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Political Blog Sold For....£1.3 million?!? - Mark Hanson [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Mark Hanson

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Political Blog Sold For....£1.3 million?!? [Sep. 23rd, 2009|02:50 pm]
Mark Hanson
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There's much discussion about the purchase by Tory Billionaire, Michael Ashcroft, of the blog sites, ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome, for a mind-blowing £1.3 million. Whilst there will be many bedroom-bloggers being re-energised by three year plans to similarly sell out to rich owners the rest of us are just left thinking 'why'?

I was involved in Labourhome when it was sold for a much lesser figure last year and we all thought that the attraction was the trusted brand amongst the grassroots. But a political blog, just like a blog about cars, tech, sports or whatever will find it difficult to maintain trust if it sells out to a corporate money-bags. Labourhome's editor, Alex Hilton, was savvy and chose exactly the right investor, a Labour-supporting media entrepreneur, who then left him firmly in charge. But why would Michael Ashcroft, whose office at Tory HQ is larger than even David Cameron's (reflecting relative importance) be interested in buying a site like ConservativeHome, traditionally a thorn in the side of the leadership? Hmmmm....

Sunder Katawala has an excellent analysis here and he makes the point that not all media moguls are like Robert Maxwell i.e. the good ones understand the usefulness of perceived independence and I'm sure Ashcroft will do all he can to reassure editor, Tim Montgomerie, that all will stay the same on that side. He has to. Unlike newspapers, the internet has low barriers to entry so if the site is no longer truly serving the readers then its much easier for someone to set up an alternative like the 'RealConservativeHome.com'. Any good site needs resources but hey, this is the Tories, there's always someone who can waive cash at them.

If we strip this down Ashcroft is really buying the plumbing that sits behind the ConHome/PolHome operation and that tells us lots about what it takes from a communications POV in the online space. Again, my good friend, Jag Singh, summarises perfectly elsewhere. Firstly, don't forget that ConHome owns the now defunct internet TV channel, 18DoughtyStreet, with it's TV quality production, editing, staff, graphics - basically everything you need to make the kind of attack ads the Americans are famous for and that Tim Montgomerie et al have already dabbled with.

They're also thinking of how they can use this to capture the attention and even coverage of mainstream media. Many bloggers compete for mindshare of the political press and see the willingness of print/broadcast journalists to use their stories, quote them or use them as talking heads as their ROI. The tools available here will be valuable in pumping out pictures that can go straight to news channels and be immediately noticed by journalists scouring for stories.

There is also the data i.e. the email addresses and profiles of Tory grassroots members and activists that is the sovereign currency of modern politics. All Parties measure campaign effectiveness in terms of number of email addresses collected but it's so difficult to pick up much more about your supporters and potential supporters in quantitative or qualitative terms. ConHome has all that thanks to the infrastructure and polling expertise of previous owner and YouGov founder, Stephan Shakespeare.

Labour has caught up online in the past 12 months. Now Ashcroft has raised the stakes.