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Sincere Congratulations To The Spectator For Their All-Women Cover Issue

Fraser Nelson - The Spectator - Westminster Media - Journalism

A brief rant before normal service resumes…

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson today felt the need to publish a self-congratulatory humblebrag remarking on the fact that their latest print edition’s cover page apparently features only the work of female writers, despite no conscious decision having been made to indulge in affirmative action.

Nelson gushes:

Just before The Spectator went to press yesterday, my colleague Emily Hill pointed out that I’d just taken away the only male name away from the cover: all seven of our coverlines were stories written by women. Did I really want that? I hadn’t thought about it until then, and for a while I did consider engaging in tokenism and slapping a man on for the sake of it. But why bother? Spectator readers don’t really care about gender, just good writing.

In fact it hadn’t occurred to any of us, until that point, that we were about to run what Ariane Sherine, who writes our cover story, today hails as the first all-woman cover in The Spectator’s 188-year history. But this wasn’t a patronising attempt at a ‘wimmin’s issue’ or some other awful tokenistic wheeze. Our all-women cover wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way the cards fell. Each week we want to get the best writers on the most original topics: this week, they all happened to be women.

That’s not to say there’s no difference when it comes to getting hold of good writers. As Emily will tell you, women don’t put themselves forward as much as men. To get the full range of talent from all available writers can mean people like Emily going to great lengths to find and encourage new writers – like Ariane Sherine. As so often, Fleet Street follows up. As I write, two national newspapers are vying for the right to republish her cover story.

Full disclosure: I have a bit of a beef with lead article author Ariane Sherine (a one-sided affair; she, I’m sure, has no idea who I am) following her previous effort for The Spectator, an appallingly condescending report about how she performed a comedy gig in the heart of UKIP-supporting coastal Essex and somehow, miraculously, was not ripped to shreds by the rabidly racist, evil Brexiteers who dwell there.

It is interesting, too that Sherine (and apparently other women writers published in The Spectator) had to be sought out, coaxed and persuaded to write for the venerable magazine because “women don’t put themselves forward as much as men”. Funny, that. I, a despicably privileged man, have pitched to The Spectator before – it was actually a terrible piece from a few years back when my writing was very green, not at all worth publishing – but then I never had the pleasure of being sought out and implored to honour The Spectator’s readers with the fruits of my keyboard. That must be quite a nice feeling.

I don’t normally do this, but let’s just muse on the topic of gender equality for a moment, particularly as it relates to journalism. Regular readers will know that I spent pretty much every spare moment of the past year campaigning for Brexit in the EU referendum, initially rather haphazardly but (I hope) increasingly coherently as I read Richard North’s peerless eureferendum.com blog, learned about Flexcit and fell in with The Leave Alliance. I claim zero credit for any of the specific ideas this blog has supported around Brexit and the future of international trade – my tiny bit part in this effort consisted merely of standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly Richard North and Pete North, whose technical mastery and polemical writing I admire enormously.

The point, I suppose, is this. For some time now, a group of independent, citizen bloggers have churned out consistently better analysis and commentary on the EU referendum and Brexit on any given day than the mainstream media has given the British people in an entire year. Even now, dim-witted publications like the Guardian and FT are scrambling to catch up and think through some of the ramifications and issues which the people in my circle have been writing about for months. And what mention or recognition has this work prompted from the Westminster media? How many links to our widely-read and shared articles have appeared in mainstream outlets like The Spectator?

I think you know that the answer is zero.

Now, you don’t have to rate Semi-Partisan Politics at all – though I am personally quite frustrated, this issue is much bigger than little old me. But doesn’t it seem slightly odd that the entire Westminster media managed to somehow overlook the hard work of a small army of pro-Brexit bloggers on the biggest political issue to face Britain, just when fresh analysis was sorely needed, and yet The Spectator has time to scour Britain at great length for underappreciated female talent to promote to the front page?

Fraser Nelson claims that The Spectator’s all-women front page was entirely accidental, and I take him at his word. But isn’t it telling that this feat was achieved at the height of silly season, the summer recess, when the political news which is the Spectator’s bread and butter is almost entirely absent? When MPs come back from recess and things get serious again, let’s see how many months or years it takes for the next unintentional all-women issue to go to print. My guess is that it will be some while; that when PMQs is back and party conference season gets underway we will be seeing a lot more of James Forsyth, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle on the cover. Just a hunch.

