Will this election year be the 'Year of the blogger'? That's the question raised in Jonathan Milne's feature article In bed with the bloggers. It's a useful survey of the current blogosphere, or at least its noisiest and most colourful elements, with a concentration on Cameron Slater and Martyn Bradbury.
The blogosphere bites back
The blogosphere has bitten back, seeing Milne's article as inaccurate and wrongly-focused. Cameron Slater takes issue with some of the reportage and portrayals - see: Nice try Jono, but you got some things dreadfully wrong. Giovanni Tiso has the harshest words, labeling the feature 'appalling' and regretting taking part - see: Worlds collide. David Farrar also took part in interviews for the article, but says his statements didn't seem to fit with Milne's focus on colourful personalities and increased viciousness - see: In bed with the bloggers.
Rob Salmond also missed out on a mention, but explains why he blogs and how he's more interested in using blogging for real elite influence rather than reaching a large audience - see: HoS on the blogsters. And Pete George evaluates the feature, and argues that the inclusion of Graeme Edgeler is a mismatch with the more extreme bloggers - see: Herald on bloggers - odd man out. George also reflects on the gender imbalance in the article and blogosphere, asking: Are there any female bloggers?.
Blogs as powerful partisan proxies
The most interesting element of Milne's article is the implicit role that bloggers play in acting almost as proxies for the political parties and politicians they are aligned to. The clear allusion is that blogs like Whaleoil are doing the bidding of the National Government, and Judith Collins and John Key in particular, while Martyn Bradbury's Dailly Blog is closely connected to Labour and David Cunliffe. Milne talked to various politicians on this angle - for instance: 'Politicians can "manage the message" by talking through politically affiliated bloggers, says [Grant] Robertson - whether that be Key talking to Slater, or Cunliffe talking to Bradbury'. And Bradbury himself is reported as saying that he talks to Cunliffe regularly. It's for this reason Cameron Slater has blogged to say, I wonder if media and left-wingblogs will express outrage over this revelation.
Of course, this comes after the Prime Minister recently revealed that he talks to Slater on a weekly basis - see: Claire Trevett's PM hints tip-off came from blogger, and Stuff's Looks like Slater is Key's Peters source. And this all relates to ongoing questions about the opaque relationship between various blogs and politicians, as discussed in an earlier column of mine, Deception and integrity in politics and public life.
Sometimes, however, the politician-blogger relationship is less about ideological alignment, and more about teasing each other - see Claire Trevett's Whaleoil's flowers 'miserable' - MP.
And for more on how the blogosphere is evolving, see Russell Brown's Let's do some commerce, and Matthew Beveridge's Bloggers are the new Pamphleteers? and In depth discussion?.
In Milne's article another form of new media is mentioned as a rival to the blogosphere - Twitter. Steven Joyce declares that 2014 could instead be the year of Twitter: 'My personal view is that a bigger influence this year will be the expansion of politicians talking directly to the people through the likes of Twitter and Instagram. That will be the story of 2014'. He also says that 'The shorter methods of communication like Twitter have definitely got their place and are developing quickly'.
For the best analysis of politicos on Twitter, it's worth reading Matthew Beveridge's evaluations on his blog. The latest MP to go under the microscope is Clare Curran. But his profile on Peter Dunne is also interesting, and he even evaluates two of the youth wings of the parties with Young Nats vs Young Labour on twitter. He also pays tribute to another blogger and tweeter in his post People you should follow on Twitter: Graeme Edgeler.
Beveridge's most interesting evaluation is of NZ First MP Asenati LoleTaylor. Lole-Taylor is struggling with Twitter due to a parody account impersonating her, with some readers having trouble distinguishing between the two - see Felix Marwick's Twitter proves tough for NZ First MP.
To follow other interesting political parody accounts on Twitter, check out: @Dick_Prebble, @BigGerryB, @Not_JohnKeyPM, @GCSBIntercepts, @asenatitaylormp, @CathDelahuntyMP, @Slick_Winnie and @Coln_Craig.
Recent changes in the mainstream media
Meanwhile, the most recent scrutiny of New Zealand's mainstream media comes in the Reporters without Borders' annual World Press Freedom Index 2014, in which New Zealand still compares well, but has dropped a place in the rankings. The explanation is: 'In New Zealand, the interception of reporter Jon Stephenson's metadata by the military, which thought his articles were overly critical, and the release of journalist Andrea Vance's phone records to a leak investigation is indicative of growing government mistrust of the media and their watchdog role' - see the Asia-Pacific report within the index. See also Beith Atkinson's blog post, Press freedom in New Zealand still among World's best.
For a discussion of why New Zealand can't have a more diverse and openly politically biased media, see Colin Espiner's interesting column, Media can't afford to take sides.
And for a lengthy argument about why New Zealand's public service broadcasting has died, see Trisha Dunleavy's Don't go there: the ongoing undermining of PSB in New Zealand.
Recent developments in new media
Gordon Campbell reports on the major changes occurring at Scoop Media, including his own ascension to the editor's position, and the promise of much better content and style coming to the fledging website - see: On further changes at Scoop.
There are also plenty of other online based election-related projects popping up at the moment. One potentially useful one is the Politicheck NZ.
In a similar manner, I'm currently trying to set up an online-based election project involving a number of scholars, titled the Otago Elections Project. You can read my article in the latest Otago University magazine: Election engagement. The project will include a number of digital activities and projects, including the New Zealand Election Ads website, created by Ashley Murchison.
Finally, for the most amusing response to the Herald's feature on bloggers, see Scott Yorke's blog post Jonathan Milne, I will destroy you!.