by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jul 1st, 2015 at 08:42:43 AM EST
I have been holed up in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for the past few days at the invitation of an artist friend. It's a rambling old country house on a beautiful wooded lakeside estate set in the drumlin countryside of County Monaghan. Artists of all stripes can stay here (subject to acceptance of application) at state subsidized rates to meet, work, and reflect on their practice. At the moment it is full of quite an eclectic and international mix of novelists, painters, printers, composers and performance artists. The estate was gifted to the people of Ireland by the family of Tyrone Guthrie, a noted theater director in Ireland, England, Canada and the United States.
As a lowly blogger I don't feel particularly qualified to take part in the many informal discussions between artists of wildly different backgrounds, but it did get me thinking about the apparent decline of my own particular art form: the community blog; and more particularly, my favorite platform, the European Tribune. Why have we gone so quiet, and is there anything that can be done about it?
Hidden within the 355 comments on End game for Greece? are a couple of sub-threads which begin to deal with this issue. rz set the ball rolling:
It has become very quite here at the European Tribune. Why is that? Maybe we all feel that things are total spinning out of control and there is nothing left to do about it.
To which rifek replied:
The European discussion is over, everything that matters now happens on the national level.
It could be that the possibility of a solution is so remote, everyone is throwing their hands in the air. That's pretty much the case here in the US (I figure we're a generation away yet from people taking to the streets, although an old-fashioned food shortage could change that in a hurry.). Or it could be that we're in the opposite of an academic debate (where the debates are so bitter because there is so little at stake): The stakes are so high, debate isn't much of a priority. Two men in a burning building can't stop to argue.
And Migeru weighed in:
What is there to discuss? The European Union is institutionally hopeless
Whereas Upstate NY was more upbeat:
There is a silence. But sometimes, from reading you all for years, I also always hear your voices in the silence. ET is special in that way.
I want to try to weave together the many other comments on those sub-threads to come up with an overview of why ET may be in decline, and to come to an initial analysis of what might be done about it, always assuming that community blogging is an art form worth preserving and indeed one which should be developed further.
The initial factors have already been prefigured in the comments above:
- Disillusion with the European Ideal and the rise of nationalism (as illustrated by the recent Danish election results and the way the Greek crisis is being framed as a conflict between thrifty northern Europeans and lazy Greeks). Drew J Jones:
A large part of it is that I think we had this figured out years ago, and at every step along the way, the EU leadership has screwed it up. There's not really much left to say.
- A sense of powerlessness amplified by the sense that European politics is drifting in an ever more rightward direction: That the elites are triumphant and their media organs have succeeded in framing popular narratives to hide their machinations and scapegoat the relatively powerless. Thus the role of the banking industry in offloading the consequences of their bad lending practices onto the taxpayer and hiding the role of the Greek elite in systematically under-developing the Greek economy and off shoring their profits are treated as mere technicalities within the over-arching narrative that the Greek people have brought this upon themselves by their lazy fecklessness and corruption. As I noted:
Perhaps the ideological capture of popular thought by neo-liberalsm is so complete that most people simply can't understand alternative analyses. There doesn't seem to be much of a counter culture alive and kicking these days...
- Others blamed the rise of social media
It is mostly that the ET to a considerable extent has been out-competed by social media like Facebook.
although I opined that Facebook performed a different function for me, and I didn't really see it as competing with blogging per se, although it might reduce the time that might otherwise have been available for blogging. Having said that, I have deliberately not become active on Twitter, mainly as I see it as another devourer of online time which I would prefer to devote to more creative pursuits.
4. Community versus Content.
Redstar took the view that ET had prioritized community standards to the detriment of a greater diversity of content, so much so that those with views significantly divergent from the dominant narrative within ET were often chased away... that we gained greater ideological consistency at a cost of diversity and wider participation.
