When The Guardian‘s twice-weekly staple, ‘Football Weekly‘, started it was common practice for its participants to refer to those who commented under the line on their page as ‘bloggers’. They weren’t, or weren’t necessarily, bloggers, and now those involved in this brilliant production refer to those who get involved as ‘posters’. This anecdote, while mundane, illustrates The Guardian‘s increasing sensitivity towards the expanding blogging community. Their football site functions increasingly as a blog version of their printed paper, with writers having their say below as well as above the line. It also includes an ‘Our Favourite Things This Week’ section in which five blog posts are selected and recommended to a wider audience, and this Christmas they published a list of the Top 100 Blogs to follow in 2011 (maybe next year). These things show the newspaper’s attenuated interaction with ‘the community’, which is brilliant.
It is brilliant that the two interact – and it is an interaction, the ‘sportblog’, for example, wouldn’t work without the commenters, and zonalmarking’s Michael Cox appears regularly on the pod and on the site. But that’s as far as it can go. The Guardian can act like a blog, it can look like a blog. But it can’t be a blog. That, really, is what a blog is. That’s what a blog post is. It and they are defined by their not newspaperiness. Their range of interests, philosophy and writing styles may coincide but there is a fundamental difference between the blogger and his/her blog and the hack and his/her paper.
There is a practical element to this. The institutional agendas and alliances that newspapers need, to attract talented writers, compelling interviewees and, perhaps most importantly, a large deep-pocketed audience attractive to advertisers, are not considerations with which the typical blogger will concern him or herself.
The distinction, however, is more important for ideological reasons. For intellectual, Frankfurt Scholar, Marxist reasons it is important that the blogging community remain separate from the newspaper industry. In their essay on ‘The Culture Industry’, Adorno and Horkheimer characterise the newspaper industry as a place in which ‘every detail is so firmly marked with sameness that nothing can appear which is not marked at birth’. Characteristically of post-war German Marxists these post-war German Marxists are overstating their point. The Guardian is not a homogenised behemoth. For each of Jonathan Wilson’s tactical masterclasses there are several hundred of Barney Ronay’s compounded compound adjectives. But, ‘once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, he belongs to it’ (Adorno and Horkheimer again). There is, I think, some truth to this last one. For the most part, you read your favourite newspaper don’t you? The Telegraph could have a cracking columnist right now and I probably wouldn’t know because The Guardian probably wouldn’t tell me.
That, of course, is how newspapers are supposed to work. They are designed to inspire loyalty.
It’s not the same with blogs. We don’t make any money, so we don’t care really whether you come to us or go elsewhere – that, incidentally, is why (at the Big Man at least) we don’t report, only comment – in fact, we go elsewhere ourselves. Not just to read, but to write. The idea of the blog is inseparable from the idea of the community.
And it is a great community. Marx would have liked it. His manifesto ends with the aphoristic call to arms: ‘WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE, ALL YOU HAVE TO LOSE ARE YOUR CHAINS!’ A similar ethos operates in the blogging community, which, with its mutual exchange of ideas and labour and assaults on dominant narratives and ideologies, represents something of a Communist Utopia. Only without the bland sameness. This community is not the shades of grey favoured by the soviets, it’s a vibrant mash-up.
As with favourite goals* or favourite players, there are no hard fast rules about what makes a good blog post. As the superb In Bed with Maradona shows, there aren’t even hard or fast rules about what makes for a good subject. There it’s all fantastic. At In off the Ghost, the rules are even less clear. And it’s great too. It’s not that the community doesn’t have experts, either. To relive Football Italia’s glory days, you get after The Football Express or onto Football Italiano. For the football league go see the two unfortunates. If you want to know, really really want to know, the intricacies of the financial situation at Rangers, or what ‘Arry’s really up to it’s all in a Swiss Ramble. And the writing’s great too: hit Two Footed Tackle for a bit of vitriol, Who Ate all the Pies? for a wheeze and then, if you feel unsure about what you think, close with a warm hug from Mr Iain MacIntosh, he’ll set you right.
These blogs and bloggers have each worked hard to earn and cultivate their unique identities in an expanding community. At Good Feet for a Big Man, we aren’t experts and we don’t have a niche. Instead, we try to reflect the ethos of the community. Like the veritable, and actual, Football Hobo, the Big Man is not tied down. We tramp across the community idly picking, then picking apart, the footbally flotsam we choose. The community has space for wastrels like us: that’s what makes it great.