© David Shrigley

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS POST FOLLOWS  A COUPLE OF OTHERS ON (PHOTO)BLOGGING, HERE AND HERE.

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The 2011 Orwell Prize, the British awards for political writing, has just announced its longlists. The awards are into their 18th year, yet blogging was only recognised as a form of political writing in 2009. Here’s the blog longlist.

Upon the news, Charlie Beckett at POLIS chose to reflect on the health of blogging.

On one hand Beckett says that some good bloggers have bowed out (presumably not replaced instantly by new bloggers, quality-wise) but on the other acknowledges the slew of very good, very relevant and very free blogged opinion and commentary. He also applauds former mainstream media (MSM) journalists using the blog format as one tool in their kit. Overall, he thinks blogging is still in transition and “much of it below par.”

While I agree with most of Beckett’s points, I don’t agree with his conclusion. I think he is bored by the increased specialisation of blogs:

Everyone’s at it. The market’s gone way down the long tail with very specialist blogs … where people are addressing a very niche audience (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those narrow subject niches are rather capacious in terms of readers).

When Beckett refers to the market, I take it he is talking of activity and development of ideas, not solely about money exchange.

If Beckett is right about blog proliferation (I think he is) then we can conclude two things. Firstly, that readerships are getting cosier with their blogs of choice and selecting from an overall wider choice. Secondly, bloggers are splintering into niche next to niche to good effect; one’s subject matter does not dilute the others, but complements it.

The upshot? Bloggers and blog-readers have increased in relevance to one another.

Beckett sees this preponderance from the other side too. The mind-share (of readers) has been, and continues to be, a premium commodity for writers. For eyes-on-screens, bloggers are not only competing against MSM but against each other too.

Original content will secure those eyes.

TOO MUCH OPINION?

Beckett weighs the reporting of new facts against the “surplus supply” of opinion.

There is a so much professional and personal comment around on MSM (Comment Is Free) as well as independent forums like Mumsnet or Facebook that opinion is now so cheap (free) that it’s has lost its value in the market place of public debate. New ideas and new facts suddenly have more currency than views.

Readers don’t mind if content – containing new ideas and new facts – is written by a journalist or blogger, professional or amateur, as long as it is proven reliable and informed.

So now it seems the expectation of a blog is to be not only specialised (niche) but also to carry exclusive material (unique). That is a tall order, yet the long and engorged tail may suggest it is already being done.

Certainly, blogs need to do more than merely point.

Finally, Beckett says that here in America, we might still be hung up on a difference between bloggers and journalists. I wasn’t aware.

In the States I am amazed that there is a still a debate about bloggers v journalists. In the UK we appear to have moved on from that rather sterile argument, although our blogosphere does not have the power of the American versions.

Beckett calls the argument sterile because it is clear that if blog content is bogus, people won’t read. Conversely, if content is good and the copy is lyrical then readership follows, no matter who you are. (This logic may apply more to the act of reading more than, say, watching cable news where nonsense seems to dominate.)

“UNICHE”

You heard it here first folks. Uniche, meaning the required combination of niche subject matter and unique content, might be the tricky combination required by bloggers to survive remain relevant in the future. It’s not merely good enough to have your own area, you have to deal with its issues with fresh information and shower it over readers in timely, tasty morsels.

Whadd’ya reckon? Uniche? Does the wordplay work?

Uniche. Also the feminine plural of unico:

Adjective: unico m. (f. unica, m plural unici, f plural uniche)
1. only, sole, one, single
2. unique, unparalleled, unequalled

ONE MORE THING: BEN’S PRISON BLOG

Incidentally, one of the longlisted blogs for the 2011 Orwell Blog Prize is Ben’s Prison Blog. “The only blog by a serving British prisoner,” as claimed by author Ben Gunn, looks “stupidity and ignorance in the eye whilst attempting to inject some neurons into the criminological debate.”

I wrote about Gunn’s position as a pioneer incarcerated blogger a couple of years ago when one of his letters containing content deemed by the prison governor as “interesting enough to be published on the internet” was intercepted and not delivered. (More here)

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