LC Mission Series: part 3 – Creating a platform


1:30 pm - March 1st 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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In my sporadic LC Mission Series, I’m trying to lay out some thoughts on what I think the Left’s approach should be to political parties as well as politics in general. As well as have a discussion around the point of political blogging and online activism of course. As always – you are all welcome to chip in with your thoughts.

In the first part I talked about the need for infrastructure. In the second, a need for taking a different approach to politics – more like that of an outside insurgency.

I want to press home the first point again and explain what I mean. Sometimes there’s no point just saying something – you just have to do it and see how it works out.

The point of blogging
I’m sick of opinion blogging. Everyone has an opinion and frankly it all gets very repetitive eventually. Plus, lefties love writing long articles when a short, punchy one-liner will do.

There are two kinds of content I believe will be key to the success of political blogging: news and analysis. Let me explain elaborate on each in succession.

When I say ‘news’, I don’t mean the kind of packages you read on press or BBC websites. I’m referring to a form of original reporting that could mean:
- highlighting facts, policies or reports the media has missed out;
- doing some digging on potential stories;
- ringing up people to fact-check reports or stories;
- joining the dots between various issues;
- highlighting what other left groups are doing;
- highlighting what the opposition is doing etc.

I just mean something original rather than simply churning out opinion.

By analysis, I mean asking:
- if there’s an an issue the left should be taking up;
- what should Left / Labour / Libdem / Green position be on an issue and why;
- what do polls say on an issue and why it matters;
- how policy should be formed in response to public opinion;
- explaining what a certain piece of legislation could do, and how to support / oppose it

Basically, more political strategy. We seem to be churning out a lot of thoughts on what we hate or like but having very little discussion of the mechanisms or process that’s required in order to get there.

What Libcon will be doing on this
From April (I’m going away for March) I’m planning to finally launch several new sub-blogs within LibCon focusing on different areas (launching slightly later than I wanted because I ran into some technical problems).

The new blogs will cover: activism (protests & actions taking place, what Left groups are doing, what campaigns people can get involved in); the media (biased reporting, highlighting lies, campaigning for a better PCC); trade unions (state of industrial relations, union activity and news, how the trade union movement is faring etc); and Westminster (analysis, reporting, highlighting debates by MPs).

I want to create more space for different kinds of content, and once I’ve managed to get them running as self-sufficient operations (that don’t require lots of input from me) then I can expand the number of sub-blogs.

The model for bloga I most like is Talking Points Memo – a blog that covers a range of areas within politics. I also want to see two counter-parts: TPM Muckraker and TPM Cafe, but that will require a lot more resources.

How can you help?
Don’t send us pieces of opinion – send us news. Send us interesting nuggets you’ve uncovered or angles the media has missed out to a story. Send us information that you know because you’re more knowledgeable on an issue than the journalist on a national newspaper.

Send us analysis. Tell us why lefties should be saying on an issue in a particular way in order to win over the public. Write about strategies to destroy the right.

Eventually, I’d like to see LibCon will become less of a blog and more of a platform. I want it to offer news to lefties on what’s going on in the political world; offer thoughts on how they can get involved; provide space for them to launch and sustain their own campaigns.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Liberal Conspiracy ,The Left

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Reader comments


Sounds great.

One thing – would it be possible to have a magazine section for longer pieces, as long as they are not opinion pieces? I say this for obvious reasons – I’ve written a few longer ones lately, based on interviews and that, and have hung around for a bit wondering where to put them, as it were.

“The point of blogging…..”
Is blogging supposed to have a point? If I’d known that I would have steered well clear.

Looks like a very fine line between Opinion and Analysis ;)

How effective will this be given it will all be happening in the blogosphere?

Is there a need for something more, perhaps press releases when appropriate?

I think (laying the partisan, lefty-hating hat down for a moment) that this encapsulates one of the differences between the left-blogosphere, and that on the right, which is that – broadly speaking, and with some exceptions – the left tend to look at blogging as explicitly being a means to an end, the end being “organising”, campaigning or otherwise trying to change the world.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most successful left wing blogs are usually collaborative efforts whereas those on the right – apart, of course, from ConHome – tend to be individual platforms. You seem to see blogging as a launchpad to real-world change, a medium for collective action to get stuff done. A lot of right-wing blogs are just vehicles for peoples’ opinions and little more. We don’t presume to imagine that we can “destroy the Left” by writing blog posts. (Jeez, if we could, believe me, we would.)

