Philobiblon: Book Review: <i>2005: Blogged, Dispatches from the Blogosphere</i>

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Book Review: 2005: Blogged, Dispatches from the Blogosphere

Many newspapers put out a "best of the year" compendium, a book usually released just in time for the Christmas market. So it is a mark of the growing maturity of the blogosphere that this year the British component has its first such compilation, 2005: Blogged. Edited by Tim Worstall, of the eponymous blog (you'll often have seen it referenced here), it covers from November 2004 to October this year, an eventful enough period that covers the US election, the London bombings and even a royal wedding.

So how does it stack up? Is the best of the British blogosphere starting to seriously rival the traditional media outlets in quality of information, analysis and writing? I decided to put 2005: Blogged to the test, and a tough test, comparing it to The Bedside Years: The Best Writing from the Guardian 1951-2000.

There are some areas in which, you might be surprised to hear, the blogosphere wins out - offers something the Guardian compilation does not.

The blogosphere doesn't in general, have to worry about offending "the general public" - at least not any part of it that might by a particular newspaper. The preparedness to offend and not care, gives the blogosphere an edge over newspapers in the areas of satire and scathing comment. On the royal wedding, Mugged by Reality's headline is: "Embarrassing, irrelevant, inbred, half-witted Greco-Germanic anachronism to wed hideous, overprivileged, idle-rich moose." Even Julie Burchill might have trouble getting that past an editor.

Then there's a particular segment of the blogosphere that gives insider views you'd be unlikely to find in a newspaper; these are not journalists or public figures, but people, often after decades in a field of business, who can bluntly talk about what it is _really_ like. So, Grumpy Old Bookman explains how winning the Man Booker Prize is absurd, random, and utterly unfair. I doubt you'd ever see this article in a newspaper; editors have too much invested in being part of the literary world to so expose it.

Some of the these bloggers are, like the Bookman, semi-retired; others are deeply pseudonymous, and talk about their day job with rare honesty, such as the magistrate who writes The Law West of Ealing Broadway. There's a particularly fine post in the compilation in which he writes what he'd really like to say to some defendants: "Look, you stupid git. If you had been weating the [seat]belt the police would have left you alone. There is no specific offence of acting like a prat, but if there were you would be guilty of it."

Moving on to my second category, there are areas in which the writing of the blogosphere matches the quality of that of the Guardian compilation. Greenfairydotdotcom's account of going home for Christmas is quite the equal of Jill Tweedie's correspondence from January 1981 in which her Martha, "a striving woman of mature years," writes to her radical younger friend. (In all other case I've just linked to the general blog - you're meant to go out and but the book remember - but I'll make an exception in this case and send you straight to the post. Of course we've all got horrible family Christmas stories, but what makes this work is the economy of language and the preparedness to show, rather than tell. And I'm a Tweedie fan.)

The collection indicates that the blogsphere is undoubtedly patchier in coverage than in newspapers in general, but the quality of political, business and social analysis in Blogged:2005 stands up well against the Guardian's. The Yorkshire's Ranter analysis of the final fall of Rover matches rather nicely with Stanley Reynolds's "The Museum of the Horrifying Example", about 1984, post-industrial Liverpool. Chicken Yoghurt's analysis - and critique - of Live 8 matches up entirely to Normal Shrapnel writing up the "Lady Chatterley" debate in the Lords in 1960-1.

And on the big news - US elections, terrorist attacks, and similar - while straight news coverage might be patchy, the items published in 2005: Blogged again match up. Antoine Clarke's Election Watch (no longer up) -- Correction, to be found here -- dissects the (unintended) consequences of the Guardian's campaign on Clark County. And on the London bombing, there are examples of the on-the-spot, "live" blogging that the Net does so well.

What's missing, in comparing the two collections? Oddly enough there's little or no writing about television, and film - supposedly that great centre of popular culture - in Blogged:2005, while the Guardian collection features the ever-green Nancy Banks--Smith and Julie Burchill. Maybe bloggers are too busy blogging to watch the Box? (I know that it was the final straw that made me get rid of mine.)

There's also little sport. Maybe that's such a specialised sphere of the blogosphere that it hasn't mixed with the rest - there must be huge numbers of fanblogs out there. (To check I just put "Manchester United" and "blog" into Google and got 1.46 million hits.)

International travel and international politics are also thinly covered. No doubt this is in part due to the focus of the collection on Britain, but there are Britons out there blogging on these topics (think of all those VSO volunteers) - but probably, it must be admitted, not with the extensive sort of coverage you'd get out of the Guardian. (Honourable mention, however, to Black Triangle for a lovely little North Korean snippet.)

So, perhaps still some growing to do, but the blogosphere, in age a toddler, isn't doing too badly when stacked up against the full-grown adults of the "big" media. But it seems already to have acquired some of its bad habits. In the Guardian collection (perhaps not surprising since it starts in the Fifties), less than 5 per cent of the writing is by women. And I doubt 2005: Blogged achieves a much higher percentage. Something for the editor to work on next year ...

Declaration of interest: I have an entry in the compilation. It is my review, well account really, of a book about chess queens. Not what I'd regard as my finest post, but as always in these things, it is a question of "the mix" - something that also explains a lot of newspaper stories. So maybe we're more like "them" than we'd like to think.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing the Net can't do as well is proof reading. consider the following from your post, I hope you spot the mistake...

'And on the London blogging, there are examples of the on-the-spot, "live" bombing that the Net does so well.'

Of course I knew what you meant though.


11/28/2005 03:11:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Chris - I was, until very recently, a newspaper sub-editor, but I will say in my own defence that it is tough to proof your own stuff. (Now fixed.)

11/28/2005 07:49:00 pm  
Blogger Laban said...

Last March a Stephen Levy pointed out that blogging was a hideously white and male activity.

I just think there are a lot more mediocre male political bloggers. (puts on stereotyping hat) Female bloggers tend either to be top grade (Mirabilis, Natalie Solent, Cathy Siepp and loads more) or 'what I did today' bloggers who network with online 'friends' rather than 'readers'.

Back in the days when pubs had saloon and public bars, most of the saloon-bar bores were male, too.

PS - there are some great black bloggers in the States. Cobb is one, but there are many more.

11/28/2005 11:25:00 pm  
Blogger Laban said...

I'd like to include myself in the mediocre category btw

11/28/2005 11:28:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, as a writer who sometimes has to sub my own stuff I know it's always the correctly spelled words in the wrong place that slip through. Easier to spot a spelling mistake.

Like your blog though, I'll try to return at some point.


11/29/2005 02:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Tyne & Weary said...

"Bloggers! Do you want to be in a book? Of course you do! You're great. We love you!

How much do you want to be in the book, by the way? Enough to give it away for nothing?

Come on, you're giving it away for nothing anyway. Slip 'em off.

No, really. Slip 'em off. Sure, people will pay for the book. Yes, it's us who'll be keeping the money. Like we said, you've been giving it away for free for so long, you're don't seriously expect to be paid now?!

Now bend over and touch your toes."

12/03/2005 10:36:00 am  

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