So what was the amazing piece which made the cover of The Spectator anyway, you ask? Well, it was a thrilling exposé of a growing trend among millennials whereby single women stop looking for a suitable man and choose to marry themselves instead.

A snippet:

As far as the bride was concerned, the wedding was perfect. Her dress was beautiful, the vows were traditional and she changed her name after the ceremony. The clifftop scenery was breathtaking, the seven bridesmaids were encouraging and supportive: move over Princess Di. There was only one thing missing: the groom. Like a growing number of single women, Sara Starkström had decided to marry herself.

‘I thought about people marrying other people without loving themselves first,’ says Starkström, a writer, explaining what many would call a bizarre overreaction to finding herself single at the age of 29. ‘How could they pledge to do all this stuff for another person when they couldn’t promise themselves the same thing? I decided to marry myself to celebrate my independence and strength. I did it to promise to be my own best friend.’

[..] While many commentators make scathing judgments about sologamy (the feminist blog Jezebel ran a dismissive piece called ‘Single women, please stop marrying yourselves’, chiding, ‘You should be aware that you’re no trailblazer and you’re sure as hell not thumbing your nose at the system. You’re buying into it’), this hasn’t stopped increasing numbers of women from taking the plunge. For Starkström, self-marriage was a liberating act for which she is quite happy to take all the jokes ‘about me carry-ing myself over the threshold and making love to myself’.

And the thrilling conclusion:

Perhaps this is the crux of the sologamy issue: self-marriage is harmless, cheap compared to the £20,500 average cost of a classic wedding, and the union seems to make the bride very happy. If only the same could be said for the majority of traditional marriages which feature a groom. Princess Diana’s fairy tale fell apart when she found that there were three people in her marriage. Now, for an ever-increasing number of determined modern women, one is more than enough.

This isn’t even original. Even I know – don’t ask me how – that Sex and the City featured a similar storyline nearly fifteen years ago, in which protagonist Carrie Bradshaw decides to marry herself as a way of recouping the money spent on friends’ engagements and replacing an expensive pair of shoes which were stolen at a previous party. This kind of story is “and finally…” fodder on the TV news, not lead article material for The Spectator.

This may be silly season, but British politics is hardly dull at present – we have the ramifications of the EU referendum result to pick through, and the slow-motion car crash that is the Labour Party’s self-destruction, while America continues to wrestle with the Donald Trump phenomenon. In these circumstances, I’m sorry to say that Sherine’s story about sologamy has more than a whiff of affirmative action about it.

Before the inevitable feminist lynching begins, another disclaimer: I have long believed that The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman is the outstanding political journalist of her generation and, based on my couple of conversations with her, a genuinely nice person in the SW1 bubble. If The Spectator had ten Isabel Hardmans on staff, I wouldn’t expect a male-written cover story any more than once a year. It shouldn’t be necessary, but I want to put any idea that this rumination is some alt-right, anti-woman rant quickly to bed.

Note too that even when quoting the established feminist blog Jezebel, The Spectator fails to provide a link to the article Sherine cites by name. This is how unwilling the establishment British media are to share readers, clicks and opportunities. It is selfishness beyond measure, and is ultimately counterproductive – the American political blogosphere grew and thrives today not only because bloggers link to one another, but because there is a dialogue between what were traditionally the “legacy” print media outlets and alternative voices.

Readers aren’t forever lost to a publication which dares to link. In fact, readers often respect the original source all the more as a curator of other worthwhile information across the internet, thus increasing their loyalty. Maybe this doesn’t easily show up in the monthly SEO and web traffic reports which now seem to drive all media behaviour – and which have turned the Telegraph from a respectable broadsheet to a sensationalist purveyor of clickbait – but it is a real factor nonetheless. My own personal blogging hero, Andrew Sullivan, built the most influential political blog in history based entirely on this philosophy of curating the web for his readers and also providing fresh commentary which was picked up by the legacy media.

