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Blogging and politics in Germany - bits of a Spiegel article

by Martin Mon Jul 21st, 2008 at 10:57:41 PM EST


German online writer have found a problem: themselves. In comparison to their US collegues, they lack power and importance, for having a say in the public discussion. Most are unpolitical, self-opinated, self-centered, and unprofessional.

That's the start of an article today on spiegel.

The diary consists of a rush translation of some exerpts, as I think the individual bloggers that do exist are not too important, and I add some of my thoughts.

As the general theme of the article conincedes with my personal experience, in the comment section I would as well like to ask about the experience with political blogs in your country.



Whatever one writes about blogger, afterwards they'll beat you up, because one has understood nothing or spoken with the wrong people. Its a bit like nearing a sect, which is in permanent internal battle.

Lust for insulting others seems to be the basic prerequisite for blogging par excellence. Just read how they pummel each other.

It follows a list of quite ugly insults from some fairly well known blogger/journalists towards each other.
Then a journalist is cited to say, blogs are completely overestimated, but they would challenge the hegemony of traditional media. [This is so far nonsense in Germany, and will be in the forseeable future for reasons to discuss]
After some ranting this elaborated more:

US-Blogger Glenn Reynolds announced in his book "An Army of Davids": "The power, once in the hands of few professionals concentrated, is distributed in to the hands of amateurs"; and Habermas catches sight of the "roots of an egalitarian public of authors and readers".

But a realistic resumee is: In Germany the hands of the amateurs are pretty empty. Blogs are a niche. Sometimes funny, sometimes interesting. Very often dealing mostly with themselves, but without great importance.


While the scene in the US has meanwhile well paid stars, who interfere in the election battle and as real Davids challenge the traditional media, remains Germany blog development country. Here reign only beta-blogger instead of alpha animals.

This is as well a question of demand. "In Germany the lust for argument is underdeveloped.", thinks Niggemeuer, a media journalist and co-blogger of Bildblog [...] "It reigns the love for the compromise." The polemic and subjective manner of blogs fits badly into the homey picture.
[...]
Only one in 5 Germans ever reads blogs. In the US and Japan one in three says so. In South Korea and the Netherlands even 40%. Exact numbers a rare, however.

Political blogs in Germany are practically non-existent. When US-Journalist Sean Sinico during the election battle 2005 researched in the German blogosphere, his judgement was devasting. "Baby steps" he said. Not much has changed - believe people in the scene themselves.
[...]
"Which known German blogger, who attended this congress, said something about the credit crisis? minimum wage? Deeper economic analysis? Book reviews? Where are the eloquent textes, where the achievement which could reach and influence public debates?" a blogger ranted.


The text goes on with some description of the glorious US scene. Then quotes a US blogger:


"Americans love to talk about themselves. The less they know, the more they want to discuss" says Layne [a US blogger(!)] a tradition from the radio talkshows with their audience discussions. Now this is continuated in the net. In many blogs issues are just teased, and soon there are lots of comments. "Loud, stupid vociferation"  says Layne.
But the online strength is owed as well to the weakness of established media, with its partisan reporting.

The text lists some examples from the US, before switching back to Germany:

One of the few political blogs are the "Nachdenkseiten".[...]
The platform, which Lieb runs with Albrecht Mueller, another SPD veteran, looks like from stoneage compared with his US collegues.
The quite fairly traffic of 25,000 visitors a day has the site, which is in the end not more than a forum for disappointed social democrats. Day after day ranting about the short-comings of neoliberalism, about reforms which are allegdly all false - as surprising as the political editorial of the FAZ [the conservative newspaper in Germany].

As well the Nachdenkseiten live from searching through the MSM for mistakes and shortfall. Hard kicking is allowed, if not wished for: "What the ZDF shows on demography, has the demagogic content of "Schwarzer Kanal" [something from before my time] and the propaganda of Goebbels." [the ZDF has made a pretty cool virtual documentation of the year 2050, in which however the increased life expectancy has led to a quite dramatic impoverishment of the elderly]
That shall be arguable gutsy, but just shows another problem of many blogs: David has no stone in his sling. Therefore he uses dirt.

This seems to me to be typical in a sense. Lieb is a former spokesman for the NRW governor Rau. Mueller member of parliament. I know of another site of former federal secretary, who rants regularly in the internet. So retired politicians is one source of bloggers.
Herdentrieb of Zeit.de has as well a former important person Dieter Wermuth, but even in his, very eloquent, interesting blog, most of the posts, which come all 3-4 days don't get 100 comments - and there is no real filter, so every comment is really posted.

Then there is another blog mentioned, 'politically incorrect', which is described as an anti-islam blog.

