Australian political blogging has certain character traits you won’t find in other forms of the political media. Sometimes it speaks before it thinks (especially in the comments section), and it always wears its heart on its sleeve. But bloggers are graduating from their traditional role as online pamphleteers into something more influential.
That’s not to say they seek to shove the respectable guys aside, they’re marking their own territory, canine style, and they’re pretty possessive. All of which means measuring a blog for bias entails a lengthy disclaimer. Blogs have never promised balance or objectivity, they’ve never made a pledge to report the facts. You won’t find many poe faced commentators in this medium, more like the odd expletive.
Before blog commentary makes it into the public realm, it doesn’t have to fight its way through an editorial bureaucracy, nor does it have to live up to a masthead. And that’s how we came up with the criteria for inclusion in the Crikey Blogosphere Bias-o-metre — it’s all about the wonks. You’ll notice that we’ve left many of the best Oz blogs off our meter — ( Reasons You Will Hate Me for starters.) That’s because they’re political in nature, but they’re not concerned primarily with politics, its practitioners, pundits and policy battles.
And there’s a grey area: some bloggers, like Andrew Bolt and Matt Price, are also columnists. While both are political blogging heavyweights with substantial readerships they’re not included here because they’re not bloggers first and foremost. They’ve taken their ready made readership and their in built brand name along for the ride. But a tip of the hat is due to the voracious Bolt in particular, who thrives on the fact that blogs talk back and has taken to the form with a vengeance.
News Ltd’s Tim Dunlop has been included. Despite working for News.com.au, Dunlop’s reputation was built in blogland (Road to Surfdom) and he’s still a blogger. Incidentally, he hates the idea of blogs being rated from left to right. Appropriately, Crikey expects (and hopes) to cop a bit of lip out in blog land for the following assessments:
Succinct, razor-sharp, and rancorous, this blog attacks the same lefty targets as other members of the right-leaning media, but does so with greater precision. Blair — whose day job is editing the opinion pages of The Daily Telegraph — holds a special antipathy for Tim Flannery, and relishes picking holes in the logic of the climate change lobby. Was particularly indignant recently when accused by Media Watch for tolerating cyber racism over discussion on his blog of Muslim taxi driver. Like all good blogs, goes where others fear to tread, controversially posted the infamous Prophet Mohammed cartoons. Lively and often times incendiary, this blog will be good value during the election campaign.
Broad range of subjects and the occasional post by controversial blogging entrant Helen Dale (aka Darville and Demidenko), doesn’t court controversy for the sake of it, doesn’t pick fights (much). Main man Jason Soon (a bad tempered libertarian) doesn’t go for cheap shots at easy targets but has seemed to have tipped to the right a little further recently. Not predictable. Occasionally prone to whimsy. Tends to post items of interest to let them speak for themselves.
More conversational and polite than many other political blogs, Ambit Gambit can also be a little preachy. But that earnest approach ensures readers get a reasoned analysis of the issues, which, in their choosing, tend to mirror what’s in the national debate. Not opposed to criticising their ideological allies in the Federal Parliament, but can be relied upon for an even-toned defence of Liberal Party politicking You might even call some of their views “centrist”. If political blogging can be rabid, Ambit Gambit proves it can also be reasonable.
Pinning a self proclaimed classical liberal to a precise point on the bias-o-meter was never going to be easy. Well thought out, detailed policy analysis. A glance at the list of categories in the margin gives you a taste of the breadth of this blog — from higher education, to gay marriage, to religion, and sickness and health – this is serious stuff. Norton mounts sophisticated arguments – a quick keyword search of right leaning hot button issues like the ABC and arts grants isn’t going to yield results. You need to dig deeper to guess at this guy’s true leanings, and even if you asked him directly, he’d turn the discussion into a dissertation.
Neutral number crunchers:
Peter Brent, proprietor of Mumble, is a serious political scientist. His blog covers elections, opinion polls and more general political musing; his views are often idiosyncratic, but always backed by solid analysis. Sometimes leans to the left, although in the previous term his dislike of John Howard was balanced by an equal distrust of Mark Latham.
Bryan Palmer maintains a blog as part of a general and highly informative site on Australian politics. The often-acrimonious comments section was recently closed, but Palmer’s posts remain essential reading for their statistical and historical explanations of what’s going on in the federal scene. His own politics remain a mystery; he manages to be informative without showing favoritism to either side.