Tory blogs have tried to emulate the campaigning style of online leftwing campaigns – #Kerryout, for example – and by and large we don’t do it very well. I myself have taken part in some campaigns – for the Gurkhas, Iraqi interpreters, free speech online – and it’s noticeable that many of them have been organised and pushed from the left – I have sometimes been, if not the token Tory, then at least one of a relative few.

I’m sure there’s a thesis to be written on this somewhere down the line, but I think the bottom line is this; that while a small part of me wishes you luck (and another, much larger part, hopes that all attempts to “destroy the right” end in ignominious failure), I can’t help thinking that a loosely-focused left-wing blog is going to have difficulty making an impact in our politics because – unlike Conservative Home – LC doesn’t represent a recognisable consituency that politicians need to pander to.

6. Casper ter Kuile

Sounds great Sunny, look forward to April.

Mr E does raise some good points.

Thing is, though, a campaigning website doesn’t have to have a political party as its constituency – it could have groups who are not represented by a political party as constituencies. A site that covers activism and trade unionism in detail, for instance, would be a site that covers topics that the mainstream press tends not to. Trade union members and activists would become the sites constituents, because they’d read their news here. There’s a lot of sense in that.

Why use a blog platform?

If you’re setting up sub-blogs etc then the flexibilty of a talkboard / forum platform would seem more natural.

Mr E – you can’t say that given ConHome is such a successful and well-funded project. I think group blogs are the way to go. And frankly, when Paul Staines says he does it to amuse himself he’s just bullshitting. No one sells news stories to papers and obsessively watches what people say about him for a joke. They’ve become full-time operations. It’s just that lefties don’t have the time or money to make these full-time operations.

Should there be a point to blogging? Well, in my opinion, there’s no point investing so much time into it otherwise. Even DK has gotten involved in politics through blogging so you can’t say it’s just lefties who look to get outcomes out of it.

LC doesn’t represent a recognisable consituency that politicians need to pander to.

Well, I think that comes from being strategic and finding the right pressure points. I think that can be done even if you don’t go down explicit party lines. But… it remains to be seen.

10. paulstpancras

Perhaps something along lines/format of Huffington Post?

Mr E does make some very good points – but then so does Sunny.

This has been the greatest selling point of this site for me. The comments. The variety of different opinions, usually from the left, whilst ‘complimented’, occasionally, with some right-wings points. More often than not, pretty tight to the main article. Certainly more than any other political blog I have read.

Looking forward to the new developments.

Will every sub-blog be easily accessible from the front page, or will we have to have loads of business in our feed if we want to keep up with the whole thing?

Mr E- nice bit of sneering but if right-whingers don’t take it too seriously and have all got better things to do, how do explain the fact that the LURPAK was formed by right-wing bloggers and, if recent electoral results are anything to go by, hasn’t got much support beyond their ranks?

There are a load of earnest right-wing campaigns that don’t count for fuck all.

asquith – both.
Bernard – good point

This sounds great.
Sunny’s point about some right-wing bloggers having more money and resources is very important. We need to unmask accordingly – and focus on our strength, strength through collectivities.

The difference MrEugenides is ‘the left’ actually want to change the world, at least we did. Now principally we’re tasked with saving it from the thirty years of neliberalism delivered by consecutive Tory / Labour govts. That’s why the right blogosphere can revel in a hatefest of sub-Limbaugh parody and dress it up as ‘analysis’. Sure our collective task is harder – but think what we have to win.

17. Charlieman

Sunny’s OP: “When I say ‘news’, I don’t mean the kind of packages you read on press or BBC websites. I’m referring to a form of original reporting that could mean:
- highlighting facts, policies or reports the media has missed out;
- doing some digging on potential stories;
- ringing up people to fact-check reports or stories;
- joining the dots between various issues;
- highlighting what other left groups are doing;
- highlighting what the opposition is doing etc.”

