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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata finally gets a mention

Earlier this week there was an interesting moment in my personal history as a libertarian-activitist-stroke-blogger. I had a phone call from someone at The Times. “Millen” was the name, I think. He was asking me to contribute four hundred “headbanging” – his word – words on how the government is using the War on Terror to trash civil libertiess. I am not sure enough of the details of this story, and suspect that if I was, I might actually favour some of these alleged trashings, so I recommended that he give Perry de Havilland a ring, and Perry was happy to oblige.

For me what was interesting was that in his phone call to me the Times man used the word “Samizdata” – and what is more he was very nice about it – rather than the words “Libertarian Alliance”.

I switched to being a blogger, for Samizdata and elsewhere, from being a Libertarian Alliance person about three years ago. But because my home number used to be the contact number for the Libertarian Alliance, and because with my Libertarian Alliance Editorial Director hat on I used to do lots of little broadcasting performances and am still in their address books as that, I still from time to time get rung by media people who have me fixed in their databases as Libertarian Alliance, asking me to be on something or other. Never, until now, have they rung me up and talked instead about Samizdata. I believe more is going on here than mere out-of-date address books. For a long time big media people simply refused to regard blogs as being of any significance. Maybe they disliked blogs for their politics. Maybe they disliked them for not charging anything and for the fact that anyone can do it. But I suspect that at lot of it was that it was a knowledge problem. Faced with having to distinguish between high traffic blogs like Samizdata (and all the other high traffic blogs) and the far more numerous low traffic blogs about breakfast choices and kittens, most old media people just said to hell with the whole thing. If you are an “institute” or an “alliance” or a “society”, you are presumably not a lone nutter and you count for something. If you are a blogger, you could be anyone and are accordingly no one. If that was their attitude it was not particularly clever, but it was understandable.

Meanwhile we bloggers were and are too busy writing stuff for our blogs to be pestering the big media types into noticing us, or to be complaining when they do not. After all, our position was, is and will always be that we already have our own media, and if you old dead tree legacy geezers with your inky fingers and your rigid broadcasting schedules choose to ignore us, that is entirely your right and entirely your problem. We do not need you any more. We will link to you, copy and paste your stories, and have a chortle or a moan about them. We will, if we are the denouncing sort, denounce your stories, if we think them worthy of denunciation. But we do not need you to be aware of our existence or to be ringing us up and talking to us and inviting us to write in your publications or to appear in your radio or TV shows. We can now do our thing without all that.

I used to do quite a lot of broadcasting, and maybe, if the money improves and if they are willing to admit that I am a blogger rather than someone from an Alliance which I still support but which I stopped working for several years ago, I will find myself doing more in the future. But for now, having new outlets for my views, I find being on the radio – as a “supporter of the Libertarian Alliance” – tedious and stressful, involving as it does having to be in a particular place at a particular time, and having to get all my wording right first time. So I generally now refuse such invitations, rather as I refused that invite from The Times. Five years ago I would probably have accepted this Times invite like a dog chasing a stick into the sea. Now, I will only say yes if it truly suits me. This one? Not quite my thing mate, sorry. Ask so-and-so. He might do it. If he can fit it in.

I do not want to read too much in to one phone call. But this particular phone call has personally confirmed for me that, blogwise, things in Britain are now changing. Maybe Scott Burgess supplied the tipping point, by inflicting career threatening injuries upon some heavyweight old media personages, and in sheer self defence old media types are starting to take blogs seriously.

There has always been a little clack of media people who have loved blogs, on account of loving the ongoing saga of personal computers and of what personal computers can do, but now these technophiles are being joined by their techno-neutral and even technophobic brethren. Oh, the big old media operations have long had their websites for their techies to play with and to outreach to other techies. Now, the people who run the actual newspapers are starting to pay attention to blogs.

What Scott Burgess did to the Guardian was small stuff compared to what bloggers have done to the likes of Dan Rather in the USA. But then, 7/7 was small beer compared to 9/11, but the two together have got everyone here obsessing about terrorism. When the US blogosphere tore the trousers off Rather, our media biggies definitely noticed. Would anything similar ever happen here? Now, even if only in a small way, it has happened.

Phase one for dealing with any competitive threat or disruption in one’s way of working, in any walk of life, is to ignore it. In the USA, the days of the big old media ignoring blogs in the hope that they would go away, like CB radio (a comparison of which big old US media types were once very fond), are long gone. Now, I think, they are going here too.

16 comments to Samizdata finally gets a mention

  • Jake

    “When the US blogosphere tore the trousers off Rather, our media biggies definitely notice.”