To this day, if there is a worthwhile piece of commentary or analysis on an American political blog, it is not unusual to see it linked to in a piece by an “establishment” journalist on the staff of, say, the New Republic or the National Review. Semi-Partisan Politics has been cited in the National Review a couple of times, a courtesy not once extended by any major British publication, and this despite the fact that 80 per cent of this blog’s output concerns UK rather than American politics.

So how should the British media interact with the blogosphere and promote new talent? Well, call me old fashioned but I believe that a simple commitment to meritocracy can’t go far wrong. Sure, The Spectator will always hire the likes of Pippa Middleton to write vacuous society guff about hunting for truffles in their Christmas issue, and that’s fine. But when it comes to political coverage, one wishes that established British publications would at least pretend to aspire to genuine meritocracy, seeking out the best analysis and commentary regardless of race or gender rather than indulging as they do in flagrant nepotism on the one hand and leftist affirmative action on the other.

I’ll speak plainly, because it’s better than dancing around the issue, from my perspective as someone no longer in the first flush of youth trying to build an audience and reputation as a writer. It is frustrating to pour every spare minute into this blog, providing (I dare to hope) sometimes original and refreshing commentary – particularly I think on the 2015 general election, the ongoing Labour leadership saga, free speech or academic freedom issues and the EU referendum – and see what is  objectively weaker commentary from nepotism beneficiaries or the obvious fruits of affirmative action benefit from a prestigious platform, greater recognition, and – oh yes, from monetary reward too. It’s just a little bit hard to take day after day.

I could play the minority card too, if I wanted to talk up my BAME working class background, but I would never compromise my principles by demanding that I be given a platform based on who I am rather than what I have to say. I won’t go there – it would be a violation of everything that this blog stands for. Others sadly seem happy to do so.

I write because I love to write, and because I think I have slowly created something quite small but precious here at Semi-Partisan Politics; because I have a small readership whom I love to serve, write for and debate with; because it is better than ranting into Facebook 24/7 as I used to before I opened a WordPress account. But sometimes it is a bit galling to see an inferior product exalted and given prominence when I and several of my good writer friends toil in obscurity.

Building a reputation and audience as a writer should be hard – it rightly takes time, effort, humility and perseverance. It has taken me over four years to even begin to get a sense of who my audience is / should be, and how best to serve them – and I claim no special skill at what I do, only a great deal of enthusiasm for it. But whether it is Twitter interactions, links to my site or other interactions, the amount of support I have received from American journalists and publications on the other side of the Atlantic vastly exceeds what little help or hand up I have ever received from the British media class – despite the fact that at least 80 per cent of my written output, networking and outreach efforts are focused on British politics and the Westminster media.

And I think British journalists and editors should be made to feel a little bit ashamed of that fact. Not for my sake – I’ll be just fine, and 95 per cent of the time I am happy to keep plugging away without a murmur of complaint. They should feel shame because my situation is far from unique, and because there are writers in my acquaintance whose insight, bravery and raw talent would enrich our country’s entire political discourse if only it had the bully pulpit it deserves.

The Westminster media establishment should be ashamed because the way they seek out and promote writing talent fails the British people, serving them an often substandard and derivative stream of written output and unoriginal thinking from the pens of the well-connected (either by parentage or ability to fill the checkboxes of a Diversity Officer’s form) while effectively pretending that the struggling political blogosphere – the primary outlet for so many talented, aspiring writers – doesn’t even exist, and certainly not as a source worthy of links or interaction.

Okay, rant over. I don’t have the energy to bring this piece to a neat end.

Normal business will now resume. Read it here first, or three months later from someone who gets paid to do this kind of thing.

 

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Top Image: The Spectator / Sky News

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Why I Write

Political Blogging

At the risk of sounding like a PBS telethon…

Why isn’t there more good journalism out there? Gawker paints a depressing picture for those of us who toil away in the often thankless business of writing.

Hamilton Nolan writes:

Many writers believe that our brilliant writing will naturally create its own audience. The moving power of our words, the clarity and meaning of our reporting, the brilliance of our wit, the counterintuitive nature of our insights, the elegance with which we sum up the world’s problems; these things, we imagine, will leave the universe no choice but to conjure up an audience for us each day.

Time and experience have long since disabused me of any such idea. Fortunately, writing about politics and public policy – if immensely frustrating at times – is also its own form of reward.