The Poll Bludger, “known to his mother as William Bowe”, runs a lively forum for psephological debate and analysis. Some of the big names of the profession stop by and comment, and Bowe’s own posts are invariably judicious and well-reasoned. Covers both state and federal elections; his election guides and seat-by-seat predictions are always worth a look. As a Western Australian he maybe leans very slightly to the right, but there’s not much in it.
To the left:
Crikey named Club Troppo our blog of the year in 2005 for its thoughtful, measured and insightful commentary. Since then, Club Troppo has taken a swift kick to Crikey on several occasions, but all’s fair in love and war and cantankarous blogging. Founder Ken Parish is a must read, as is stable mate Nicholas Gruen for in depth analysis on economics, politics, the media, history and Jamie Packer’s speedos. If you want to be taken seriously as a political commentator, you have to have a pinch of objectivity, and the dozens of different contributors these days keeps it firmly on an even keel.
Is it trite to suggest Tim Dunlop is at the top of the Australian blogging heap? Probably, so we won’t, but this blog certainly zings with ideas and energy. Readers can rely on updates every few hours and their feedback is generous — being located on the news.com.au website certainly doesn’t hurt. Dunlop began his blogging life at Road to Surfdom and has managed to make the leap into mainstream, blogging cred largely intact, though some argue he is less staunch now, softening from a possible L4 to L1 after moving to News.
A reasonably active blog for the tea-sipping moderates of the left. Debate is orderly and respectful – the site contains repeated warnings against the use of “coarse language.” Quiggin himself is a professor of economics who doesn’t confine his blogging to sober analysis of the Treasurer’s pronouncements. Social commentary is likely to be followed by analysis of the international affairs – Maggie Thatcher, Iraq, etc – or the Australian media’s take on climate change. Readers are encouraged to participate with bi-weekly open forum invitations. Overall, a tweedy yet engaged and lucid corner blogosphere.
Well into the red zone, Polemica foregoes punchiness and brevity for a more discursive style, giving readers issues-based commentary rather than finger-pointing and partisan name-calling. National and sometimes international in focus, but also comments on issues particular to NSW. The comments sections remain fairly quiet.
The carbon-friendly powerhouse of Australian political blogging. Sustained on the enormous energy of ringleader Mark Bahnisch and with a host of great commentators, this group blog is always at the ready with a measured, interesting left-of-centre perspective on Australian politics. Never raving or preachy, the continually-updated LP provides plenty of food for thought for both left and right – and lashings of comfort food for lefties.
This is the blog that puts the F in Oz politics. Founded by tigtog (also the editor and FAQ author at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog ), who was joined by lauredhel in March this year, Hoyden About Town dispenses its femmobolsho views loudly, proudly and with plenty of bite. H about T is notable for its ability to cut through BS (misogynistic and otherwise) with deadly accuracy. Tigtog also sometimes joins the fray at LP.
On his departure to news.com.au, Tim Dunlop placed his baby in the hands of Ken Lovell et al, and the transition has been smooth. This blog has lost none of its bite, and it regularly and repeatedly sticks the boot into our PM, without losing its point in the heat of the moment. Prides itself on also laying into Labor leaning types to balance things out, but its birth as a political blog was prompted by its criticism of the Iraq invasion and it has remained true to those roots. Insightful but with a sharp sense of humour.
Pavlov’s Cat is a general interest blog with a strong literary bent, but it also makes periodic comments on Australian politics from a soft left-feminist perspective. Blogger Kerryn Goldsworthy is a former academic, now based in Adelaide, with a gently ironic take on life that sometimes boils over into righteous indignation.
If you want the view from the hard left, this is the place to go. It harbours a variety of writers, including Jeff and Jill Sparrow, Harry Feldman and Robert Bollard, but they tend to share a solidly Marxist background. Plenty of topics are covered, and the posts are often thoughtful and well-written, but the unrelieved one-sidedness can be grating even if you agree with the point being made.
The blog moniker is not ironic. An onymous lefty, formerly anonymous lefty, is the brainchild of Jeremy Sear, aka the blogger responsible for Boltwatch, “where Andrew Bolt’s Deranged Polemic … Gets What’s Coming To It”. Onymous rarely departs from an ironic mocking tone which he adopts to tackle all things conservative. Although there’s a tendency to rant as he rails against “hardline free-market righties” and anything to do with [insert reference to the US/Howard/Liberal Party here], Sear is indefatigable in his defence of the poor and disenfranchised. The Tim Blair antidote, if you’re looking for one.