Err, isn’t that what serious, paid-for journalists are supposed to do? The investigators of Thalidomide, Death of a Princess, Iraqi Super-Gun? Ditto, the subsequent paragraph about “analysis”.

I’m not knocking the idea that LC could become an organ of citizen journalism. I’m just aware that there are so few people on the blogosphere who conduct independent research who do not already have a ready outlet for their works.

I agree somewhat that LC could usefully provide a platform for local campaigns. The usual suspects on the far left or at IndyMedia are unappealing to many of us. Identifying local effects of national and international policy would definitely be a good thing — it personalises remote decisions.

Please don’t discard the policy forum entirely. It serves a valuable purpose in the prelude to debates in the conference seasons. Fora that are designed to attack Nadine Dories et al help to let off steam, but close off comments before they become too undignified. For the sake of the commentators, if not the subject.

@13 bernard: Having read Mr E’s post twice, I do not detect any sneering. He raises reasonable points overall. I would disagree with him that there are no individualist voices on the liberal left; there are many commentators who speak for themselves alone and others who argue for non-state solutions.

Enjoy your break, Sunny.

you can’t say that given ConHome is such a successful and well-funded project.

Well-funded, yes. Successful? Perhaps. You yourself point out how Tory high command told Tim “Racist” Montgomerie to fuck off with his bright idea to make immigration the key issue a la the 2005 Tory campaign. All ConHome seems to do is to make the Tory Party look bad – to make DaveCam’s claim to having changed the party look like utter tosh.

And if ConHome was truly successful, arguably the polls wouldn’t be so close. I think we have to be careful here: unique visitors per month + comments on posts DONT = influence or success.

Bugger – put the comment on part 2. Try again.

>I think group blogs are the way to go.

I agree with that – group blogs have been the way to go for the last 2 years. Now, it’s group blogs with some resources behind them and extra services. You also need the capability to out compete big media in search engines, when necessary on your own ==> build central platforms and use them to spin campaigns off.

There are some excellent WordPress-based forums around, such as bbpress (http://bbpress.org/) but they can be a bugger to manage if you don’t lay out your objectives carefully, and you can have a road accident in 3 minutes. Ask Richard Dawkins about his ex-forum.

One question: on Sunny’s last piece about learning from the model of the US movement, how do you deal with the fact that that was planning to be built (and inevitable heavily influenced) using funding from a small number of lefty Ashcroft equivalents outside the democratic process? Rather like 38degrees. I don’t believe that that is what Sunny is after. Can groups not funded by entrepreneurs / high-net-worth individuals build that sort of movement in the UK? You aren’t LibDems, and don’t have the JR Rowntree charity as a benevolent non-invasive supporter with deep pockets.

I hope that before long Trade Union political activity will be reformed so that their political activity reflects their *whole* membership rather than just the activists. Ditto companies. But then my focus is more towards democratic renewal rather than inurgency.

Tiny amounts of money – a few million a year compared to the $200-300m the US people want – can have a massive impact in UK politics. But where from without losing control? More importantly, where from while using the funding streams to build political involvement rather than exclude it?

Background on the US movement from Sunny’s second piece:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/25/magazine/25DEMOCRATS.html

Tim’s right about opt-in email, but you’ve got to be damned sure to get your terms right and not to exceed them. FFS Dolly was right about email, but he was also a bull in a china shop.

One final point that I made when you started LibCon. Don’t just limit coalitions to the left where it can be tactically useful to work with all sorts of people, or have genuinely broader coalitions on some issues. Remember that it was the dodgy imprisoned(?) UKIP fiddling MEP who read out the allegations against Mr Usmanov in the Euro Parliament and made us all happy we couldn’t be sued for reporting them in Sept 2007.

Finally: podcasts.

@13: I wasn’t sneering, indeed I went out of my way to couch my comment in reasonable and constructive terms. There’s no point in pretending that I wish LC well in its quest to “destroy the right”, but that doesn’t mean I can’t venture an honest opinion.

