The Polecat Writes Back

Norman Tebbit may not be the most obvious of web journalism innovators. Soon to be celebrating his 79th birthday, Tebbit – until 1992 a Conservative Party MP, and now a Peer in the House of Lords – has been renowned for being one of Margaret Thatcher’s closest allies – even a potential successor at one point, a small ‘c’ as well as a capital ‘C’ conservative, and certainly a provocative figure.

For example, his retort in the early 1980s that unemployed rioters should ‘get on their bikes’ as his father did and look for work made him a hate figure on the Left. (Admittedly this did not take much effort, given the poisonous atmosphere of UK politics at the time.) He has spoken out against the European Union and even suggested that traditional Conservative voters should instead support the Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party, infuriating many in his own party.

In addition, some of his comments on race and multiculturalism have been equally controversial, though he has also denounced the neo-fascist British National Party. This abrasive, uninhibited approach earned him the nickname of ‘semi-house-trained polecat’ via the late Michael Foot, but also cemented his reputation as a hardman of the British mainstream right.

Despite this, he is also doing something very interesting on his blog, hosted by the web site of the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper. Namely, he replies to comments made by reader in the main body of his blog posts, structuring them as if taking part in an informal discussion:

I think “dirlada” was right. Any one in any walk of life may make honest mistakes, even sensible mistakes, but in that recent incest case it was over 100 people from 28 different agencies, all making some pretty obvious mistakes which was the worry. And right again, “Bionic Raspberry”. What about the offenders and the extended family too?

Oh, “crownarmourer”, what a temptation! Me as Lord Protector. No, I do not think so. I sussed out how power corrupted him when I was a 15-year-old history student.

Again, I must tell “incensed” that I simply am not Mr Tebbit. I lost that title. I don’t mind Tebbit, Norman or, as cabbies usually address me, “Norm” but I am not “Mr”. And I hope that you still might see the difference between the EU and the USSR. Millions of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and others who have experienced both can do so. Oh, and just a thought: were not the progenitors of the BNP ready to sell out to Hitler?

Whereas other columnists may occasionally reply to comments as commenters themselves, Tebbit seems unwilling to maintain such a barrier between blog and response. Instead he selects what he believes are either the most interesting posts made, or the ones that he believes require the most refutation. This is curiously inventive, cementing as it does, a direct connection between him and his readers. If we consider that online journalism’s strength is that it allows such a two-way conversation, even in a textual medium, then Tebbit is unusual in that he treats this as an essential part of the process, but also leaves aside the traditional aloofness of the journalist in doing so. He blogs, they read, they comment, he reads in turn and comments in turn. It is both cyclical and personable, but also an acceptance that what the reader says and thinks is at least as worthy of consideration as what the author writes, within some parameters – Tebbit still chooses what to reply to, whereas the reader still chooses what to comment on.

Tebbit also refers to each commentator by name, or at least, screen name. Again, this implies a greater intimacy between reader and author, but also a shared subjectivity – Tebbit picks comments, not all of which he agrees with, but answers them in a personalised and informal fashion:

As for “john the bear” I am just sorry that he has so little faith in his country. He fears that if the UK left the EU our former partners would set out to destroy us. They are not that stupid. They export more to us than we to them. They would be the bigger losers. And they would be in breach of the GATT…

…I should apologise to “blustering colonel” for ignoring his kind invitation to visit Singapore. I have been there many times, the first of them in 1954, so I am not unaware of the immense achievements of Lee Kwan Yu and the people of Singapore. Indeed I only wish that we had had more leaders like him here.

We might have been as successful as Singapore, but we only had one, and she was not leader for long enough.

Whilst Tebbit’s politics may not be seen as always desirable by either this author or many OJR readers, to dismiss them or how Tebbit articulates them is to ignore how he has developed a currently unique relationship with his readers. The closest equivalent may be the ‘ombudsman’ employed by some US news organisations, who uses his or her column to respond to reader/viewer queries and complaints. The main difference between these however is that the ombudsman still retains his or her distance from the reader – he is an emissary of the ‘writer’, embodied in this case by the hierarchy of the newsroom – and responds to missives from otherwise passive readers, but only on his or her terms and in an official – or even officious – capacity.

Tebbit meanwhile does choose what to reply to, but beyond that is an openness to a variety of comments. Tebbit may not necessarily agree with some commenters but still lists some of their more notable comments and responds to them accordingly:

I noticed amongst those posting comments on this site a number of contributors, john the bear cub, Matthew Gris, mark999, frederik and others telling me the EU is a done deal, a good thing, and that I should shut up and learn to love it. Oddly enough, as mickeypee and rapscallion pointed out, none of them explain why we should put up with a government we did not elect and cannot change compelling us to do things which are clearly not in our interest.

