Bloggers prepare for electoral power (SBP – 9th July 2006)

In light of the Dáil break and the fact that we are within a year of the next General Election, I revisit the superb Irishelection.com in today’s Sunday Business Post:

With the next general election less than a year away, the main political parties have already begun to stake their claim to seats and votes. However – while candidates will face the traditional scrutiny from newspapers, television and radio – wannabe TDs will have to contend with a new medium: the blog.

Irishelection.com is an Irish political blog created to give coverage to election issues.

Created by UCD student Cian O’Flaherty, the site is becoming an increasingly popular source of comment and analysis as talk of the impending election grows.

Blogging was almost unknown in the last election in 2002, but, by the end of the 2004 US Presidential elections, it had proved itself as a vital campaigning tool and source of independent debate.

In simple terms, a blog allows anyone, technically minded or otherwise, to create and upload content online. Irishelection.com is a group blog, which means that any number of people can contribute content; the site currently lists 48 writers with nearly 400 articles published so far.

‘‘It’s an attempt to get Irish bloggers together in one site, collate their different views and ideas on the forthcoming election and provide a one stop shop for those not au fait with blogging to pick up some independent commentary,” said O’Flaherty.

‘‘For me it’s a chance to air views that otherwise might not get an outlet. Most of the major interest and help has come from bloggers of a similar style who are blogging about politics from a personal perspective.

‘‘We get to take issues that matter to us and explore them: it’s that empowerment that sets blogs apart.”

O’Flaherty started blogging in 2005 on his own site, Progressive Ireland, and quickly found a community of young politically-minded writers, each with different views on how the country should be run.

With the 2007 election coming up, he decided to create Irishelection.com as an online hub for debate and discussion.

Contributors are free to discuss any topic at any length from any political perspective, with readers able to comment and discuss articles too.

‘‘The website has been a great success by my own standards.

“We have generated a lot of regular readers and we have generated a lot of varied feedback,” said O’Flaherty.

‘‘Some posts do tend to attract a lot of comments and others not. The site is still finding its voice and, on some issues, there has been really interesting conversation.

‘‘The most popular week or two was in the aftermath of the statutory rape debacle. A lot of quality posts were put out and a lot of the commentators made some really good points.”

Political blogging is not confined to the commentators; many politicians and candidates have set up their own sites. Given that blogs have been so widely embraced by young people, does this present an opportunity for politicians to re-engage with the youth vote? O’Flaherty suggested that, while blogging helped, it was far from enough to tackle apathy among young people.

‘‘I hope that blogging is only the tip of the iceberg because, if that’s all political parties can muster, then we can give youth up for dead. Action and the ability to affect change are the really important aspect of engagement.

‘‘If youth feels it can engage, act and change, then it will get involved with issues and agendas.

“Blogs written by normal people not living inside the narrative-driven structures of normal politics are an element of getting people back involved.

‘‘Parties have to show a commitment to driving public debate and public reasoning, not the faux public debate of the few who get heard.”

Whether Irish bloggers can influence the next general election to the extent of their American counterparts remains to be seen. O’Flaherty was cautious about the influence his site would have.

‘‘The Irish political system is a creature of habit and less open to new ideas than other systems. The old tried and tested routes are going to be adopted to a large degree, and blogging will be – at best – on the fringes, reaching a smaller number of more dedicated voters looking to expand on issues.”

While perhaps unlikely to become a defining influence in 2007, Irishelection.com is sure to be the scene of many heated discussions over the coming months. 

11 Comments

  1. I don’t share your enthusiasm for aggregator type blogs like irishelection.com – I think the power in political blogs comes from a single opinionated voice who is very clear on their political ideals. In the US, it’s the dailykos and redstate blogs which capture the majority of traffic, and neither of those blogs tolerate dissent from their political leanings. Irishelections type blogs are interesting to an extent, but doesn’t really capture who people visit blogs imo.

    Reply

  2. Administrator 09/07/2006 at 06:51

    I can appreciate that, but I feel there is a big place for Irishelection.com; while in many cases it is an aggregator it is also an original source of discussion; it’s all well and good having sites with a single voice or political stance but the idea behind places like IE.com is to encourage discussion and debate… it’s always good to be exposed to a multitude of opinion and to have your own challenged; if anything Irishelection.com can lead readers onto idividual writers blogs they like.

