When blogging beats broadcasting

John Lanchester

The BBC is encouraging its specialist reporters to blog, as a way of going into subjects at greater length and a greater degree of wonkery than they can manage in their broadcasting. The results are often interesting, especially on the economics side, where writers such as Stephanie Flanders and Robert Peston often allow themselves to get more technical than they can when they're appearing on any of the Beeb's various news outlets. Here is an absolute corker of a piece from Paul Mason, offering 'Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere', from UCL to Tahrir Square. Here are some of them:

1. At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future

2. ...with access to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and eg Yfrog so they can express themselves in a variety of situations ranging from parliamentary democracy to tyranny.

5. Women very numerous as the backbone of movements. After twenty years of modernised labour markets and higher-education access the "archetypal" protest leader, organizer, facilitator, spokesperson now is an educated young woman.

9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess - so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.

10.This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because - even where you get rapid economic growth - it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.

11.To amplify: I can't find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations - but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.

Not sure I agree with every point Mason makes but it's a highly suggestive analysis.


  • 8 February 2011 at 3:58pm
    Joe Morison says:
    It feels like being just before the top of the lift hill of a roller coaster with no idea what the ride will be like or whether it will end in a crash or not. Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.

  • 8 February 2011 at 5:04pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Interesting indeed. I have just listened to an interview with some students from the German University in Cairo - obviously well-heeled families, but they expressed the view that the protesters in Cairo are not academics but mainly jobless males. Have no way of checking this, but the students said that they were worried about 'extremism'. For what this is worth. The validity of #1 is a little doubtful.

    • 25 April 2015 at 11:25pm
      dsueii says: @ Geoff Roberts
      We have plenty of grads with no futures on this side of the pond. They're called liberal arts majors.

  • 8 February 2011 at 10:21pm
    Joe Morison says:
    I also liked his: 15. People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news but on the suppression of narratives and truth. More or less everything you need to know to make sense of the world is available as freely downloadable content on the internet: and it's not pre-digested for you by your teachers, parents, priests, imams. For example there are huge numbers of facts available to me now about the subjects I studied at university that were not known when I was there in the 1980s. Then whole academic terms would be spent disputing basic facts, or trying to research them. Now that is still true but the plane of reasoning can be more complex because people have an instant reference source for the undisputed premises of arguments. It's as if physics has been replaced by quantum physics, but in every discipline.