Are political blogs one way to connect with a disenfranchised electorate? Somehow, having spent two days in Manchester with the brains behind two Labour-slanted blogs, I have my doubts, Andrew Thomas writes.
Apart from their independence and individuality, the USP of blogs is that they are more accessible than traditional media and don't get the life pulled out of them by over-zealous editors. Posters can write exactly what they want - can report gossip without the fear of upsetting political contacts. Blog readers, meanwhile, can follow conference news and gossip from their desktop.
But who does? While filming the 'real-world' end of a live web-chat between blogger Alex Hilton and Northern Ireland Minister Perter Hain, I realised that just 37 people were logged on reading. It would take an awful lot of blogs combined to ever rival mass media. One has to wonder too whether those 37 are persuadable to one party over another, or whether they are already the most partisan internet users of all.
Bloggers have certainly captured the imagination. One of the kings of political blogging, Tory Iain Dale, has just released a booklet-guide to political blogs that runs to 32 pages and lists the UK's top 100 political blogs. At the Labour party conference, the Party hierarchy had a discussion with Hilton about hosting a cabinet-ministers-meet-the-bloggers session . . . though that it never quite came off.
Meanwhile, a small number of bloggers find themselves in demand from traditional media - reaching a far wider audience as bloggers exposed through TV than through their actual blogs. Their blogging brand has somehow outpaced the impact of blogging as a reality.
Is, then, the blog the modern day equivalent of the Emperor's New Clothes. No one wants to say the obvious. . . blogs aren't as widespread or influential as many think: their chief impact is getting small stories into the wider traditional media. At the Labour conference, nothing major was broken by blogs.
They followed up the main stories from traditional media with comment rather than supplying big stories of their own. Blogs are consumed with the minutiae of politics. Swing voters are barely interested in the big issues or personalities, let alone the detail. Political blogging - marrying the increasingly niche activities of active computing and active politics - is still minority sport.