Beside such dirty stuff, reliability is named as a problem. However, the article ends with something positive:


That the Germans have not become a nation of "Blog-Warten" [means maintainer of a blog, but Blockwart is block warden or more usually WONK], is no reason for malice. More for self-mockery. So weak the Germans are as bloggers, so good are they as Bildungshuber. The German Wikipedia is the second biggest in the world. The Germans are not a folk of people's tribunes, but one of know-it-alls.

I think beside the higher need for harmony in Germany than in the US, another reason that blogs have a hard time to be political powerful is the structure of politics itself.

At dkos poeple are talking about individual politicians. Here most decisions are collective party decisions.

There are primaries and caucuses, here are party delegates and the decision of the party head.

There are fundamental decisions about war, torture or   economic stabilisation policy. Here are alliance compromises, and [sorry for the chauvinistic word] housewife fiscal policy.

A grand coalition would be the end of democracy in the conflict orientated US. Here it is still bad, but has acceptance as an option.
I recently saw a comic, a man sitting in front of a TV watchin parliamentary debates from the 80s, "Somehow heartwarming this commitment of the politicians, despite they can't change anything anymore. By now I find somehow even the actual debates heartwarming"

News is as well different. Here on ET people claim the MSM would have this or that idea of financial capitalism, stock market or whatsoever. In Germany I can say covering financial stuff is no mainstream thing. Why should normal people bother what the stock market is doing?

For these reasons I think there won't be a big political or polit-economical blog scene in the near future in Germany.

Display:
I'd be interested to know how the blogosphere (or lack of it) in Germany compares with that in Japan. Do unwritten social contracts prevent citizens from challenging mainstream views? Is there a different take on freedom of speech?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 04:04:36 AM EST
European Tribune - Blogging and politics in Germany - bits of a Spiegel article
News is as well different. Here on ET people claim the MSM would have this or that idea of financial capitalism, stock market or whatsoever. In Germany I can say covering financial stuff is no mainstream thing. Why should normal people bother what the stock market is doing?

Because in some parts of the world, their retirement depends on it...

Private pensions is a strong support of financialisation : because many people have to keep an eye on the market, its functioning is legitimized...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 04:59:21 AM EST
It's worse than that. When many people of modest means have a stake in the market, more of it can be claimed to be 'too important to fail', thus legitimizing bailouts.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:52:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What a fine diary, and one i'd hope would bring some more German interest to ET.  Muchas gracias!  ;-)

Martin seems to be able to put the differences between US and DE blogging and politics in the correct frame.  I'm not so familiar with the German scene, partly because my German is so poor.  Perhaps i'll have some comments, but i'm under the gun today, and not sure how much time i can leave my Lebensarbeit for what's important here.  ;-)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:52:15 AM EST
PS:  it's also telling that here on ET, some of the most prevalent voices from Deutschland are Ausländers from Hungary, the Netherlands or the US.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:56:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We discussed a BritBlog for a while, but in the end it didn't seem to be worth the effort.

In the US it's possible to influence local and national campaigns directly by throwing money at them. So senate and house seats will always have a few contenders from each party, and there's some prospect of influencing candidate selection, followed by candidate election.

In the UK candidates, are parachuted in from head office by party machines, and the faithful are then expected to support them. There's almost no bottom-up representation at all, which means there's no direct point of leverage. Most party constituency offices around the UK have a few tens of members, and contact with the rest of the population is limited or nonexistent.

So the only prospect for infuence is direct lobbying in Westminster, which is very expensive and difficult to organise, or media outreach, which needs a more lateral approach.

I'm not sure how things work in Germany, but I wouldn't be surprised if the situation is similar.

Then again - if Spiegel is being insulting about bloggers, that could be about to change.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 07:01:34 AM EST
Then again - if Spiegel is being insulting about bloggers, that could be about to change.

In the US the mainstream media decided to insult bloggers after they noted their own power slipping. But when it comes to Germany Spiegel is quite right. Blogs have no influence and are of poor quality. I think that has to do with the fact that people are more or less satisfied with the media they (actually "we") have. Additionally in Germany there have been no political developments comparable to what is happening in the US. The impeachment trial, the 2000 election, the Iraq war. Nothing comparable to that has happened in Germany. The reforms connected to the "Agenda 2010" have created a large amount of dissatisfied people, but they where able to assert them selfs by purely traditional political means.    

by rz on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 07:30:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the different political system plays a role.
USA - Powerful President and two political parties in Congress
UK - Parliamentary system but the election system favours Labour and Tories.
Germany - Parliamentary system with 5 parties

The system in Germany will almost always lead to a federal coalition government. Which will be pulled to the political center. If not of it´s own free will then after it looses a few state elections. (Lot´s of federal laws need the agreement of a majority of states.)