Content could have been an alternative driver. Lots of things happened in this regard, including some of the aforementioned rows. Welcoming content in the present EU context requires, in my opinion, a certain level of openness to alternative opinions. And accountability and transparency in editorial decisions. But very little content is being produced today; a media site with no content simply disappears from the media landscape.
My feeling was:
Perhaps we have fallen between two stools - not really an authoritative expert blog like say, Krugman, but not a very accessible one either for those with just a basic knowledge of (say) economics. Perhaps we needed more "hobbyists" like Dodo on trains and Helen on Beer to attract a wider audience. I can't really do poetry, art, cinematography or music analysis, but they always seemed to be a major missing to me
Scoop blogs were, from the start, community blogs in that all users could post "diaries", ie were bloggers. ET shared that characteristic with MyDD, DKos, etc. It was the hot thing in... 2004-5.
But it was never a decision here that I'm aware of, to put the accent on community. That aspect was baked into the cake. And there was always concern with the quality and interest of content.
What's clear today is that the blogs that have retained and even increased audience (against the competition of the major social networks) are specialist blogs run by one or a small number of likeminded experts. ET has always been generalist. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not what works in today's Internet.
Whereas melvin valued ET's often contrarian content:
There are a million places to go to get my pre existing opinions reinforced. Such "communities" hold little appeal.
And Starvid reveled in it:
I've been a resident right-winger at the ET for a long time, and nowadays I even consider myself to be a conservative. Yet I've always felt welcome, and also felt that at the ET, substance is valued over posturing. But who knows, perhaps people have been sniping at me all the time, and I've just been to dense to notice it? ;)
5. Wonky Maleness?
melo: decried what he described as ET's wonky maleness
My guess is ET is way too male, hyper-acidic and wonky for more than tiny cult consumption, and who would want it turning into zerohedge anyway?
and I have certainly spoken in person to a former female participant who was quite bitter about what she felt was the arrogant and dismissive way her comments were treated by frontpagers who she felt would have been better employed as facilitators of debate rather than as arbitrators of ideological correctness. She felt that ET was dominated by very intelligent "student types" who lacked empathy or the ability to tolerate a range of different views and abilities. In particular she felt it was a very intimidating environment for all except the most assertive, self confident, intellectual or assertive and with no one to nurture those who were still finding their way in the world of blogging.
6. Personal life-cycles and inequality of resources
Metatone took a more personal view:
Recession bit hard in my life. I don't have the time I once had.
I also don't have the psychological resilience I once had for facing up to how broken mainstream economics and politics (including EU politics) are.
For me the reality is that we (whoever we are) are up against powerful interests. They have the "commanding heights" of media, money and power. I think we all might have hoped that community (and content) could be a starting point in turning the tide.
At some level I still believe that - but we didn't gain critical mass, we didn't find ways to support our work. And the "other side" got in on that internet thing too, with all their resources. And so now, if not back to square one, we're back to a reality, ET helped us find each other - and if we had no other priorities (of our daily lives) it could still be a great launching point into the world of social media etc. etc. But I think right now few of us have the time required...
But if some of us are too busy or tired to be more actively engaged, where is the younger generation coming through?
The above is only a cross section of the views expressed, but I hope has captured the main thrust of why participants feel ET has not exactly been going from strength to strength. Some years ago, at a Paris meet-up, I expressed the hope that ET could become a multilingual, multi-community platform for critical thinking about Europe - a sort of European DKOS, but more diverse and with a much wider and larger user base. There are many reasons why this has not happened. Partly it was because we didn't have the resources to develop a multilingual platform, or to sponsor the volume of content and range of activities - like conferences - which would be needed to really drive such an enterprise forward.
But the main reason, I felt, was that there were so many diverse strands within ET - with many different views as to how ET could develop, that there wasn't sufficient consensus on the best way forward. Perhaps that is still the case, or perhaps things have changed. What seems clear to me is that the current model may be nearing the end of its lifespan. Anybody got any ideas on where we should aspire to go, and on what would be the best way to drive things forward?