The Dim-Post

January 17, 2012

Wither Red Alert?

Filed under: blogging — danylmc @ 4:30 pm

John Hartevelt wonders if Labour will address the style/existence of Red Alert, the Labour Party’s blog in their revamp of the party.

Red Alert is mostly a train-wreck. Yet some of their MPs get it: Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford and David Cunliffe all seem to understand the basic principles, and write pretty good stuff. Cunliffe’s blogging on the 2011 budget was a text-book example of what an opposition blog should be.

I think the idea Labour needs to grasp is that writing a blog is a form of public communications – the media (and many others) read it and they’ll turn it around into a story if its newsworthy. It’s like sending out a press release, or giving a media conference.

Now, I’m pretty sure that if Clare Curran wanted to send a press release to all the media telling them she thought they were terrible at their jobs, or if Darien Fenton wanted to call a press conference and encourage the nation to boycott the Mad Butcher, there would be processes within the party that stopped them doing that. But for some reason they can just jump on their blog and say whatever they want.

So I’d keep Red Alert, but fold it into the general communications strategy. That means planning. Oversight. Co-ordination. If the leader announces a policy on the same day Trevor Mallard blogs that he’s waxed off all his body-hair to decrease his wind resistance, the latter will be what leads the news. Labour’s MPs have been very slow to grasp this.

If I were them I’d stop issuing press releases and make Red Alert the primary communications tool for the party. But if they can’t control it they need to scrap it.


  1. At the very least having someone run a sanity check over what the MPs are writing would be a good start.

    “Yeah, hey, you might not want to call them whiteants, boss.”

    Comment by JJW — January 17, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  2. Agreed 100% Danyl.

    Darien Fenton’s comments on the Mad Butcher and various other brain explosions from Mallard, Curran and others on red alert did more harm to labour at the last election than I think most people realise.

    Comment by DT — January 17, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

  3. It’s not the concept of a party blog that’s the problem, it’s the lost Labour concept of having MPs you can trust to communicate sensible stuff.

    If it didn’t blow up on the blog there would probably have been Stop Sausage Sales signs outside the shops – unauthorised too probably.

    Comment by Pete George — January 17, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  4. They could make it anonymous, but you have to be a Labour MP to post. That way people could guess which one – endless fun and bitching..

    Comment by Rich — January 17, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

  5. At the moment Red Alert feels relatively immediate and authentic. For better or worse, it feels like the MPs who post are posting what they honestly think about issues and are engaging with commentators. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it seems a bit amateur-hour.

    I agree making it part of general, planned comms. strategy would be a good idea (which should include twitter, etc too), but care should be taken that it doesn’t become the sort overly-controlled banal drivel that the various National MP blogs are.

    Red Alert needs more (planned) policy discussion and relatively frank comment on important issues, and it certainly needs less holiday pictures and caption contests. Kiwiblog isn’t really a good model for a blog that actually wants to communicate something, and it does sometimes look like Kiwiblog (but without a sewer) has been the model for Red Alert.

    Comment by Richard — January 17, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  6. Richard, Red Alert can’t have been modelled on Kiwiblog, I can get involved in far more open Labour policy discussions on KB than on RA. And for all I know Labour MPs may be doing the same.

    Comment by Pete George — January 17, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  7. Didn’t the National Party at some point start their own blog that was written with press releases? Successful wasn’t it?
    If you want a press release centre it will close itself down with the smell of boredom.
    I can’t believe the left are falling into Whaleoil’s trap to get Red Alert closed down so he can claim social media victory.
    A bloody blog doesn’t lose you an election for heavens sake!

    Comment by Cactus Kate — January 17, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  8. @Pete George – January 17, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

    Hey here’s an idea Pete – maybe you should run for the Labour Party instead of United Follicle – UF didn’t care for you much going by thier list. If your theory is correct Labour will be throwing rose petals at your feet as you bring back the halycion days with your gospel of the sensible.

    Comment by Campbell Larsen — January 17, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

  9. Red Alert is mostly a train-wreck. Yet some of their MPs get it: Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford and David Cunliffe all seem to understand the basic principles, and write pretty good stuff.

    Grant was my electorate MP (’till I shifted away) and I tried following the blog on his own website for a while (site seems to be down or closed, I’m not sure) because I thought it’d be interesting to see what he was working on. I even commented on a couple of his posts, which he never responded to or gave any indication that he was reading at all. Then I started to notice that it’d go for a month at a time with no posts, and suddenly 7 or 8 would appear in the RSS feed all at once, and on the blog they’d be back-dated a long way during the previous month. And then I noticed that his website blog was just an automated re-hash of the Red Alert postings (which I never follow as habit), and he probably never checked the CC’d version. So yeah he’s interacted well through Red Alert, but there still seems to be some confusion about how this whole social media thing works, or at least there was back then.

