t really been identified by Club Troppo which is the satirical/humorous. Probably because there aren’t that many of them in Australia. The Chaser comes to mind. Most of these sorts of blogs, for example the Chaser and the Onion in America (not blogs I suppose), are high maintenance, sometimes commercial and have a paid staff. There’s only one solo satirical Australian blog I’m aware of that has a real profile, blogrolled in Australia and internationally (Unspeak, OneGoodMove) and that’s Values Australia which as far as I know is a solo effort that ranges from short posts to longer pieces, a variety of styles, mostly left-leaning, and is updated regularly. Troppo has mentioned it a couple of times in the weekly roundups.
    But as Chrisl suggests, it’s got to be hard for a person with a real job to do on their own everything that has to be done. It’s not just writing. There’s research. There’s all the maintenance and linking etc. to build the profile.
    The good thing about group blogs, apart from the variety of opinion, is the division of labour.
    The problem with group blogs could be an elitism that I imagine I see creeping in, the competition to be one of the star bloggers, sometimes just too many posts on one day, as well as potentially a tendency to merge to more of a consensus position.
    So hail to the go-it-aloners!

  7. Wot Chrisl said – most righties can’t really afford the time to blog. I’m a hell procrastinator and reading blogs and commenting on them is my sin. Evidence – Gareth Parker – went from student to employed journo, Tim Blair has Mistress Andrea and a tribe of RWDB eyes assisting but has taken job promotions, Chrenkoff decided to quit for work reasons, and on and on. It’s basically the same reason why Lefties have demonstrations and other activities that public sevants, students and unionists can get too, while the silent majority and RWDB types are working and getting on with life.

  8. Most of the individuals who were blogging back in 2002 or 2003 have either given up or joined a group.

    Blogging is hard, group blogging is easier.

    I recently teamed up with a couple of blogging friends, the reasoning was simple. Group blogging is easier. More content, more comments and more readers in once place.

    Group blogs have a signifigant advantage in attracting and keeping readers over individual bloggers.

    IMO, the trend towards group blogging will only expand. That said, there is an attraction in having something that is only yours. I reckon more people will do what you’ve done, take a bet each way.

    Perhaps the most successful Australian political blogs will soon be those like Daily Kos, that manage to mesh both the group and the individual blog in a single location.

  9. I’m willing to bet that come 2008, assuming that the lefty bloggists have had the desired effect by their reckoning, that the left/right blogging balance will start to tip the other way. Squeaky wheels.

  10. Certainly a convincing argument in Chrenkoff’s case. Keeping track of all that good news from Iraq would be a full time job in itself!

  11. Many of the issues dear to the left such as health, education and social security just don’t apply to the right.These things tend to be self-funded by a large sector of society. While you are waiting for that new school building, your child could go from prep to high-school. Or you could die on a hospital waiting list.There is more security in a fund-manager’s port-folio than a government pension.
    Better to work a few hours overtime than waste time complaining about lack of services.

  12. Don’t forget that Chrenkoff was employed by Liberal QLD Senator Brett Mason at the time he was blogging, and neither Senator Mason nor Chrenkoff ever responded to my questions about whether Chrenkoff blogged on taxpayer-funded work time, or indeed whether the blogging was part of his work description. As I understand it, Chrenkoff is now climbing the slippery pole within the party backrooms.

    Scratch the surface of a few full-time right-wing bloggers and I suspect you will find many similar “win-win” financial accomodations. Don’t forget those PayPal buttons and fully-funded “advisory” media gigs either! I don’t buy that crap about right-wingers being too busy working. Also don’t forget that groups like the Pentagon readily admit that cyber activity is an important part of their PsyOps agenda: my favourite neo-con pro-war blog, Iraq The Model, is a perfect example.

    Personally I have to say that blogging independently while holding down a fulltime job and bringing up three kids has taken a huge toll on my time, my energy and even (dare I say it) my mental state over the past three years. The subject matter (Howard, Bush, Blair and their stinking war) is infinitely depressing. I do it because… er… well, because I have to do SOMETHING about the crap that is going on these days.

    I am fortunate to have a job which can be done while scanning news stories and occasionally hitting the BLOG THIS button, but obviously that is time which could have been more profitably invested elsewhere. I would argue that left-wingers are not primarily motivated by a profit agenda, whereas right-wingers tend to lose interest pretty quickly if there is not a buck in it for them.

  13. chrisl:

    Better to work a few hours overtime than waste time complaining about lack of services.

    Your argument is only valid on the basis of pure self-interest.

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