Bloggers get free rein at Labour conference


9 Feb 2007

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This weekend’s Labour Party conference will be the first Irish political party conference to be covered by bloggers.

“We’re hoping to get enough people together to ‘live blog’ the conference as it occurs and send out interesting titbits of news, stuff that wouldn’t usually make the headlines,” said Cian O’Flaherty, administrator of Irishelection.com, who is spearheading the initiative.

“We’re hoping to be able to broadcast and make stuff available as podcasts that might be a bit more interactive than the usual coverage of a conference.”

Coverage will be available on Irishelection.com. There are also preliminary plans in place to cover the Green Party annual convention at the end of the month.

“It’s possible but it’s much less firm at the moment because it’s in Galway,” said O’Flaherty. “Because blogging is a part-time thing it’s difficult to get people to take their weekends off and go to Galway but we’re pretty confident we’ll have someone there for at least one of the three days of the conference. It’s likely to be a very important conference the way they’re going in the polls.”

O’Flaherty said he hoped this type of activity would become a mainstay of party ard fheiseanna across the political spectrum.

“We are hoping to be able to use this experience to leverage the other parties but I was hoping to hold off contact with them until such time as we had one or two conferences under our belt.

“As political parties go, both Labour and the Greens have been by far the most supportive of the whole idea of interacting with the web and with bloggers. When we asked Labour there was never any issue with getting bloggers there and getting press accreditation so they’d have access to facilities and people. They were very co-operative and open to the whole idea of having a dynamic approach to reporting these events.”

In recent months some high-profile bloggers claimed that blogging would have an impact on the outcome of the general election. O’Flaherty believes that while blogging will influence some voters, its impact on this election may not be as big as anticipated.

“The election may come too soon for us but it’s definitely laying the foundation for maybe two or three years’ time to have a huge number of people being able to derive reliable content and reliable argument and debate from blogs and the internet. We’ll have some influence but it looks likely to grow after the election if all goes well.”

“There will be an influence but how much of a change there will be I don’t know,” said Damien Mulley, blogger and spokesperson for internet lobby group IrelandOffline. “It’s definitely helping with getting more attention on certain issues. With the format of blogs, when you search for something on Google you’re going to get more stuff back from people talking about it online.”

Mulley predicted blogging would not only change the way politics was covered but how politicians interact with the public, with many using blogs to articulate their views and post comments on other blogs. However, with a few exceptions it’s still usually councillors and younger party activists who blog rather than TDs or more high-profile figures, said Mulley. “A lot of TDs get in and they become very conservative no matter what their politics are,” he reasoned.

Mulley also predicted the rise of single-issue blogging, where a local person who is interested in only one thing can blog to a niche audience.

He anticipated that political parties will also start using blogs to gauge or research opinions on the ground, treating them as they would focus groups. Traditional broadcast and print media will also increasingly use them for research and newsgathering, he claimed. “I know for a fact there’s a lot of political correspondents that subscribe to blogs even though a lot of them might not admit it. You can track them by their email addresses. I guess they’ll be citing blogs as their sources in futures.”

An interesting point is that many people who read blogs do not fit into traditional voting demographics and may be vital swing voters in tightly contested constituencies.

“The demographics tend to suggest that a lot of the people who read the site [Irishelection.com] would not have a traditonal voting preference,” remarked O’Flaherty. “They’re mostly based around the cities and the suburbs and would have moved there in the past five years; this will be their first election in their new constituencies so they’re looking to get amongst the issues and find out what suits their life best. That group is well represented amongst the readershsip and amongst the commentators as well.”

By Niall Byrne