Blogging for academia; writing for citizens

December 9, 2010

One of my favourite New Statesman journalists is Alice Miles. In the Political Studies Guide 2011 supplement to the edition of 29 November 2010, she comes closer still to my heart. In a piece entitled “Talk human, please”, she argues that academic writing fails to engage with the real world, which she found as an experienced journalist trying to satisfy her academic tutors on a masters course in social policy.

She is of course correct, ignoring the need for rigour and accuracy, there is frequently a need for pedantry and circulating the houses so many times it would make any normal reader dizzy! A key element I believe, as a blogging academic practitioner, is around the need for a greater acceptance of new media within academic circles, for as she states “it is no good sitting around in ivory towers (OK, they’re more usually made of concrete breeze blocks) condemning journalism for being ill-informed pap and then refusing to take part in it”.

Blogging is one way of learning to write for a wider audience.

In the same way that academic writing is frequently too heavy for the average citizen (and having been brainwashed into writing for an academic audience, I am as guilty as any), there is another set of authors that fail to do it for the average citizen and that is those brought up in the ways of council solicitors and bureaucracy. It has taken time to teach the average council officer to write for the web but there remain islands where council notices in the legally prescribed format are transferred to the Internet without any translation! This, in the same way that practitioners will refuse to read stilted academic literature, will restrain citizens from interacting with councils via the Internet.

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Keeping mum

April 27, 2010

I frequently cringe when I see Mumsnet established as a standard for e-government style engagement. This was confirmed by a piece in the New Statesman of the 26 April 2010 by Alice Miles entitled “Don’t kid yourself about Mumsnet“.

Alice clearly picks out the iffiyness around those who believe social media are making headway in politics when she says “The strange relationship people have with “online” is a challenge for adherents of “e-democracy” and undermines the fashionable theme of the “Mumsnet election”. Will Mumsnet make such a difference on 6 May?”

She’s also done her research when she looks at the usage proportions of the various media and states “Compare these with the proportions expecting to get information from blogs (3 per cent) or social networking sites (2 per cent).” This and research from Professor Graham Smith results in “a distinctly limited role for mature online political debate.”

This is also supported by the comment on my “The twittering parties” by Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society who stated “the latest Audit of Political engagement asks some of these questions and shows that 4% of the general electorate follow a politician on Facebook and 2% on Twitter.”

We’ll soon see the results, but how much of this is directly down to the Internet I believe will be little and remain unclear.