    Comment by MikeM — January 17, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  10. Grant Robertson has allowed his domain to expire. It’s up for auction at the moment.

    Comment by SHG — January 17, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  11. I can get involved in far more open Labour policy discussions on KB than on RA. And for all I know Labour MPs may be doing the same.

    They probably are. After all, Redbaiter is just another of Mallard’s many noms de net..

    Comment by Joe W — January 17, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  12. I have to agree with Cactus Kate.

    Red Alert is an unprecedented success on one level – people are reading it. It’s by far the most popular official political party blog in New Zealand at the moment. I think a lot of people are reading it because they’re hoping for another Curran-y or Fenton-y or Mallard-esque rant, but they are there and they are reading. That’s money in the bank.

    This isn’t to say there is a zero-sum game between discipline and readership but I guarantee you that if Red Alert did exercise the level of message discipline you’re advocating it would eventually – by the next election, anyway – lose its readership and fade into obscurity as just another stream of delivering the same content Labour already delivers via press conference, leaflet drop etc etc.

    I’m not sure that Red Alert really is the tremendous liability you seem to think it is (possibly from over-reacting to DPF’s quixotic ‘burns’ where he Fisks some Red Alert post) and I really doubt that it is capable of drowning out press conferences.

    Comment by Hugh — January 17, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  13. I don’t think it should be managed more, I just think those running it should stop bullying and say something interesting.

    They’re not going to convert anyone directly but if they appear interested in different opinions and to have some sort of intellectual curiosity then they might win some sympagthy in the long term

    If the message stays “Labour Cares For The People and everyone else are Crozby Textor astroturfing trolls” then it’s never going to be an interesting site. There’s already The Standard for batshit leftwing crazy.

    less overt message and more interesting engagement.

    But that is dcefinitely well beyond Mallard and Curran.

    Comment by NeilM — January 17, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

  14. Don’t be a spoilsport, Danyl. Why destroy a source of unwitting entertainment? Grant Robertson’s cumbersome sentimentality on the death of Ben Hana is the most recent highlight.

    Richard, Kiwiblog does not = Red Alert. Farrar is far more liberal than any of the RA posters.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 17, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

  15. I’ve said it before, but Red Alert’s biggest strength – being more open than other party blogs – is also its biggest weakness. It amplifies good ideas, but it also amplifies errors, too. And all the trolls over there drown out the signal-to-noise ratio, to the point where the moderators haul out sledgehammers to break walnuts, hence giving the (unfairly deserved) impression of censoriousness and preaching to the choir.

    Brian Edwards and Conor Roberts et al would make a huge difference. it worked for Marian Hobbs big time. And the new broom that includes Jordan Carter and Jacinda Ardern are far more media and tech-savvy than those who came before them.

    Comment by DeepRed — January 17, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  16. RedAlert would be improved, IMO, if serious topics could be ‘bumped’ for ongoing comment and interaction. The blog model is not as effective for this as an interactive message board format.

    And, could they please have moderators who aren’t as touchy-sensitive as some of the MPs. There’s a tang of the newbie schoolteacher about some of the BTL responses from the bloggers. (“We love to hear from you – just don’t get fresh or personal…”) It might improve with experience.

    More input from some of the younger ‘guns’ would be useful – Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, perhaps. Some sign that the Labour Party has moved on from the ‘juniors should be seen and not heard’ stance.

    If wishes might be – instead of Trevor reading ‘The Guardian’ and offering Liam Byrne’s ‘proposals’ – how about some interaction and guest posts from the Aussie Labor Party people – seeing that they still have operational unions there, and there are enough Kiwis across the Ditch to populate a fair-sized town ?

    Comment by Andrea — January 17, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

  17. First of all, the dangers of having community efforts is probably best highlighted by the standard, which somehow manages to be both full of hair trigger temper moderators and contributors and still be the most heavily trolled New Zealand blog there is – how they could do with someone taking that site by the scruff of the neck. Whilst the various contributors of the standard can allow it to be heavily trolled and wander all over the place without much consequence, Red Alert cannot. IT MUST STAY ON MESSAGE. I would suggest it got an editor who managed the contributions of the MPs, with aim of staying on message and not saying anything dumb.

