Monday, 8 September 2008

One year on

This week sees the first anniversary of Heresy Corner: the very first post came out on 12th September last year, although the blog only really got going a couple of weeks later. From a standing start, the blog has attracted a modest audience, with returning visitors now outnumbering those who stumble on here via Google or a particular link. So I suppose I must be getting somewhere. Last week Heresy Corner scraped into Iain Dale's list of top 100 UK political blogs, as voted for by anyone who could be bothered. I'm very grateful to those who put me on their list - and if you didn't, there's always next year. If I'm still here. 81st place (37th in the list of "Right of Centre" blogs) is hardly spectacular, especially since I hadn't heard of several of those above me; but at least my burblings haven't been completely ignored.

As for marking the milestone, I can't compete with Pandora Blake, who recently celebrated the second anniversary of her blogging activity by offering up her bottom in aid of the beleaguered Northern Spanking. I will, however, be taking stock, looking back on some of the highs and lows of the past year, some of the stories that made an impact, and how right or wrong my predictions turned out to be...

At the beginning, virtually no-one was reading. The first piece that got a reasonable amount of traffic was Elton's Porn Panic a couple of weeks later, which looked at the fracas surrounding Nan Goldin's photograph Klara and Edda belly-dancing (featuring a naked toddler) which was being exhibited at the Baltic Centre in Gateshead. A police investigation ultimately cleared the picture, owned by Sir Elton John, but not before a predictable moral panic had left many people more confused than ever about what is, or should be, acceptable in art.

Lee Rosenbaum, the well-known New York art critic who recommended the post in her own blog, suggested that my use of the word "porn" in the title might have fuelled much of the early traffic from Google. Certainly, to judge from the search terms, many of those who were directed to Heresy Corner were looking for the picture itself. I did not myself post it, and quickly removed a link to it. Others took a different decision. Before the story broke Goldin's photograph was not particularly well-known, and not widely available online. A year later, if you type the name of the picture into Google images several pagefuls pop up. As I noted at the time, as a result of the police involvement "resources that could have been spent on chasing real child abusers have been diverted, and a photograph that had been confined to exhibitions and expensive art books is now all over the Internet." Context matters is cases like this. It's easier to treat such an image as art - albeit provocative art - rather than something more sinister if one has to visit an art gallery to see it.

Artistic controversies - several involving claims of blasphemy - have featured periodically in Heresy Corner's first year. But the biggest story - at least in terms of hits - remains my critical analysis of a claim in January that a pair of twins, separated at birth, had unknowingly got married. The claim was made by Crossbench peer Lord Alton in the House of Lords in December, but only made the headlines the following month, whereupon it quickly took on a life of its own. For a few days the hunt was on for the mystery couple, as tabloids offered to open their checkbooks to anyone with information. But none was forthcoming, since the couple did not in fact exist.

I began voicing my doubts the day the news broke, and tracked the progress of the story in a number of follow-up posts. My reservations were picked up by John Henley in the Guardian, and subsequently by the mega-popular BoingBoing, with the result that in one day almost 3,000 people found their way to the Heresiarch's small island of scepticism. It was too good to last, and it didn't. Once things got back to normal, however, I was pleased to find that some of the new readers stuck around.

Other much-viewed articles included my take on Britney Spears' alleged flirtation with Islam (or, rather, the media fabrication of a story that was at least as fictional as the twins), and, in April, a juxtaposition of images of the chaotic Olympic torch relay with the official Chinese reports. My extensive coverage of the Max Mosley saga also attracted a considerable amount of attention - some of it from lawyers. At least the legal threats confirmed that my guesswork had been along the right lines. Even odder than the emails from solicitors, though, were the approaches I received from proper journalists (and a TV producer) wanting help with their research. An unattributed quote from one of my reports even turned up in the Mail on Sunday. How did investigative reporters ever cope, I wonder, before they had bloggers to do the work for them?

Over the past twelve months Heresy Corner has looked at a wide variety of other stories, some trivial, some of which were big news at the time, some of which (such as the Brown government's continuing collapse) remain so. I will be catching up with a few of them in the days ahead. There's no obvious unifying factor (the notion of "heresy" being somewhat paradoxical) but I particularly like James Rattue's summation in his guest post last month. Heresy Corner, he wrote, "is a place where we are encouraged to look beneath the surface of events for some deeper sort of meaning; to think beyond headlines and to reach further than the first cliché to hand."