Oliver was not convinced by my explanation of why the main parties are pro EU and asked me why Cameron is so, too. Well, I simply do not know. He has not told me.

I thought basset was a bit grumpy. He forgets that I stood down from the Cabinet and refused invitations to go back. And to suggest that I have more influence over voters than David Cameron is a bit unrealistic. If it were true, then perhaps Camp Cameron would ask themselves why.

The views exhibited are in fact varied, despite the political bias one might assume of a blogger who as a rule tends to delete or ignore posts that are not in line with his own views. Steven Duncombe’s fears in 1997 that the World Wide Web would simply facilitate a myriad of ‘virtual ghettos’ or echo chambers* have often been realised many times, yet Tebbit’s blog has become an unlikely alternative – there may be no agreement, but nor is disagreement dismissed out of hand or shouted down. Tebbit allows commenters to disagree with him, and simply disagrees in turn.

How best to contextualise this? Conservative media figures, primarily in the United States, have always demonstrated a strong rapport with their audiences, as demonstrated by the success of right-wing ‘shock jocks’ such as Rush Limbaugh and latterly Glen Beck. Yet this does not take into account, for example, the considerable differences that exist between American and British schools of conservatism.

Equally, it does not acknowledge that right wing broadcast media is precisely that: a powerful figure speaks to a mute but appreciative audience – and it is this authoritativeness as opposed to Tebbit’s openness with his audience that defines this sub-genre. Of course, many ‘shock jocks’ reply to e-mails and letters on their shows, but again this is more akin to the traditional ‘postbag’ section in both print and broadcast media, whereas – as said – Tebbit is much more willing to interact with his readers, without prompting. It is obvious from the tone and the ease that he undertakes this that it is through choice. The writer has become the listener.

It is what Nicholas Carr refers to as ‘Conservative Innovation’, wherein the innovative is combined with the old and established in order to create something genuinely new and promising. Carr did of course refer to this in the context of industrial production, but given its technological nature, it can also be applied to Tebbit’s blog. He combines the conservative with the electronic, the journalistic with the informal, and in doing so, creates a new kind of conversation between him and his audience.

* Stephen Duncombe, Notes From Underground ‘Zines And The Politics Of Alternative Culture (New York: Verso, 1997), p.72

Reluctant Advertisers Are Favouring Electronic Medium Today ?

Newspaper, a popular and favourite medium in mass communication system could have not found any considerable way so far, as to run comfortably in future. Economic downturn has been claimed to be the significant cause of such miserable condition as we see them presently. It is true, no one can’t deny that the economic recession that has been emerged globally, and has brought a severe captivity for the major sound entrepreneurs in this arena fiscally. Many big players in the market who once didn’t have care for incurring millons of dollar expanses in the head of ‘Ads’,now they have been fighting for subtle existence and breathing very slowly with hopelessly indeed.

Our point of view is not to search what the exact fact is, behind the existing economic slow down. We can say only what about is, that the print medium as a whole, (newpapers,magazines, periodicals) have been passing through a pitiable situation stubornly. The indomitable nagative affect , in the true sense,that has to face by the major newspaper organization is what to cope up with its extensive etablihment cost in huge amount as compared to other print medium like magazine,periodicals etc. It is evident, that, a handsful revenue from large quantity of advertisements that the newspapers were enjoying earlier, has come out to be shortend or be curtailed significantly. This shortfall in advertisement – might be an important cause of such drought in newspaper industry-but not be the one and only. I sniff another more causes could be there ! Today, in our fasterer life-style, we intake our required inforations and entertainments largely from the electronic media that can provide instantly what we demaqnd for. We have no such wastable time as well as patience to go with any further lengthy process of enjoying the same outcome from other sources or means. Time factor, has compelled the consumer audience to do so. Whenever, a very good alternative way is available as open to all, then why should look for another delayed one? The major portion of media audience today, have been exhibiting their greater exposure in electronic medium particularly in audio-visual medium. Such audience are being kept satisfied by the television medium duly.The keen ‘Advertisers’ are well known and aware of this- and pay their emphatic attention towards the electronic medium predominantly. The sponsors all, want to pay for their ads’ only to what could be disseminated widely,instantly and repeatedly. These advantages all at a time could be handled by the television medium only. It is quietly natural-best outcome would be rewarded highly.Television today, have been enjoying the sweet fruits of Ads. It is also undenieable that the pictorial presentation has a greater appeal and attraction to the audience as compared to other medium.It is futile to say,that ‘television’can enjoy the maximum advantages in this regard as it has greater command on the audience for its distinguishedcharacteristics.Televiion today, can easily and grab the lion’s share of launchable advertisements in the market.So why, the they could also be called ‘wealthy medium’definitely, as compared to other medium. Beside this, the internet publishers are fetching a considerably revenues from launchable advts for their pages well. While newspapers have been confronting toughest competition in this hurdle.A certain amount of advertisements that were going to newspapers,are now entering in the courtyard of the online news publishers. It is a significant matter indeed ! It is studies well, that the electronicmedium have greater impact value than print medium. It has wider range of audience which can transcend across the country even internationally. So, sponsors’interest or emphasis naturally would remain stick to the electronic medium vehemently. The advertisers are payingduly high reward for the best outcome. One point more to be taken to the account is,at the prime time of the television programme of any channel can accumulate the highest number of viewers who obviously go with by and large advertisements presented intermittently. Soch greater impact never could be expected at a time from other medium.