    But I also think Danyl over-estimates its importance. I personally don’t read it much at all, but then about the only NZ blogsite I take as worth any heavy weight thinking is readingthemaps. The rest are just endless arguing over the news whilst whittling (for the huge number of angry retired white men on internet) or when surfacing for ten minutes from work, and manoeuvering for partisan advantage.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 17, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  18. When you say “But if they can’t control it they need to scrap it.”, by “it” you do mean Curran, Fenton, Mallard et al don’t you.

    Comment by will — January 18, 2012 @ 12:38 am

  19. @Sanctuary: “the most heavily trolled New Zealand blog”

    How do you identify and measure trolling?

    Comment by Pete George — January 18, 2012 @ 7:00 am

  20. it just shows that our paid representatives can be as stupid and egotistical as the rest of us once they inhale blogsygen.

    The supreme irony of Red Alert for me is that Clare Curren who got into position in the paty originally because she wrote a paper about the role of language and communication in politics emerging as such a horse’s ass when he attempts to express her own inner thoughts. In English.

    Apart from that I think their policy of censoring or blocking or threatening to censor or block anyone they label as ‘Trolls’ speaks volumes abut their so called ‘democratic’ credentials as a political party. I mean how do yo communicate adn debate with people who, at the slightest whiff of criticism put their hands over their ears, close thier eyes and go ‘La La La’? It’s like trying to reason with a twelve-year-old.

    But let’s not start on the mental age of blogs – we’d find some of them at kindergarten stage.

    Comment by Eric Blair — January 18, 2012 @ 7:02 am

  21. “…How do you identify and measure trolling..?

    Comment by Pete George

    Clearly an area you need help in.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 18, 2012 @ 7:06 am

  22. No, I don’t need any help on that. Most accusations of trolling I see are lazy name calling absent any argument.

    Comment by Pete George — January 18, 2012 @ 7:52 am

  23. Well here is the thing Petey. There is a foolish chap who regularly posts over at the kiwiblog sewer called Fisiani fisu (or some such) who actually believes the lack of replies to his emails pointing out their errors means the authors of “The Spirit Level” are to afraid to engage with his powerful intellectual points. This sort of grandiose and delusional self importance is to be expected from the bunch of angry retirees who infest kiwiblog – to much time on your hands and to much time hearing yourself talking to the nation on Newstalk ZB can do that to you. However, I am a man of a generally sunny and forgiving disposition. So I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt in this internet posting business. I am sure that your posts on this site are the work of a subtle troll. The other alternative is that you are as a delusional fool as our awesome friend Fisiani, only with added attraction of probably owning a full wardrobe of heavily gold-braided bus conductor uniforms.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 18, 2012 @ 8:27 am

  24. You mean Falafulu Fisi – he often digs at me, he somehow seems to think I’m responsible for Muslim democracy and Sharia law. But he never calls me a troll.

    Haha, and from you a ‘subtle troll’ dig. I’ve been ‘trolling’ quite a bit on various blogs for quite a few years – when will I be able to graduate to being a proper blog commenter like you? Sans grandiose and delusional self importance of course. When I retire?

    Comment by Pete George — January 18, 2012 @ 8:48 am

  25. This discussion about trolling is just about the cutest thing I’ve seen on the internet. Pythonesque.

    Comment by Chris Bull — January 18, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  26. However, I am a man of a generally sunny and forgiving disposition.

    Sanc, this comment brings me great joy. Thank you.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 18, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  27. Thought, strategy and clarity – yes. A “blog” that consists only of Labour Party press releases – ummm, no thanks.

    Comment by garethw — January 18, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  28. >Red Alert is mostly a train-wreck

    No, it’s not. It’s a successful blog with a huge number of readers and contributors. Lots of them engage in good faith from both sides. There are trolls. You get that. They seem to manage them pretty well.

    I’m of the mind that it ain’t broke, so it doesn’t need fixing. If they want some alternative internet channels, they should look at those – lots of politicians take to Twitter – it’s made for them, basically a self-promotion medium. They could make a corner of the blog for different styles of discussion, perhaps, with different moderation policies, if they want to play with widening the scope of their internet engagement.

    They’d be crazy to fuck with RedAlert. It’s about the only thing they’ve got that National hasn’t.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 18, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  29. It doesn’t have to be a blog of press releases. Consider Cunliffe’s piece on the budget that I linked to. That’s (a) interesting and readable, (b) more so than any of their press releases, and (c) fulfills all the functions of a press release. A journalist can just lift quotes out of the text.

    If I were them I’d shut off comments. Invite feedback to an email address, and then publish email of the day, dissent of the day etc.