The main point of my comment wasn’t to suggest that LC can’t continue to be a successful group blog if it evolves into a more explicitly campaigning tool – that’s merely an opinion and, as Sunny says, it remains to be seen.

Really I’m just observing that left and right appear to have a different view of what blogging is for. I don’t think it’s too much of a generalisation to point out that many left-wing bloggers tend to think in terms of “infrastructure”, organisation and suchlike – in other words, what can this medium do for us and how can we use it most effectively? It’s why Lib Dems and Labour sites quite often carry tutorials or stickies advising people of how to set up blogs, how to network online and how to make your site as effective as possible in reaching out to a wider audience.

Yes, of course, some right-wing blogs do this too, and indeed ConHome was the early leader in this field, it seems to me. Yes, the Tories are keen to tap into the power of the internet to get as many donations and votes as possible. And yes, of course, Staines, Dale and others use blogging to make money, or wield influence, or to try and get a safe seat.

But – and I may be wrong here – I don’t think Guido Fawkes, or Iain Dale’s Diary, were brought into being explicitly to serve their author’s wider political or employment interests. Whatever you think of those blogs, they have evolved into successful, widely-read sites (whatever you may think of them) that have a [small] influence on politics because people read them – not the other way round.

Staines and Dale did not, unless I am much mistaken, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen to map out the best way to use the internet for political ends. It just kinda happened. Call it evolution vs intelligent design, if you like.

I’m really just pointing out a general difference in approach that I perceive between left and right when it comes to the blogosphere. I think it’s interesting, nothing more than that. (I also think it’s one reason why you guys tend to imagine that Tory bloggers are all taking orders from CCHQ when – as far as I can see – most of them do no such thing, but that’s a matter for another post.)

Hi Kate – yeah I think I’ll have to launch a ‘cafe’ section soon too, which will be where longer pieces can go.

Lee – I think the difference is that ‘analysis’ should be activism orientated. Why should we go in a direction or adopt a strategy and what impact will that have? etc. A lot of opinion is just… well, hot air. It doesn’t have direction. That frustrates me.

Mr E: We don’t presume to imagine that we can “destroy the Left” by writing blog posts
Charlotte Gore ring a bell? :)
Not that I plan to ‘destroy the right’ merely through blog posts. This is about activism and direction mostly.

Thanks casper and kate

inks – because a messageboard is simply for discussion, whereas a blog platform works better as a broadcasting system (RSS, twitter, easily accessible) and also – this will remain an editorially driven mag too. Certain sections will have more flexibility than the front page – but eventually it needs some focus otherwise it becomes too vague.

charlieman: Err, isn’t that what serious, paid-for journalists are supposed to do?

In most cases I don’t think it takes that much time. Let’s say an MP does something silly or you need their opinion on something. Quick ring or email to their office and job’s done.

The other day Adam Bienkov attracted an avalanche of traffic simply by doing a bit of digging into the National Bullying Helpline.
http://torytroll.blogspot.com/2010/02/who-are-national-bullying-helpline.html

That sort of digging, finding stories and turning up something interesting is the only way left-blogs will grow. Simply churning out opinion is not going to grow the audiences.

But I think there’s a scope here for ‘distributed journalism’ – where a bunch of people jointly chase a story by distributing the work. Or at least one person turns up something interesting, which sends others into a frenzy to find more and so on…
We did a fair bit of this with the Rod Liddle campaign ;)

I don’t plan to ditch the policy or local stuff either don’t worry. I think there’s space for more… although I don’t think LC should do everything. I’m more than happy for other left blogs to focus on specific areas and we link to them and vice versa. This should be a shared operation.

—–

Blanco: All ConHome seems to do is to make the Tory Party look bad – to make DaveCam’s claim to having changed the party look like utter tosh.

Well, I over-estimated Montgomerie’s political acumen. Although Tories have this habit of frothing about immigration and it seems most of the time they just can’t help it (Danny Finkelstein aside – I think he’s the only sensible Tory I’ve read on the issue). So maybe that’s where TM went wrong.
Nevertheless – they’re influential with the party hierarchy even if sometimes saner heads prevail.

And if ConHome was truly successful, arguably the polls wouldn’t be so close.
Yup, but I’m measuring their success by impact on party, not voters.