So we don´t have - at least till now - such large swings between "right" and "left" governments. Swings in the sense of large changes in domestic policies.
Plus, because you don´t know who´ll be your coalition partner after an election it wouldn´t be wise to start smear campaigns.

So the whole situation isn´t as polarized as in the USA for example. No situation like Supreme Court vs. Gore 2000. No Iraq war. And no blatant politicization of federal agencies in Germany. No smear campaigns.

So in the USA blogs took off in the 2000s.
You either defended the Republicans or you attacked them. No other possibility left for citizens.

In Germany left-wing people dissatisfied with Schroeder founded a new party. Maybe that´s a reason too. New parties have it much easier in Germany than in the USA or UK. Green Party in the 1980s, "Die Linke" now in the 2000s.
People who might become bloggers (in the USA) can help grow a new party here (in Germany).

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 11:55:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The system in Germany will almost always lead to a federal coalition government. Which will be pulled to the political center.

One should also mention that "centrist" in Germany really means centrist. That stands in strong contrast to "centrism" in the US which is often completely outside of the real majority opinion (for example the "social security reform" nonsense which is often propagated in the Washington Post).
by rz on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 12:07:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Totally true.

Not to mention that "centrist" in Germany is pretty close to socialism/communism according to the "serious" people in the USA. Republicans or media pundits for example. :)

I consider myself pretty mainstream in Germany. But according to the American "Political Compass" I´m a raging economical leftist and Social Libertarian.
Funny that.

The US media pushed "centrism" would be considered totally unacceptable even by the conservative parties in Germany.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 04:33:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uhm, totally I wouldn't say, ask Herr Schäuble and Herr Koch...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 03:00:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant mostly centrism in regard to economics. Further more, Koch never claimed that he is a centrist, nor did the media transport it that way. In all (most?) media reports about the issue it was pointed out how he is shifting further rightwards. The results of this election show clearly that rightwing populism doesn't go unpunished in Germany.
by rz on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 06:29:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I and Martin didn't claim Koch was centrist, either :-) Martin claimed that "even conservatives" in Germany are to the left of what counts for centrist in the USA, with which I can't agree totally.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 06:36:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Martin claimed that "even conservatives" in Germany are to the left of what counts for centrist in the USA,

I see it like this: When it comes to economics it is true, generally German politics is to the left of the US. But then there are some issues where it is definitely not true. For example I would say that Germans of all political persuasions have a rather restrictive few when it comes to immigration.

But all this is a little besides the point I tried to make. This is not about how German politics compares internationally, but how "centrism" is presented in the mainstream media. If some opinion is presented as "centrist" then it is most likely in the center of current pubic opinion. In the US media I have often the feeling this is not the case.

by rz on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 07:12:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have not said anything in this diary or in the comment section of this diary. You probably mean either rz or Detlef.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 09:31:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
D'oh! Of course I meant Detlef...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 09:46:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]

And no blatant politicization of federal agencies in Germany. No smear campaigns.

Very key differences, readily apparent to this Ausländer.  Danke.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 03:08:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And no blatant politicization of federal agencies in Germany.

I´ve read somewhere - don´t know if it´s true - that a new US President can fill up to 3000 positions in the administration with political appointees?
In federal departments and agencies, federal prosecutors whatever...

That number is much lower in Germany.
Most positions here in the federal and state governments are civil servant positions. You just can´t throw them out and replace them with someone else. And in the rare cases the federal or state government asks such a civil servant to step down or retire early it will get scrutinized pretty closely. Not only from the opposition parties but by the media too.

And just to mention it. They can´t remove a federal prosecutor on their say so. It´s only possible if said prosecutor has violated a law.

Perhaps I should also mention that our law system is a bit different. In Germany if I tell a state attorney that a law was violated he/she is required by law to investigate my claim. It is unlawful for a prosecutor to just dismiss my claim. They can´t decide which cases to investigate and which cases to dismiss. They are rquired by law to investigate all of them.
(Only exception is that the federal government can tell a prosecutor not to take a case to court in the interest of foreign relations.)

No smear campaigns.

You know, after reading US media and blogs, I don´t think I have ever seen something similar in Germany.
It just isn´t done.
Personally attacking your political opponent just isn´t done. And if you do it, it might well backfire on you.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 04:19:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US system always had a huge number of Presidential political appointees to the various government agencies; what's different now is that the level of abuse by the bushco is unprecedented.  I can't find an analogue in German politics of Karl Rove.

The system was founded on checks and balances of the various institutions, as well as separation of powers. These bedrock principles no longer exist; thus the liklihood that the system is broken beyond repair.

Strangely, blogging is perhaps the main check on the system now, fulfilling the former role of the press, the Fourth Estate.  Prime example:  the detailed blogosphere scrutiny of the Plame case.  But even then the system miscarried justice, despite Libby's conviction. Despite the evidence, Cheney wasn't nailed.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 07:31:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, after reading US media and blogs, I don´t think I have ever seen something similar in Germany.
It just isn´t done.

