US and UK blogging – size matters

Washington, DC is abuzz today with the fallout of a momentous week’s news. Harriet Miers is toast. Lewis Libby suddenly finds he has a lot of time on his hands. And Karl Rove is still left sweating.

And who frames this debate? Who to a large extent drives it, shapes it, boosts it? The blogs. Blogging in the US is huge. To take one example, the Daily Kos, one of the leading liberal blogs, gets a daily readership of nearly 850,000. Well over three quarters of a million. Adjusting for population, a UK blog would need to get a daily readership of around 200,000 to compete. And yet how many British blogs get even one percent of that figure? Even half of one percent? Precious few.

What is the matter with us British bloggers? Where are we going wrong? Is it that:

  • we are just not as clever as the Americans?
  • we are stymied by the Official Secret Acts?
  • we spend too much time trashing each other or writing posts on the lines of: ‘X wrote this in a newspaper today, X is an idiot, hurrah’?
  • the British mainstream media does a better job than its US counterpart, thus reducing the need for blogs?

Or is there some other, deeper national malaise that we need to crack?

Answers please.

  1. lasse-gurra aktersnurra said:

    american media is useless, that’s why

  2. Phil E said:

    I think there are two parts to the answer. One is cultural and historical: you might as well ask why British per capita consumption of Coke is so low, or why there are so few Baskin-Robbins outlets over here. Blogging began in the US and is still widely seen as an American thing, to the extent that it’s seen as anything at all. That may change or it may not – time will tell. The other part of the answer is cultural and political: there’s no British broadcast news outlet as unabashedly right-wing as Fox News, nor an American nationally-circulated newspaper as left-wing as the Indie or the Graun. American blogs only look as good as they do because the Mainstream Media look so bad.

  3. Some bloggers help to frame the debate in the UK, most don’t.

    Case in point, Tim Montgomerie’s ConservativeHome.Com – crucially important in the Tory leadership battle.

    Ask yourself this, how many good blogs are there? Why should crap blogs hope to frame the debate? All the enthusiast mono-fetish blogs rule themselves out.

    You have to be good enough to be read by the MSM.

    No MSM following, no influence.

    Cut ‘n paste is a waste…

  4. MatGB said:

    No idea where I read it, but someone blogged a pretty good analysis of this within the last month. I did bookmark it, but I’ve gone through 3 crashes since then :-(

    Anyway, summary. US blogs have been around longer. US print media is for the most part centre ground and attempts to capture the mainstream voter; most are a regional monopoly with no direct competition, so they want everyone to buy them. The UK is much better served with national press that serves our interests. In the US, where do you go for national opinion on a subject that really matters that you agree with? A blog.

    In the UK, you read your paper of choice. That’s the main difference. Broadcast media in the US can be as biased as print media is here, but US print media is, largely, the other way around. Small ‘c’ conservative, pro ‘family’ but centre ground on partizanship as it can’t afford to alienate voters or advertisers.

    If I knew the link, I’d post it, it was a good post.

  5. Martin Stabe has some analysis of this topic:
    ‘A waste of time’ reconsidered which updates his February posting British blogs: A waste of time?

    The size of the USA relative to the UK does mean that there is actually no equivalent national mainstream media there – you will not find both the New York Times, the LA Times in evry small town or village, as you might expect to find the The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Guardian.
    etc. Every single household in the UK capable of picking up a TV or radio signal, can tune into the BBC, the same is not true for any of the USA TV networks.

    However the idea that US bloggers are reacting to the factual rubbish and non-existant or biased analysis provided by the mainstream media with their love/hate symbiotic relationship with the political spin doctors, must surely apply here in this country as well ?

    That is certainly one of the reasons that Spy Blog exists, to try to correct some of the hype and spin.

    How much influence British bloggers have either on the mainstrream media or on politicians or on the general public is a different matter.

    Certainly freelance journalists and the IT technical press do seem to use British and foreign blogs as sources for their stories, or as an early warning system about aspects of mainstream media stories which are not always picked up by the professionals.

    Some mainstream media “features” pages have been filled with material lifted verbatim from blogs, sometimes without acknowledgement.

    Do the regular visits from “*” or “*” or from “*” etc. to be found in our web server logfiles mean that we are reaching influencing the heart of the “Westminster Village” or the “corridors of power” or not ?

  6. Apologies for the broken URL above – but since there is no preview option, you will need to correct it yourselves.

  7. Martin said:

    Back in April, I posted about the significance of absolute size of a potential readership in comparing US and UK blog readership. Perhaps that post, or a more recent the summary of stuff I’ve written about the differences between American and British blogging is what MatGB saw.

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  9. Yes, I like Martin Stabe’s answer. Different starting point in the range of views expressed in the media leads to a different result.
    The two biggest political blogs are probably Samizdata and Harry’s Place, both putting forward views that aren’t specifically offered by main media outlets. Further proof of the validity of Martin’s idea I think.

  10. MatGB said:

    Martin’s February article is indeed the piece I was referring to, “A blog screaming about the manifold biases of the Sun isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know” is a particularly memorable phrase. It must’ve been linked to somewhere, or I compacted the recent article in my head.