——
Matt: build central platforms and use them to spin campaigns off.
What do you mean by this? Do you mean single-issue stuff?

Yeah, I’m not so hot on forums, though I think a hybrid version may eventually work… DailyKos style.

As for the money question – I think to get past a certain level it’s necessary. I spend far too much time on LC than is healthy and it earns nothing while costing a bomb in resources. To edit more people’s work I’ll need more people, ideally paid.

And lastly – I sorta agree on not limiting coalitions. I’m open to that on certain issues.
Podcasts? meh. overrated I think. And require too much work…

Sunny

As for the money question – I think to get past a certain level it’s necessary. I spend far too much time on LC than is healthy and it earns nothing while costing a bomb in resources. To edit more people’s work I’ll need more people, ideally paid.

How are you going to fund that? I mean, it would be great to have paid people working on the site, but unless you’re going to start taking advertising or pulling in some sponsors, I don’t see how that can happen….

A focus on challenging ‘churnalism’, the concept laid down by Nick Davies in his excellent book ‘Flat Earth News’, would be a worthy long term goal and addition to this site, I feel.

Though not wholly a ‘left-wing’ issue, it does seem that if you can become the bastion of truth, rather than just bleating the same old PR bollocks, then analysis will carry more weight.

Mailwatch do an excellent job of debunking the more woolly of stories from Dacre and chums, but I think there needs to be a genuine gauntlet thrown down between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media in factual accuracy and quality of reporting.

24. Planeshift

I agree that the focus should be on investigative journalism and breaking stories. Furthermore there needs to be linking in with the MSM on this as well – like it or not they have the clout to reach people. Its always a source of frustration that the stuff on Nadine Dorris for example rarely gets raised in the MSM. If LC breaks a story, it needs to follow it up by ensuring the story gets repeated elsewhere rather than kept as an exclusive.

I think, as a more general comment, that a worthwhile project for left wing blogs is to create specific sites aimed at countering myths and arguments put forward by the right in terms of accuracy. Sort of like sceptical science does about global warming scepticsim/denialism – it collects the arguments used and puts a rebuttal for each one.

A website that did much the same thing about the issue of -say – immigration – would be ideal. Pretty much any issue where there is a great disparity between the contents of the academic debate, and the contents of the “debate” that takes place in the tabloids (I.E. most social and economic issues).

This all sounds very workable, I particulary like the fact that you’ll have sub areas of interest (it’s about time LC covered Westminster more, does it mean a lobby pass will be sought?) while maintaining the overall focus. Looking forward to it. :)

>Matt: build central platforms and use them to spin campaigns off.
What do you mean by this? Do you mean single-issue stuff?

It’s a process comment that can apply to anything, and I guess it’s the old thing about Community Organisers being worth their weight. I mean use your central platform to spin things off. Perhaps I phrased it badly.

Standalone websites take a lot of launching and time to get traction. If you co-spearhead your campaign *here*, then you leverage off the existing audience, Twitter etc which can give a boost in terms of audience finding it, but also for media attention etc.

You can think of that the other way round – as LC giving publicity/support to a less-prominent campaign. Especially useful for non-political/local sites.

It also applies to skills, nouse and campaigning approaches. If it is in a niche which (to pick one example) people are still intimidated by Cease and Desists, it is useful to have more experienced campaigners around to say that it is basically safe to tell lawyers to p*ss off.

Equally with contacts – hypothetical example: if allotment owners in Lower-Twistleton-under-Piddle get their allotments yanked by a develop, national media people – which is what makes politicians pay attention – may well listen to established bloggers more easily.

Real example. When I picked up the SPCK bookshop asset-stripping stuff in Aug 2008, a number of polibloggers came on board (special hat-tip: Unity but also a number of others) came on board and helped with everything from getting hold of docs about US legal actions to validating for bloggers who’d just had a bolt from the blue that it was OK to fight back, and what was possible. As of last month, we had the last shop recovered from their control. Still a hell of a hole, but it’s going forward.

>As for the money question – I think to get past a certain level it’s necessary. I spend far too much time on LC than is healthy and it earns nothing while costing a bomb in resources. To edit more people’s work I’ll need more people, ideally paid.