Nolan concludes:

Maybe there is a talented young writer out there with a dream of starting the very best, smartest magazine or website that has ever existed, and building it into their very own historic legacy. I am here to tell you that it will not work. The business of media has very little, if anything, to do with quality journalism. If you aspire to be a Writer of Legitimately Good Things, the best you can hope for is to get the prestige spot that is paid for by the garbage. To hope for a prestige spot that is not paid for by garbage, or by a lone rich wacko, or by a new advertising technology, but instead by the mass audience that will flock to your brilliance is to ask for too much. If you are able to get a job writing good stuff, you are one of the lucky ones in the big Exercycle of Mindless Entertainment that is “the media.”

Now, political writing certainly shouldn’t be an easy career option. After all, it takes a certain arrogance to expect to be remunerated for sitting at a keyboard ranting about the state of the world and pontificating on the “obvious” solutions to society’s ills, particularly when there are people out there doing real work like serving in the armed forces, providing healthcare, creating world-class art, working out how to get to Mars or producing amazing, unthought-of new consumer products.

There are certainly times when my own efforts at political writing seem depressingly far from the high ideal set out by George Orwell, and much closer to the ranting of the pub bore or the slick keyword focus of the SEO marketer – though having done this (with varying levels of commitment) for four years now, I hope that I am somewhat better than when I started out.

Earlier this week I was at a talk given by Dan Hodges about his general election book “One Minute To Ten”, and got chatting to a senior journalist from the Sunday Times. I put to him that while political blogging may have been ripe with promise ten years ago, the format seems to have dried up today, and readers left with the choice between established legacy media outlets or the latest viral clickbait funnelled through social media.

He didn’t disagree, and hammered home the fact that many readers currently have almost zero loyalty to any specific news outlet, and instead get their news according to what happens to be trending on social media or appear in their (often bias-reinforcing) news feeds. This trend is reflected in the traffic stats for Semi-Partisan Politics. A sizeable minority of traffic now comes through Facebook in particular, and there is always the temptation to devote time and effort to promoting pieces on Facebook to get more eyeballs on the latest piece, even if it brings in few potential long-term readers with whom one can develop a relationship.

The one positive trend at present is the growing and thriving community of Brexit bloggers and campaigners coalescing around eureferendum.com and the work of Dr. Richard North to promote Flexcit – by far the best (and only) properly thought-through plan for how Britain might best leave the European Union and re-emerge as a globally engaged, prosperous sovereign democracy.

If only the same collegial, rigorous and dedicated spirit could be found elsewhere in the political blogosphere as exists among many of my fellow Brexiteers (see links in the sidebar on the right), journalism in this country – particularly citizen journalism and the concept of the campaigning blog – might not be in quite such a parlous state.

Regardless: whatever the people at Gawker say, Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to grow and flourish as we enter 2016, and will campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Healthcare reform, not NHS worship

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and enjoy this blog’s coverage of UK politics and current affairs, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small regular contribution or a one-time donation:

 

 

Any reader donations will 1) be a personal ego boost to myself, 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of last year’s UKIP annual conference, and 3) help me promote this site and the work of other like-minded writers – particularly in the crucial effort to win a “Leave” vote in the coming Brexit referendum – so that we can actually make a difference.

Small donations from individual contributors are not only greatly appreciated by me, but also help to preserve independent journalism and commentary in general – so that nobody has to rely exclusively on the BBC, the Guardian or the Telegraph to understand what’s going on in our country and around the world.

But it’s not all about the money. What matters even more than that (for me) is spreading the word and sharing the message – and these days, like it or not, that means social media. So if you read something you like here, don’t just sit on it. Share it on Twitter or Reddit. Email it to a friend. Be that person on Facebook who posts provocative political articles on their timeline.

2016 is already off to a good start – pageviews and comments are at their highest ever, and an appearance on a certain major national political TV show (to be announced soon) is in the works. Onwards and upwards!

Many thanks to all my readers for your continued generous support.

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A Merry Semi-Partisan Christmas

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Onward to 2016, with your help

2015 has been a very good year for this blog. The frequency of posts increased dramatically as we covered the general election and its aftermath, and we have kept up the pace ever since. There are now new articles nearly every day, as well as a more lively Twitter feed.