Newspapers particularly, have been residing presently at the declining position in such situation evolved due to economic downturn globally. Even now, newspapers are quite unable to battle with online publishing entrepreneurs also. If online publishing sector go ahead deliberately in organizing manner in future,it is believed that the greater ‘ fiscal success’ would shake hands with online publishers by replacing the newspapers boost significantly.

Present News Organizations Would Require To Rectify Their 'Adopted Policy'.

Mass media initiate demand and needs for the society by providing different sources in trems of valuable informations and messages or contents. Such messages from the mass media helps to evolve a viable environment for the members of the society as they could think and judge in better manner on any vital issue that sustains turmoils and anarchy in the society. Mass media try to co-ordinate the society people of different religion, caste education, professiona as well as economic and cultural group, that encourages them as well, and motivate to go side by side unitedly and strengthfully. Mass media call the major numbers of the people of the society into particicipation, with the needful issue or any acute problem appearing in the society predominantly, with a view to finding a possible solution or way. It is seen that we get confused of the evolved problem and remain sometime as undone or unsolved. We oftenly fail to perform or overcome such problem in organized manner. Mass media can accord our disintegration and reunite anykinds of disruptive or malice communal relationship if prevails within the society, by applying their ‘power of influence’through the transmission of various messages and effective presenrations, as to control the restless situation very keenly and competently as well. Moreover, during natural disasters like earthquake,flood,draught and femine and others, mass media keep a close look over the matter as to organize the different measures taken in this regard, by the state power. Mass media try to initiate and maintain a harmonious relationship among the administration and the local delegates, clubs, ngos’ and other society members with a view to achieving better result through proper utilization, of the resources available in hand. Mass media could appear as to be most effective organizer in the society through their multifarious abilities like power of persuation ,presentation advocacy by means of which, unifying as well as motivating the society members,can achieve the required goal for the society.

As the mass media deserve a social respect and dignity as well , they should hold good it by utilizing their power of influence, for the benefit of the society with a view to uplifting the standard of living of human life both physically and mentally. Ethically standardized presentations would require from the media organizations as to develop and retain the basic characteristics (like ideals and morality, sympathy, co-operation to other etc) of human beings which have been going to be extincted day by day. In the environment of crazy and flooded mass consumerism, the nature of mankind have significantly been affected. The extensive exposure of allurable products that oftenly induce and mislead human beings in obtaining the same irrespective of any proper judgement or assessment at all. Human beings today, fail to assess or judge on their cpacities in securing such expensive products for their use. Mass media have been acting as stimulant in this respect of mass consumerism diffusion and impulsing the society people drastically towards more to happen so. On the way of publishing contents for the consumer audience, the media have been establishing themselves as keen and shrewed agents for the big corporate houses. Today, we can not deny, that the big corporate houses want what,, is provided by the deflected as well as deviated media as to earn more revenues.The major presented contents involve Vulgurity and obscenity extensively which is not desirable. Earning more money always, does not necessarily mean ‘surrender of own existence and values’ that the present media usually do The mass media would require to think about their practices of such ‘humbuggery’, although trying to retain the dignified position in our society. The dealings of mass media, should never be concentrated towards earning money only.They are not business concern only, but at the sametime they are the institution for rendering education,developmental thoughts and ideas,focus on new horizon for new achievement for the society people also. They should never forget, that an ‘interdependency’ relationship is still existing between them and the society.The mass media should not treate our society as their ‘ Heavenly Market’ for generating revenue and where they can do whatever they like with the power of influence that they possess.

The most challenging days are waiting ahead for present media, where new concept of journalism in diverse ways have been emerging with handsful new opportunities and offer as to satisfy the needs of consumer audience. Many set-up in this regard have been on operation through online as to replace the conventional ‘ time consuming’ process of newpaper or other media organization. Such new ventures based on online activities would need lesser person engaged at least to serve the purpose of consumer audience pertainin a limited persons or group with specific interested areas. Such chaleanging alternative media for communication through unilateral or bilateral efforts,could establish their ventures robustly in near future.