As tempted as I am simply to declare Australia’s newest political blog The Stump open and get on with it, it might serve to consider for a moment what its purpose is. Beyond, you know, blogging about politics and so on.

Apart from immediacy, which doesn’t as a rule lend itself to quality analysis, new media’s primary contribution to political journalism and commentary is interactivity. It replaces that good old mainstream media model that most of us grew up with, in which a journalist hands down his or her opinions as authoritative commentary to a mass audience aggregated for the purposes of advertisers, with a dialogue. Or, more correctly, a debate, in which the journalist, commentator or originator is merely one voice among many, albeit a privileged one.

At its best, this model isn’t only, or even mainly, about democratising media – although that’s important – but about a better quality debate, in which participants might – horror of horrors – broaden their understanding of issues, via diverse voices and perspectives that aren’t available in any one media source, no matter how good. It’s about a community that – cliché alert – is literally more than the sum of its parts.

And, yep, the crucial caveat is “at its best”. Blogs are not always, or perhaps even often, at their best or anything resembling it, and political blogs are no different to most others. For what it’s worth, I’ve found through some years in both amateur and professional capacities that the secret to a genuinely useful blog lies in keeping something approaching an open mind. That tends to improve both the quality of debate, and the quality of one’s own contributions to the debate.

Easier said than done, of course, and I personally can’t wait to have that line thrown back at me in some later discussion.

The Stump will feature a wide range of contributors. Crikey regulars Guy Rundle, Charles Richardson and Andrew Crook and editor Jonathan Green will be here, as well as another Crikey blogger, former senator Andrew Bartlett. Paul Comrie-Thomson, Chris Berg and Jason Soon will also contribute. That’s just for starters.

This is a fascinating period as much in policy as in politics. Rarely has a government looked so set for a long stay at the crease as this mob, but the policy debate across a range of key issues is more fluid than it has been since, probably, the 1980s or even earlier. The orthodoxy at the heart of economic policy in Anglophone countries for three decades is under challenge; climate change poses an almost unique international dilemma; even the global institutional architecture is undergoing significant change, and having dodged the bullet of global recession, getting the recovery right looks like an even more difficult task for Australian policymakers. Plus there’s the small matter of Kevin Rudd’s reform agenda in areas like federal relations, the Public Service, defence and taxation.

Oh, and did I mention that the commercial media, which still provides much of the backbone of political coverage in Australia, is having a few problems itself?

Not, one rushes to add, that The Stump will be exclusively about hi-fibre, good-for-your-insides wonkery… It’ll take a while to find out what the character of this blog will be, but that’s part of the fun, and it’s a process that everyone participating here can play a role in.

So — off you go. Join The Stump here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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