The net result has been an increase in readership of nearly 400%. This blog is still small, but a number of articles have caught the attention of influential MPs, journalists and activists. And nobody recognised or wrote about the eventual cause of Labour’s general election defeat before this blog, though many others have subsequently swooped in to take credit.

My writing is syndicated at Guerilla Policy, where I seem to be the lone conservative voice amid a sea of unabashed lefties, and I am proud to contribute regularly to the excellent campaign group Conservatives for Liberty.

Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to grow and flourish as we enter 2016, and will campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Healthcare reform, not NHS worship

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and have enjoyed this blog’s coverage over the past year, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small regular contribution or a one-time donation:

 

 

Any reader donations will 1) be a personal ego boost to myself, 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of this year’s UKIP annual conference, and 3) help me promote this site and the work of other like-minded writers so that we can actually make a difference.

As I swiftly learned this past year, writers don’t get paid very much (unless you are Owen Jones). This blog is written in my spare time around a day job, usually between midnight and 3AM, and is available to everyone free of charge.

However, small donations from individual contributors are not only greatly appreciated, but also help to preserve independent journalism and commentary in general – so that nobody has to rely exclusively on the BBC, the Guardian or the Telegraph to understand what’s going on in our country and around the world.

If you are happy getting all of your news, analysis and commentary from the BBC or the big national newspapers, then by all means carry on. But if you value independent writing which is not beholden to any party, clique or the Westminster establishment, then please consider helping to ensure its continued existence by donating a couple of quid to the independent sites which keep you coming back for more.

But it’s not all about the money. What matters even more than that (for me) is spreading the word and sharing the message – and these days that means social media. So if you read something you like here, don’t just sit on it. Share it on Twitter or Reddit. Email it to a friend. Be that person on Facebook who posts provocative political articles on their timeline (but all things in moderation).

With the help of my informed and generous readers, 2016 will be another record-breaking year for Semi-Partisan Politics.

Many thanks to all of you, and a very Merry Christmas.

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The Daily Toast: Glenn Greenwald On Succeeding In Journalism

Glenn Greenwald

 

Glenn Greenwald gives an interview to Dillon Baker in The Freelancer, and offers his thoughts on succeeding in online journalism:

I think the most important thing is to avoid being a generalist. Don’t be willing to write about every single topic, because no person can be well-versed in every topic. If you write about stuff in which you are not well-versed and you don’t really have expertise, you’re just going to turn out mediocre product. And that’s going to affect how you’re perceived in the long run.

It’s so critical to figure out what you’re really passionately interested in. Because there’s a market for everything. There’s a huge Internet out there. Topics that seem really obscure can definitely, if you do it the right way, generate enough attention and interest to sustain you, and maybe even push you beyond that. It’s critical to just pick a few topics of which you have a great deal of passion, and develop genuine expertise in those so that what you’re producing can’t be found anywhere else except with you.

Wise words, which this blog will continue to strive to observe. This blog has long admired Glenn Greenwald for the passion and urgency behind his writing, and his principled stance against the secret surveillance state.

So what is the purpose of this blog?

Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and have enjoyed this blog’s coverage over the past year, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small contribution:

 

 

Any donations will 1) be an ego boost, and 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of this year’s UKIP annual conference.

But most of all, please continue to click, like and share those articles that you enjoy with your family and friends. My loyal readers help keep me fighting the good fight.

 

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Quote For The Day

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“Be yourself. Do your work. And they will find you. And serving those readers is all the reward you need.”

– Andrew Sullivan, at the time of his recent retirement from blogging.

 

This blog will continue to provide rigorous, semi-partisan political commentary through the remainder of the 2015 British general election campaign and beyond.

(I will be live-blogging the election results on Thursday night, here).

This blog will never serve as cheerleader for any one political party, but will continue to proudly champion the interconnected causes of personal liberty, economic freedom and national sovereignty – and give credit where credit is due to any party or politician who is willing to pick up the tarnished torch of liberty in an increasingly hostile environment.

Many thanks to all those people who include Semi-Partisan Sam in their daily internet reading – both those who have recently discovered the blog and those few who have been reading since Day 1.