This is an interview I did at the weekend with Paul Burgin (pictured) of the Mars Hill blog. I hope it may be of interest to my readers
PB: In 2010 you seemed to land a blow in the political blogosphere by deciding to quit. Remind us why you made that decision and do you feel you made the right decision for that time in hindsight?
ID: I absolutely made the right decision at the time. I had fallen out of love with blogging, I wasn’t doing it properly and something had to give. I was working at Biteback during the day and doing LBC at night and to be honest I was floundering. I had made a rod for my own back as I was doing 5-10 posts a day. I knew if I reduced it to one or two I would just get moans, so I decided to finish altogether. I never said it would be forever, though, and always intended to start again when the time was right.
What made you decide to start blogging again?
In July 2011 I launched Dale & Co, a group blog, but to be honest I was never happy with it. It started well enough but I only wrote occasionally and that was the only time the traffic spiked. It’s not that it didn’t have readers, it did, but the quality and frequency of contributions was erratic and there wasn’t a newsy element to it. It did make stars out of one or two people, but I never enjoyed it. It needed someone to grip it. So in about August last year I decided to scrap it and start a new blog. I talked to my web guy and he started on a new design and eventually we launched again just after Christmas. I decided very early on not to try to replicate the old blog. I’d blog when I wanted to and not when others seemed to demand it. After a two year gap, people would by and large have forgotten the prolificness of the old site. I decided not to make a big announcement, or make a big thing of it, just to start and see how it went. I do want people to read the blog, but I am not going to chase traffic for the sake of it.
Would you say blogging has changed over the past seven or eight years?
A lot of my old contemporaries have disappeared, which make it slightly less fun. I miss Tom Harris especially. I think blogging has also been usurped by Twitter. I love Twitter and find it very useful in so many ways but there is only so much you can say in 140 characters. I’m ashamed to say that I more or less stopped reading blogs. Even Guido and ConservativeHome lost their appeal. I’d look at those sites several times a week as opposed to several times a day. I got out of the habit of looking at my Google Feed Reader. I’m now back in the habit but to be honest most of what I see is a load of old tat. I have a rolling Daley Dozen on my new blog but it is rare that I can find 12 entries to fill it.
Many well known political bloggers have hung up their keyboard over the last four years or so, at one point there was a flurry of them; Tom Harris, Alex Hilton, Sadie Smith, Donal Blaney among others! What would you say is the secret of survival and how should bloggers adapt to the current changing scene?
I don’t think there is a secret of survival. Some of us quit when we don’t really have anything more interesting to say. Dizzy, possibly my favourite blogger, is quite happy to go through fallow periods and the start up again. That seems to be happening to a lot of people. I think every blogger is unique and must decide what is right for them. No amount of pressure from anyone can force someone into doing something they don’t want to do. If you’ve got nothing further to say, and you’re boring even yourself, it’s probably time for a break or even stop altogether.
As one reviewer of your book The Blogfather put it, you have moved on from a blogger who was trying to enter Parliament to being somewhat politically semi-detached, how comfortable do you feel with that?
I got the LBC job. The radio provides me with the adrenaline fix which politics used to provide and I am totally comfortable. Yes, I would love to have been an MP, but since I made the decision not to try for a seat again, I feel almost liberated. I never did really hold back too much, which may be one reason why I never made it (!), but now I am beholden to no one and can say what I like. I did think I might regret the decision, but two and a half years later I haven’t at all. Indeed, I am positively pleased I made it. I sometimes wonder what I would feel like if I hadn’t .
Would you say, depending on how things look at this moment, your return is short or long term?
It’s difficult to say. I don’t really think of things like that. I may well go through fallow periods, but I hope I will be around for a long time to come. Six weeks on I really enjoy being back. I seem to have caused a stir with a few things I have written and while the new blog is not quite the same as the old one, it has attracted a much higher audience than I expected it to. I don’t expect ever to get back to the heights of 150,000 absolute uniques a month and I shan’t attempt to. For some reason I am writing much longer blogposts than I used to. Many of my old blogs were only three or four lines long. On the new blog I seem to write mini essays. I used to do a lot of lists. So far I haven’t done many of those. Some people will no doubt be relieved!