This morning at about 8.30am at a football stadium in Tottenham, North London, a full time whistle blew in the quarter finals of match between Spurs and West Ham United. The game itself tempered by the usual gloom of a London rain storm, was for the neutral a classic come from behind affair. Spurs scored first through relatively disgruntled striker Adebayor only for West Ham to fire 2 in the final 20 minutes to best the North London side. As the referee threw his hands towards the sideline indicating Spurs’ latest defeat, I sat in my armchair with my Twitter and Facebook accounts open on my laptop ready to rage and debate on what went wrong. You see, I’m a classic football pundit who spends far too much time discussing and commenting on what formations, what players and what styles of football would work in order to draw the best results with the team that I feel I ‘was born to follow’. But as one astute observer argued (in a football forum) the other day ‘what does all of this matter? The team manager isn’t listening and watching forums to make changes according to what you think you know. And what do you know after all? We have no idea of the ins and outs behind the scenes’.
He made a great point – but I have to disagree in part (I’ll return to this later). But football punditry has been going on for a lot longer than the invention of Facebook groups and the interwebs. When people met after the game in the pub for a beer, they discussed the same things we do today online. When the whistle went and the papers began printing off their reviews of performances and so on, we were there commenting to friends and family and making our own plans to improve the team and thinking we knew better than the people paid to do this daily. This has been going on for a long time.
And so has political punditry. For as long as I’ve been actively following politics there’s been a significant debate amongst friends and family members of mine on the policies, performances and allegiances of our ‘political teams’. Long before the interwebs, perhaps in Habermas’ ‘cafes’, people were debating politics and the role of the State. And while people bemoan the ongoing conversation that occurs in cyberspace, especially in Twitter where political discussions are limited to 140characters or less, we shouldn’t forget that we’ve been doing this generationally for a long time. The difference is of course, that those locked out of the debate initially (the poorer working classes) can now be full participants – as long as the language doesn’t ‘lock them out’ (see Noely’s first post on here which I have still to respond to).
However the more professional debates on the political and social issues that confront our Houses of Parliament frequently become what I would describe as ‘noise’. This is evident in the blogging world but especially true in the context of the commentary pages of the major news sources (Newspapers, Radio, Television, Online News). The constant churn of the opinion pages (or sites or programs) is incessant and draws in more comments through the blogosphere or twitter pages than ‘actual’ news stories. In the context of this, I was drawn to a tweet from a journalist that I admire and respect a great deal;
WORD OF THE DAY. Ultracrepidarianism: giving opinions on subjects you know nothing about.— julia baird (@bairdjulia) December 17, 2013
Frequently I am reminded of this daily when commentators who draw crowds of followers on twitter and who become quasi-celebrities in their own right (and in some cases flaunt that) ink the pages of the opinion columns with pieces that are mere echoes of their own preconceived biases and ideological leanings. I’m constantly amazed that people can be paid merely to produce material that is nothing more than pure ‘opinion’ – producing little information to inform and more to promote a paper and solidify a particular political leaning in their readers or listeners. Some of these people get paid a lot to give ‘this noise’ – some play the game particularly well knowing that inflaming views or producing outrage in either left or right wing folk will enhance chances of popularity and great exposure. They become key players in the political/public divide.
Should they though? As the tweet from Baird above denotes, we need to take stock that those with the knowledge will be able to speak more expertly in areas that they are ‘expert’ in. Although I dislike this term (expertise), I’m very mindful that in our pages of opinion makers a lot of what is missing are those who ‘know’ something about the issue that is being discussed. And this isn’t just academics – it can be people who have some sort of close touch with the ‘on-the-ground’ issues that have drawn in the focus of the public.
Will this remove the potential for political or social biases? No of course not. Even academics can be politically driven in their opinion pieces (an admission of my own too). But what we don’t get from supposedly politically free opinion writers is the relaying of things ‘as they are’ to the public. Facts, figures, close discussions and information from the backstage of scientific, economic, social or political theatre where the audience isn’t permitted usually. Do we need lots of these? No. What we need (in my opinion) is more ‘pure’ news stories – climate change articles that outline the latest science that makes the front and more prominent pages. Not an opinion writer delivering their own take on what the latest IPCC report says. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some good commentators out there (though I always think they’re well overrated), but we have far too many of them, and like football pundits combined together it’s nothing of substance, but just noise. I’m always worried when someone posts an opinion piece on Facebook or Tweets one on Twitter with the line ‘This is great’ – and when I open it, it’s just someone giving an opinion – a lot of the time based on their own anecdotal life experience. Where’s the substance in this for broad audiences?
Returning back to the initial paragraph – in response to my Facebook forum buddy I replied ‘but it’s fun isn’t it?’ In a way I think blogging and tweeting our political wranglings online are really an activity and a bit of a ‘social’ game that provides meaning to our investigations of public policies and political performances. Social media debates on politics isn’t going to change the way the ‘manager’ does things (realistically), but what it can do is help us develop our views, talk intelligently on things that matter, form small groups of familiarity (such as where thinkyness came from) and in short, enjoy punditry. Social media and politics to me is not a ‘game’ but it’s a place for us to ‘enjoy’ politics – if we can do such a thing. But like commentators, we also need to be aware of our limits and where we lack knowledge, we should seek it. Something I might add that Noely (the developer of Thinkyness) does expertly. But those who are paid professionally to ‘comment’ need to be doing a lot better in their attempts to ‘inform’ us plebs.
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Thinkyness came about from the charming @Perorationer who often tweets Jan & Noely in the morning with a random article he has found that would make you think, could be anything from Women in the 1800's to a potential world wide wine shortage which we would then discuss, obviously this led on to us tweeting each other #Thinkyness articles [...] more
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