I identify with that.

>And lastly – I sorta agree on not limiting coalitions. I’m open to that on certain issues.

I see that as being practical too – cross-spectrum coalitions have more pull, especially if it is a Tory govt :-)

>Podcasts? meh. overrated I think. And require too much work.

I disagree there, it’s not a competitive niche, but I agree on the amount of work unless you have production line.

>Leon
>This all sounds very workable, I particulary like the fact that you’ll have sub areas of interest (it’s about time LC covered Westminster more, does it mean a lobby pass will be sought?) while maintaining the overall focus.

One issue here is that Lobby passes seem to be for the individual. If they are to work with blogs that must evolve because we are all part time.

Matt

“Let’s say an MP does something silly or you need their opinion on something. Quick ring or email to their office and job’s done.”

Really? Mine takes on average 4 to 6 weeks to reply to emails or answer-phone messages (her office doesn’t answer the phone, it’s always on answer-phone; the message implies this is common policy for all MPs, it’s not occurred to me to check until now). Of course, she is busy both with being a junior minister, and with being a mother, I’m not sure she has much time left for being an MP.

“I think there needs to be a genuine gauntlet thrown down between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media in factual accuracy and quality of reporting.”

I <3 this sentence. It would be amazing if an emphasis on fact-checking (and honestly-published corrections) online could shame the offline media into improving their game in this area.

“Mr E does make some very good points – but then so does Sunny.

This has been the greatest selling point of this site for me. The comments. The variety of different opinions”

This individual comments board, in itself, is a wealth of ideas, opinions, proposals, disagreements and suggestions.

Once the figures go through the roof with a coalition of various opinions and traffic, the sponsorship would come to you, that is the crucial point. So long as any investment is transparent, up front and requires no editorial influence, it is fine, surely?

I get the impression that lots of blogger’s, activists, writers et al, who would thrive in a coalition of views and opinion. Particularly if it had the standards set out in many of the above comments.

A Tory government would only enhance this enthusiasm.

Steve @ 23,

A focus on challenging ‘churnalism’, the concept laid down by Nick Davies in his excellent book ‘Flat Earth News’, would be a worthy long term goal and addition to this site, I feel.

I agree. I am not sure whether or not it is covered in what Sunny said here:

the media (biased reporting, highlighting lies, campaigning for a better PCC….

Perhaps it is.

Some of the most interesting blogs around are those by individuals like Ben Six and 5cc. Because they tackle these issues directly.

————————————————–

Sunny,

The best analysis I have seen on here has been by Unity. I do not want that relegated off the front page. He is one of the very few people who combines analysis with passion and has actually changed my mind on a few issues.

You might also like to consider having a newspaper style editorial on the issues of the day, displayed prominently. It would be a hook to the rest of the content.

I think I read somewhere that folk used to buy ‘The Old Thunderer’, read the editorial and chuck it away.

Sunny,

In terms of monetising the site. Perhaps asking folk to pay a fiver a month via standing order or summat – would be worthwhile

Only a minority would pay, of course, but some would, I think. It might be enough to get the journalism off the ground.

Just don’t politicise it too much. I, for instance, could not reconcile a subscription to you and a subscription to the SNP. If that were made into a the choice, you’d lose..

Otherwise I’d consider it. I get more out of this place than I ever did out of a newspaper. It’s the interactive bit that does it for me.

Obvious caveats about clarity ré income and expenditure via an independent and guaranteed audit, obviously. And some sort of statement that the site couldn’t be bought. A la Guardian Newspapers, IIRC.

How are Huffington Post and The Daily Kos funded, if not by subscription?

Nick @ 31,

Is the article not behind a subscription barrier?

It is an acadmic piece and my impression is that the subscription is only in order to count the number of downloads. There is nothing, that I can see, stopping you from downloading it anonymously and not having it counted in their stats. A lot of journals are moving in this direction now.

This is an interesting concept taken by the Huffington Post, and described by the Nieman Journalism lab.

http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/03/huffington-post-outsources-section-to-online-fundraising-organization/


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