When done, it is done much more sublimely. For example, when during and after the 2002 chancellor candidates' TV debate, Schröder and the SPD painted Stoiber a Besserwisser.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 03:05:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well, i think here in italy it's a bit different. i don't cruise many italian blogs, but my perception is that beppe grillo's blog is definitely having some political repercussions.

the italian version is very heavily commented, (1000+) comments a thread last time i checked in, and beppe is nothing if not radical.

the really curious thing is that according to the NYT, beppe's is the 5th most read in the world, and unless they're talking about the english language one, in which case there are an amazing number of lurkers, (and a sickening infestation of troll posts lately), or they're talking about the italian one (same text from beppe), in which case that still surprises me, unless people blog less than i think worldwide, or there are again bizarre ratios between commenters and readers.

i don't think anyone else is blogging here to much political effect, but perhaps de Gondi would know better...

interesting diary, thanks, Martin

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 07:58:27 AM EST
I'll respond to your question later, but first some comments on the article...

Overall, I think both you and ThatBritGuy are right in part: SPIEGEL is fighting off sensed rivals here, but the German blogosphere is so undeveloped that no part of it caught me so far.

Most are unpolitical, self-opinated, self-centered, and unprofessional.

With the "most" qualifier, this is true for the US Blogosphere, too. And at least the middle two is true for somewthing like 95% of blogs. (I say so and I am DoDo!)

Whatever one writes about blogger, afterwards they'll beat you up, because one has understood nothing or spoken with the wrong people. Its a bit like nearing a sect, which is in permanent internal battle.

LOL! Hey Mr. journalist, welcome to the Blogosphere! That's how it works! In the US, too! The Blogosphere is in permanent turmoil, like a quarreling sect, or even more like multiple sects (which is not a positive trait of it, I note). All this tells to me that the author is 'in awe' of American bloggers (and, it seems, more the [far-]right-wing bloggers - quoting Glenn Reynolds) without reading them. Some other evidence of his cluelessness:

Blogs are a niche.

As they are in the US. (Very often, blogs boil down to preaching to the converted - still, that can result in power, if large numbers collect in one 'sect' and are ispired to act together.)

"In Germany the lust for argument is underdeveloped."

This may be true in general, and may fit the situation and views of the quoted German blogger, however: in the US, too, political blogging started out primarily as a thing of 'extremists' (scare quotes because opposing the Iraq war was apparently extremist on one side, while "we should seize their oil, kill anybody who resists and convert the rest to Christianity" is something for primetime on the other side); as the outlet for the loudest voices. Still, Detlef et al has a point that in Germany, people with off-center views can usually have a party, so less need for an outlet - but there are examples, like the infamous Davids Medienkritik (an English-language German blog ran by a Likudnik extremist).

Political blogs in Germany are practically non-existent. When US-Journalist Sean Sinico during the election battle 2005 researched in the German blogosphere

It's one thing that the German political blogosphere is underdeveloped, but quoting something from 2005!? This journalist doesn't appear to have any sense of how rapid developments are. Say Daily Kos exists only since 2002!

a forum for disappointed social democrats. Day after day ranting about the short-comings of neoliberalism, about reforms which are allegdly all false - as surprising as the political editorial of the FAZ

A development along the same tracks the US blogosphere followed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:34:39 PM EST
I would as well like to ask about the experience with political blogs in your country.

Ack...

In Hungary, politics on the internet followed a different path of development. The primary outlet is not blogs but web forums. These aren't much different from say those in Britain (say the much-frequented forums of The Guardian and Timesonline), but their influence is more like that of blogs. (Say, the traditional or web media running them uses forum writers as news source, or does corrections.)

That said, there are political blogs, but I feel alienated for ideological reasons. There are two main Blogostans: nationalist/far-right and anarchist/libertarian. That's what you find lots of web warriors for (typically coming over from the web forums). The first are so mad you can't even talk football with them without flaming them for incessant racism, the second have a twisted sense of rebellion against authority that 'allows' them to buy all the BS on the economy or foreign policy.

The most influential blogger may be one leader of the rioting far-right, an in-your-face madman who gets and creates lots of media coverage for his actions (ranging from disturbing a Jewish celebration to attacking drug addicts partying in the woods), who, after being caught leaving the flat in which his firend made small bombs AND getting away with it relaunched his blog under the title "Bombmaker".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:51:52 PM EST
I think a comment on France would be interesting. With the direct election of the president, there could be some more polarisation potential than in countries with purely indirect determination of the executive.

Were bloggers perceived as an influential force in the last presidential elections?

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 05:11:55 PM EST


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