    Comment by danylmc — January 18, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  30. They’d be crazy to fuck with RedAlert. It’s about the only thing they’ve got that National hasn’t.

    National has Kiwiblog, which is far more successful and has ‘plausible deniability’, in the sense that it’s not one of their MPs publishing it. And Red Alert generates negative news stories about Labour at the rate of roughly once/month.

    Comment by danylmc — January 18, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  31. I’d inject a larger sense of humour into some of the authors. If you are going to engage you have to do so in good faith and accept what you are given not just dismiss people as tories and trolls. One of the rules has to be, if you are going to author a post asking for comment, you have to make time to read and respond. Hipkins is good on that score.

    Frogblog seems to do a reasonable job on taking things in their stride, though it is a bit facebookie at the moment with some overexcited new MP going on about riding a bike.

    Red Alert will die if Labour get into govt anyway. No party is going to provide unfettered access to Ministers and MPs – it will be all about the message. Just look at the droning govt MPs on Backbenchers.

    Comment by insider — January 18, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  32. National has Kiwiblog, which is far more successful and has ‘plausible deniability’

    Amazingly, some commenters insist that RA is not a party blog.

    There is a half-arsed disclaimer at the top but when I pointed out that this conflicted with ‘Authorised by Chris Flatt’ there was a bit of ‘nothing to see here, move along’.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 18, 2012 @ 11:42 am

  33. >National has Kiwiblog, which is far more successful and has ‘plausible deniability’, in the sense that it’s not one of their MPs publishing it. And Red Alert generates negative news stories about Labour at the rate of roughly once/month.

    National does not have Kiwiblog. ACT has Kiwiblog, and National is their client. That is why they *need* plausible deniability. DPF is not really a National guy at all. Every time he does one of his obsessive political self-analysis pieces, it’s abundantly clear that his values are those of ACT.

    The negative news stories about Red Alert don’t even make a ripple on the MSM. No-one who doesn’t read blogs gives a flying shit. Those who do read blogs are mostly grateful to have any information at all, and they value their ability to speak directly to Labour people, even if more than half of them use it as an excuse to rag. National doesn’t provide this – talking to DPF is not the same. Until the National party starts saying that it’s all about Upskirt photos, and enjoying C S Lewis, it’s DPF’s site, and it will stay that way.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 18, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  34. No Right Turn highlights your very point pointing out that Labours’ public stance and position on Red Alert diverge, where they have their spokes person saying one thing in public but another thing on Red Alert.

    The problem isn’t that they aren’t managing Red Alert, the problem is they aren’t publicly asserting the position their supporters AND MPs hold.

    Comment by Fentex — January 18, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

  35. I agree with Danyl on this – one can put together a decent blog post and still stay on message.

    For example, observe David Farrar’s tendency to not criticise Bill English – despite many of his actions having been unpopular on the right.

    Comment by Dion — January 18, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

  36. RA will only work when genuine debate is invited/allowed.

    RA has never encouraged that. “Spud” ensured that genuine debate never occurred.

    RA is merely a vehicle for some MPs to utter platitudes.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — January 19, 2012 @ 1:17 am

  37. “ACT has Kiwiblog, and National is their client. That is why they *need* plausible deniability. DPF is not really a National guy at all. Every time he does one of his obsessive political self-analysis pieces, it’s abundantly clear that his values are those of ACT.”

    I’ve often wondered why DPF is a National member and not an ACT member. I’ve never seen him criticise an ACT policy as going too far or being too extreme. I think it’s just because he likes being part of the “big boy” party.

    Comment by Hugh — January 19, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  38. Red Alert is not tolerant of opposing viewpoints. It’s way of handling such viewpoints is not to discuss their merits or otherwise but to ban the people making them! Classy.

    Comment by Ross — January 19, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  39. @Ross & Peterlepaysan: You have a point about over-use of the banhammer on RA, and the over-reactions of those wielding it. On the other hand, there are no shortage of trolls (left and right alike) on RA distorting the signal-to-noise ratio, and provoking the banhammer is just what the trolls want. Consequently, RA largely preaches to the choir. Indie outlets like Public Address have proven to be a far more adept medium for what RA wants to achieve.

    As I’ve said earlier, RA really, really needs Brian Edwards or someone else of his calibre to steer it on a straighter path.

    @Dion #35: it’s almost a trademark of Kiwiblog to be unmoderated. DPF has broken with convention a number of times, most notably on ICT matters – he supported local loop unbundling when most of his compatriots strongly opposed it, and he’s all for ‘Net neutrality’ as well.

    Comment by DeepRed — January 19, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

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