Much of modern society seems designed to discourage thought. Newspaper headlines scream and denounce; politicians legislate by press-release; the education system values target-hitting and "benchmarks" above actual knowledge; TV news is aimed squarely at morons. It can be very frustrating to read - and watch - the emoting and soap-opera simplicities that too often pass for analysis in the mass media. Cocooned in the relative sanity of 1924, the great Dutch historian Jan Huizinga was able to write of the "high degree of irritability that distinguishes the Middle Ages from our own time." Irritability, in the early 21st century, is back.

This blog enables me to offer what I hope is a small dose of scepticism, reason and detachment. But I'm as prone to prejudice and stupidity as anyone else: which is why I greatly value feedback. If (like a fair few) you read this blog but rarely or ever leave a comment, please introduce yourself and join in. You don't have to agree with me - but you don't have to disagree with me either. A successful blog is like a conversation between friends; an unsuccessful one is just shouting into the ether.

But thank you anyway.

9 comments:

therealalekid said...

As I said when I first posted, for me it is the best blog on the net. I wish I had started to post earlier in your blog, instead of eavesdropping into your conversations.

All the best Realale

Sue said...

Thank you for your blog which I always seek out first among my "feeds" - I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis of events and a perspective that is often refreshingly different from the mainstream media. This is from a UK expat reading you in Australia who generally considers herself a bit "left of centre" but finds herself agreeing with you more often than she would like!!I will return to eavesdropping now....

Anonny Mouse said...

I dislike leaving comments, and would not vote in a poll of blogs. But you should know that the people who read your blog very much appreciate it. If it makes you happy, next year, I will vote ;)

lost causes said...

I have no idea how you find the time to do so much research, let alone write the actual posts, but keep doing it. I often wonder who might be the Bruce Wayne to The Heresiarch's Batman - I suspect some kind of academic (based on the quality of writing combined with amount of free time) or perhaps a Nick Leason-esque city trader passing the time in open prison.

I also got into the blog through boingboing and the twins post. I was just fascinated by the idea of a news story being such an obvious lie. I wish more stories turned out to be complete fabrications.

I'd probably describe myself as a liberal, so it's funny how you're described as right-of-centre. It shows how far we've come under New Labour, that believing in free speech and civil liberties now falls on the right. I guess saying nice things about Boris Johnson got you there.

Mot said...

Congratulations! I found this place while reading up on the Nan Goldin kerfuffle, but it was the very thorough investigative work on the Max Mosely case that got me properly hooked, and prompted me to recommend you to friends.

I'm very, very much to the left of your "Right of Centre" designation, for what it's worth, though I'm not really sure that's an accurate tag for the weblog. Sure, I'd assumed that you were pretty far to the right of me, but the best posts here have been marked out by great research, good writing, and canny media analysis, none of which are qualities that belong to the left or right wings. (I wonder how many comments there'll be saying "I'm not right of centre, but I like it!".)

Edwin said...

I found myself in Portree library in the summer with a short time left on the web after sorting out my finances - I used the short time to come to Heresy Corner rather than the Guardian's Cif gabfest as I thought it would be time better spent - part of my regular routine now. Have been entertained and have learned a lot. Thanks again Heresiarch!

CathElliott said...

Hi Heresiarch

I'm also a lurker on your blog - I always read it but so far I've refrained from commenting.

Anyway, well done on getting into the top 100, and keep up the good work. As you know I rarely agree with anything you say (but then what more can you expect from a "left-wing feminist activist of a type that is now probably an endangered species" Lol!:)) but despite that I still think Heresy Corner is one of the best blogs on the net.

And thanks for the challenging arguments on CiF; I look forward to many more in the months and years to come.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the late entry. I might not agree with you on everything, but you are certainly amongst the most balanced, non-censorious bloggers about, both here, and in the depths of your companion site. Nice style, easy to read, well researched and very informative. Please keep on going...

a colon followed by a curved right bracket said...

oh...and my name was ...