With a quasi-election campaign already underway, and an increasing number of issues upon which to comment, the Easter break seems a good time for The Political Sword to review its modus operandi, and provide a chance for visitors to express their views about how TPS should proceed.
Please let us have your opinion. TPS is for you.
The Political Sword is a privately-owned political blog site that focuses almost exclusively on federal politics. It carries no advertising and is not-for-profit. At present there are just two who post original contributions, Bushfire Bill and me, Ad astra. We prepare material in our spare time and therefore have a limited capacity to feed the site.
Although TPS started in September 2008, my first posts were in June of that year on Possum Box, a subset of Possum’s Pollytics before he joined Crikey. Counting these, to date TPS has had over 180 posts which can be reviewed in Sword Watch, the link being in the right panel under ‘site pages’.
Most of the posts are substantial pieces of 1500 to 3000 words. These take considerable research and writing time. It is unlikely that Bushfire Bill and I could write more than three items per week between us; two is reasonably comfortable, three is a stretch. We have different styles and write on different topics, which provide variety for visitors. Bushfire Bill is a graphics wizard; his pieces are adorned with splendid colour representations of his theme.
Traffic through the site has grown steadily and this year has more than doubled. Visitors view about two pages per visit. Some of the posts have been mentioned on Crikey; when such a link occurs, the traffic soars. The number of comments has increased from a handful last year to over a hundred for most pieces now.
With the increased traffic, a number of new visitors have become regulars, and many make thoughtful and detailed comments regularly, to which other visitors respond. The site is now more in the nature of an online forum where visitors liberally exchange views with each other. In contrast to other political blog sites where most comments are brief, many comments on TPS are lengthy and richly add value to the original post; these informative and enlightening contributions match the originality and insight of the original post. Some who comment treat us to delightful satire.
For the most part, the theme of each post is maintained through the thread, whereas on some blogs several threads run simultaneously and often confusingly on the one piece. Our preference is to maintain consistency of comment throughout an individual thread, rather than jump from theme to theme, although that need not be a rigid rule.
The site has attracted high quality contributors who have maintained the decorum we have established. Abusive comment is rare, and is deleted when it occurs. Courtesy to each other, and to those we critique, is a hallmark of the site, although that does not prevent strong views being expressed. Evidence-based comment, with references or links, is our preference. The mindless rants that afflict many commercial media blog sites have not been a significant problem here. Sometimes visitors have deposited a heap of criticisms of one party or another that clearly have come from a collection of boilerplate they have on their computers. This is discouraged. We’ve seen it all before ad nauseam. No one objects to criticism, but it should at least be based on verifiable evidence; unsupported assertions impress only those who might agree with them.
Recently another valuable feature has been added – lyn1, a regular, has undertaken the demanding task of scanning the online media and political blog sites to dredge up the material most relevant to the topic and to contemporary political discourse. This saves the rest of us from having to seek out this valuable and interesting material ourselves. The links are posted among the comments under the heading ‘TODAY’S LINKS’ alongside a yellow tweedy-bird Gravitar.
A feature of TPS that can be easily missed is on the side panel under ‘site pages’. The links there are to Blog Watch which lists a large number of blog sites of interest to the political tragic, updated daily; to the websites of the major political parties where their press releases are to be found; and to Sword Watch where there are links to all the pieces that have been posted on TPS.
Above all, TPS has set out to build camaraderie among visitors. Each new commenter is welcomed. His/her contributions are valued.
Because this site uses an off-the-shelf blog engine, BlogEngine.NET, we have not been able to find a way of avoiding the mindless spam that seems to infect the site, sometimes in epidemic proportions. So a task each morning is to delete the spam that has arrived overnight. Your understanding and tolerance is appreciated; the spam is deleted as soon as we see it, but some slips through when we sleep and when we’re away from our computers (we still have family obligations). As spam seems to arrive, like babies, more at night than during the day, I am considering closing comments last thing at night and re-opening them in the morning.
It has been suggested that in the lead up to the election TPS might provide ‘an open thread’ to allow continuous comment. We are unsure how this might best be done, but one way would be to present shorter pieces more regularly and to have several threads running simultaneously. Some sites operate this way and seem to fill a need that some bloggers have to comment on a variety of topics. Alternatively a long piece could be interspersed between shorter ones to provide variety. You may have ideas about other ways we can make the site more attractive and potent.
Apart from any pleasure derived by the original contributors in writing pieces, apart from the pleasure visitors might derive by reading them and responding, the aim of TPS is to make political statements that resonate with visitors and have some influence, even though not nearly as profound as that of the MSM, on visitors and on the professional political commentariat who enjoy such a privileged position, having access as they do to many thousands of readers, viewers and listeners. We suspect some of these professionals visit blog sites, including TPS, and if one can judge from the brickbats hurled at bloggers by some of them, our criticisms do have an impact. Sometimes they seem to evoke anger; at other times a change of behaviour.
The Fifth Estate is having an increasing influence here and overseas on public discourse and opinion. We can be a modest force in holding to account those who have the privilege to work in the media by insisting that they base their reporting on verifiable facts accurately and completely recorded; that when they express an opinion they do so openly so we know that is what it is; and that they present a balanced and unbiased appraisal of the issue they are addressing.
We can identify groupthink when it occurs and call it for what it is. We can continue to expose and condemn the pernicious habit of bootstrapping that creates a perverted version of the truth with which the media too often sets out to brainwash its consumers. This is a serious issue; we need to counter it at every turn.
We do have an influence; our efforts are not self-indulgent as some would have it, they can and do make a difference.
So in summary, please let us have your preferences for TPS – do you prefer the longer pieces posted about twice a week as is the current pattern, or in the lead up to the election would you like to see shorter pieces posted more frequently, or perhaps a mixture of the two? Are there any other features you would like added? Your comments on the usefulness of features such as Today’s Links from lyn1, Blog Watch and Sword Watch would be welcome.
So it’s now over to you. Please comment on how you would like TPS to operate in the lead up to the election and we’ll try to meet your wishes and your needs.