    I do think the one biggest issue with political discourse on the internet is that it’s too easy to ignore the views you disagree with, rather than actually challenge them

    Reply

  3. Did you hear Conall O Morain cite your SBP piece in Today FM’s Sunday Business Show and basically dismiss the collective impact of Irish bloggers on the upcoming election? From the sound of his dismissive attitude, he hasn’t seen your blog, Slugger’s or IrishElection.com

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  4. Administrator 09/07/2006 at 16:31

    Unfortunately not; I must try and get my hands on it; is it podcasted or repeated?

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  5. I don’t think Conall podcasts his stuff–I’d be surprised if he listened to podcasts. Perhaps we should create a special podcast shout-out to him and watch what happens when ego-surfing puts the episode on his radar scope.

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  6. The Sunday Business Show can be heard on http://www.todayfm.com and can also be received by podcast.

    ‘Ego-surfing’ – great phrase but the reference also comes up under ‘Sunday Business Show’ searches.

    Thanks for listening!

    Conall

    Reply

  7. Administrator 12/07/2006 at 03:16

    Thanks for dropping by Conall, and for the information on the show; I’ll give it a listen now.

    Reply

  8. Administrator 12/07/2006 at 03:32

    Just after a quick listen and I’d like to make a few comments on it;
    Frankly the debate on the influence blogging will have on the election is split amongst bloggers too so there’s no point arguing in that, we’ll just have to wait and see; I think it will have a tiny influence but anything could happen and that may change. If I gave my opinion I think it will be quite limited in its effects but that all depends on the next 12 months; I’d agree with what Cian had to say that politicians are stuck in their ways and won’t change quickly.
    It’s good to know that it’s being talked about all the same, and not just amongst the blogging community.

    On another note, your guest (was it Ronan) was wrong about DTT and about DVB-H; the DTT trial will run from the Autumn for two years, not from summer-autumn… DVB-H is also for handheld tv devices, some mobile phones have it built in too but there are many handheld devices that are exclusively for DVB-H, in other words it is not just for mobile phones (in fact most mobile phones broadcast TV over the GSM network, such as 3′s offerings)

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  9. Blogging is for the informed. Have a look at the REAL rates of PC ownership and more importantly online access. They are really surprisingly low. Then ask what online is being used for…..so few people know,care or could find a blog…They will also ask who is behind a blog – no telling if it is a front for either PD or Shinner? The M50 toll, SSIA money and the hospital AE units will win or lose this election. Not blogs.

    The guest who was referring to the DTT trial was Willie O’Reilly, the boss of TodayFM, who is party to the trial….I can only assume that he knows exactly what’s going on….

    I thought that TV on mobile phones was mentioned by Dr. Ena Prosser, the other guest….I keep raising the issue on the programme that we may end up being the only country in the world who will have a PC/mobile license if we watch our TV (hence need for a license) on either PC or mobile. Time to scrap the license, do away with a wasteful collection system, acknowledge that there are many no-go areas for license collectors (I’d love to know the success rate in some areas of Limerick for example),admit that the collection rate is woeful, stop wasting money on appalling radio ads – (do you know ANYONE who was up in court for not paying their TV license?), assume that everyone watches TV, assume that we all love, want and need RTE and just fund them from the tax collection system and get on with it.

    We used to have a radio license and a window tax as well…..sounds funny now!

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  10. Administrator 12/07/2006 at 04:06

    Fair point on net penetration etc.; I’ve never suggested that blogs will become an issue but a source of debate; in that sense they could have the effect of the normal media on things.
    Transparency is an issue, of course but most bloggers show their true colours quick enough and those that cannot be trusted don’t gain much of a following.

    re: the Trial, I’m not sure what trial Mr. O’Reilly is involved in; I know Today FM took part in the DAB trial, I assume they will in the DTT trial too.. the DTT trial is running from august until 2008 though, check here for more.

    I agree about the issues on the licence however i’ve looked into the issue and been told by An Post that as 99% of homes have licences already they won’t really need to enforce it on PC users watching streaming content (they probably wouldn’t be able to trace it anyway).
    I’ve so far had no responce from the DCMNR on DVB-H; as I’m sure you’re aware mobile phones are exempt from the TV licence (any device that is used for phone conversations and that uses the GSM network to convey content)… however DVB-H devices are different; by the sounds of things you’ve already gotten an official answer and the whole “licenced when indoors, not when outside” is a possible scenario… the only issue is that as a TV licence covers households you cannot enforce it in a public space.
    Perhaps they could change it so that people register devices they own to a licence… who knows.
    I do know that the TV licence is here to stay as it provides RTÉ with 50% of its income, not to mention the money available to other broadcasters. Of course RTÉ would probably survive without the licence fee but most of its better programming would not.
    At the moment the success rate (apparently) is 99%, so they’re not doing too badly on collections.

    Reply

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