    You don’t give US bloggers enough credit. Lets total up the score. Through the investigative work of US bloggers, these jerks are no longer working in MSM:

    1. Jayson Blair of the NYT
    2. Howell Raines of the NYT
    3. Gerald Boyd of the NYT
    3. Dan Rather of CBS.
    4. CBS Senior Vice President Betsy West
    5. CBS Executive Producer Josh Howard
    6. CBS Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy
    7. CBS 60 Minutes Producer Mary Mapes
    8. Eason Jordan CNN executive

  • Don’t forget Robert Novak @ CNN

  • hi, im robert novak and my trousers were never torn off..well that one time yeah..but only me and Jamal know about that. never post about me again cause i am tired of you revolutionaryanists so stay away from me and stop TPing my house…next time ill be waiting with all 3 of my friends to stop you and you wont hear the end of it..EVER

  • Johnathan

    Not overlooking some other scalps:
    Trent Lott, senior GOP senator.

    Personally, I am hoping that George Galloway proves the first big fox to be hunted to ground by a Brit blogger.

  • You may not have noticed much British effect on the press, but one part of the press has noticed blogs in a big way.

    Diarists – the Guardian’s Marina Hyde, the Sunday Times’ Atticus, the Sun’s blog-like The Whip column, Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail all draw on the political gossip blogs in a big way.

    PoliticalBetting.Com, RecessMonkey.Com & Order-Order.Com are often the source for diary stories. Marina Hyde has even been known to lift stories from Wonkette.

    Diaries are often trite, but everyone reads them and they have a small part to play in agenda setting. Blogs are also having a secondary iinvisible influence on the media – journalists read them, they are sensitive souls when it comes to criticism. Blogs act like a form of involuntary peer review – ask the Guardian.

  • llamas

    Reminds me of the old joke:

    ‘There are three reporters to see you, m’lud, and a gentleman from ‘The Times’.



  • is getting his stuff pinched all the time. I know that both MSM types and politicos read his blog for the latest scuttlebutt.

    Dodgeblogium was mentioned on BBC Radio 4 last year wih the following tag-line.

    …bloggers who combine a taste for heavy metal music with a taste for heavy metal politics…[Dennis Sewell – BBC-R4]

    Many co-writers were all rather amused by this mention.

    Well done that Samizdata got approached to write that piece.

  • ian

    I obviously need to change my medication – Perry’s column was right on the nose and I’ve agreed with another post by Guy Herbert elsewhere.

  • When did Samizdata change it’s policy about linking to The Times?

    For the space you were given, that was a neat and concise article, Mr. de Havilland. Hopefully you’ll change a few minds and get a few more thinking.

  • The policy of linking to the Times was a format issue, not an ideological issue – their links stopped working after 7 days, then a month and now they seem to be just fine. Although I hear that they still break for non-UK readers. Go figure.

    This was unacceptable as a blog post based on an article that couldn’t be accessed after a certain period would render it pointless.

  • guy herbert


    We live in strange times. There is unusual pressure on traditional political segmentation. Liberals (US sense), socialists, liberals (European sense), libertarians and conservatives may be distressed to discover they all have more in common with each other than they have with a similarly motley group of corporatists, post-Trotskyists, populists, nationalists, supernationalists, and religious authoritarians. Call it pluralism versus anti-pluralism.

  • Johnathan

    I second what Guy said. Libertarian ideas can cut across all manner of conventional party lines, which is often why it fazes people. For instance, I support the right for gay men to get married and carry handguns, which must really scramble the minds of the right and left in America.

  • Ron

    Regarding “Maybe Scott Burgess supplied the tipping point, by inflicting career threatening injuries upon some heavyweight old media personages”, this and this and thisare interesting.

    I’ve been trying to find an article about the Guardian’s lead opinion column writer in the 1960’s who was shown to be a KGB spy – anyone know the name?

  • Luniversal

    In the good old days– when papers were in Fleet Street and reporters were not yet chained to workstations– the lazy so-and-sos used to get vox pops from taxi drivers on the way from the airport to the luxury hotel cocktail bar.

    Nowadays the poor office-bound hacks
    get their public opinion off the internet, while munching M&S sarnies and supping mineral water.

    That’s about all the blog revolution amounts to, kiddies.

  • Actually, I spoke to Michael Gove (who was at that time Assistant Editor of the Times – he’s an MP now) on the phone about something or other about a year ago, and he mentioned to me then that he was a great fan of Samizdata. And the Guardian was lifting stuff off my blog back in 2003.

  • Millen’s been using bloggers (Oliver Kamm, Peter Briffa) in the Thunderer slot for a couple of years now. He’s damn difficult to get hold of (never answers email) so as Brian says, it’s really a case of waiting for him to call rather than pitching ideas to him.