    Essentially, I agree with his analysis, our media is more diverse in opinions, our columnists do cover a much wider cross section of views. Thus, in order to make an impact, a UK blog needs to come from a specific angle, offer a different perspective, campaign on a smaller issue or provide articles that provoke debates and comment storms. Given this, I think I regret my choice of blogspot, the way it handles comments doesn’t help the debate sparking need.

    Ah well, I can always upgrade once I’ve got a bit more practice. WordPress is good as an engine it appears.

  11. I get 1000 to 3000 hits a day – depending on post frequency which correlates with something interesting happening.

    PoliticalBetting.Com gets ten times that…

    I do low-brow political gossip / jokes / cruel jibes and Mike Smithson pleases the punters with his political version of the Sporting Life.

    I think there is no real market for political bloggers with basically predictable positions unless they write very well and/or have in-depth knowledge. Predictable bloggers are boring.

    We have a very lively press whereas in the U.S. the press is predictable and worthy. Bloggers in the U.K. have tougher MSM competition than those in the States.

  12. Ranald said:

    I think part of the answer is the role of money in US politics as well. A large part of the power of dailykos, in particular, is that it raises quite a lot of money for various candidates and causes, which is more important in US than UK politics.

  13. Yup, it’s the quality difference. The US ‘news’ media couldn’t produce analysis or insight to save their lives. The UK media are pretty good: between BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Economist and Channel 4, you can find a broad spectrum of reasonable points of view, written by intelligent, literate people. Who needs blogs in that situation?

    The good UK blogs are those covering neglected issues, or those issues where there is still high controversy like Northern Ireland.

  14. Matthew said:

    850,000 visits a day is surely not 850,000 readers? If they all visit 4 times, it would be 225,000. And these aren’t necessarily all real humans.

    Still I guess a lot more than any British blog.

  15. Monjo said:

    US blogs appeal to the international community far more than UK blogs. I guess this is because US politics is more important than UK politics – which is a shame really, but a reflexion on the bollocklessness of Major and Blair. Had blogging started in 1981 then UK blogs would have trounced US blogs.

    Perhaps one reason why French blogging is so big is that searches in French on the internet bring up mostly France-based results; whereas UK bloggers search results are buried with American, Canadian, Australian and International bloggers using English-language. Search engines are not very good at identifying UK-based sites only, especially when so many Brit bloggers may use .Coms like Blogspot, Typepad, MSN Spaces, or host their pages on US web hosts ($7.99/mth vs £7.99/mth for the same service).

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  19. Alex said:

    There’s also the quality factor. Yeah, the Americans get more traffic, but they also produce a LOT of hyper-partisan, barely literate, content-free dross parroting either whatever Powerline or the execrable Corner (four well-paid journos with existing followings pretending to be bloggers, with comments off – and blogging with comments off is like kissing your sister) said yesterday, or whatever frenzied Chomsky-and-crack conspiracy theory Alexander Cockburn came up with last, depending on party.

    The figures are also distorted by a definition issue. Is Kos a blog or a forum? I would have though there was a case that it’s more of a BBS-cum-blogfarm with Kos’s blog attached (let’s face it, no-one, but no-one, goes there to read his posts) than a blog in its own right. The content comes from the user diaries – and shouldn’t they really be considered independent blogs? (Total disclosure: I have a Kos screen name) seem on average of higher quality, and interestingly, more blogosphere-oriented, by which I mean they are more conscious of acting as a community.

  20. KathyF said:

    Having participated in both realms, and lived in both, I can offer an observation.

    There are fewer UK poliblogs and poliblog readers for the same reasons there are fewer UK bumper stickers and buttons on lapels. People here don’t feel comfortable expressing political opinion as freely as we do in the US. British reserve, and all that.

    Second, the UK bloggers I read generally don’t update their blogs nearly as often as US bloggers, many of whom are full time bloggers. Are there any Brits who’ve managed to support themselves from their blogs? (Kos should be paying those diarists who bring people to his site.)

    Third, UK politics just isn’t as cutthroat as US politics. I would never vote Conservative, but I genuinely like David Cameron. He seems so nice. I could never say that about any of the Republican leaders. And your latest Blunkett scandal pales in comparison to the hijinks of our current US leadership.

  21. Surely British politics just *isn’t* as interesting? Election results aren’t really in any doubt, there’s nothing left to debate in the UK since decisions have already been made, and the UK political scene is sensible enough not to “out” intelligent agents for merely political gain.

    Plus, for all its faults the mainstream media in the UK acknowledges that there are alternative viewpoints. In the US, if you wanted to filter your media to reflect solely left or right-wing views, you pretty much could.

  22. MatGB said:

    Having now added the main Kos page to my main feed aggregator, you can see more of why he gets som many hits/day. He posts so often that the same people will keep going back and back.

    Look at Nosemonkey ‘s visitor graph since he went off to get hitched, way down on normal, no posts to keep drawing us in.

    My blog will never have the hits that some others do, I’m spread so thin I can barely update it.

    But I think Kathy has a strong point; us Brits just don’t like to talk about politics, even with close friends, I still don’t actually know the political opinions of the young lady I’ve spent the best part of the last month talking to by phone, depsite us having talked about so many other subjects. She just won’t talk about it. To me, that’s weird, but, y’know, degree in the subject does loosen the tongue a little.