Sunday May 24 2009 will be remembered as the day that a recognised conservative, Mr Timothy Blair, spoke at the Sydney Writers' Festival. Adding spice to the historical significance is that he appears with two online mortal enemies, Ant Loewenstein and - back from the dead -Margo Kingston. One of our ace reporters was there for the occasion and has brought back these notes:
We arrive early to discover the previous session still going, and some writer droning on about the music he listens to when he writes a book - erm, sometimes Nirvana, [pause] sometimes soul music. After only five minutes my orifices are starting to bleed with boredom. Who knew that for writers, "festival" really means sitting around boring people half to death?
It turns out this is good preparation for the half hour intermission which doesn't seem half so tedious. A very healthy crowd rocks up - maybe 200 or so.
Finally, the speakers take their places. Strikes me there are only two successful bloggers in attendance, Tim Blair and Erica Bartle (of girlwithasatchel.com). Can anyone explain why the other two are here again? Introductions: Loewenstein's thin credentials are read out in painful detail, Blair prefers not to blow his own trumpet. It's good to see Margo back in reasonable shape.
Blair sits next to mortal enemy, Ant Loewenstein. In person, Loewie reminds me of this picture of Ben Stiller. It is announced that Loewenstein will be signing copies of his book about blogging at the end of the session - an awesome sales opportunity for him, surely.
Tim Blair is quick to display his Right Wing Death Beast credentials by commandeering the microphone and swigging from the bottled water left next to his chair with apparently nary a thought for the food miles.
Margo is asked about the difference between a journalist and a blogger, and she seems to struggle. That's why the whole webdiary thing didn't really work out, right there - no one is convinced she knows what a blog is. Margo says having a code of conduct gave Webdiary "serious respect and credibility" from readers. Blair keeps a straight face.
Erica Bartle is the odd one out in the discussion, not being part of the blog wars, but she speaks intelligently and gives a good account of herself throughout.
Margo spots Paul McGeough in the crowd and recalls how he once rescued her after she was arrested in a bat cave. Blair keeps a straight face.
Margo famously blew her payout from Fairfax by employing people to moderate comments on her not-enormously popular blog. She continues to predict that in the future, there will be many jobs in comment moderation. Blair still has a straight face.
Blair and Loewenstein are microphone buddies and seem to be getting on fine. What is this, some zionist/anti-zionist version of Ebony and Ivory?
Loewie thinks that while he is an anarchist, he would like to see people paying for online content. This strategy could be problematic at his blog, currently only visited by a few kooks and Blair bloggers looking for something to laugh at. His anarchic streak may explain why he appears to be in favour of allowing random suicide bombers into Israel.
Margo still apparently hasn't let go of the idea of Webdiary being funded by rich sugar-daddies and overseen by some nightmarish hierarchical structure.
This civilised discussion (inevitably) starts to head towards the sunlit plains of victimhood. Margo describes how she found it hard to cope with personal attacks. Blair says that it just comes with the territory. It seems to surprise the lefties in attendance that Blair is ever called names. No mention from Loewie of his alleged death threats.
Someone asks a question about Israel, and things start getting heated in the crowd. The questioner is interrupted. Loewie starts rabbiting on about Palestine and he is interrupted.
Time for one last question and someone in the crowd assails Blair about comments on his blogs - made years ago - including one about turning people into compost. I turn to look. Is it a man - or is it half-man half fish? You can tell he has been longing for this moment - planning for Blair to get his come-uppance for weeks. Thinking about it late at night. The discussion trails off nowhere in particular.
Erica talks about the intricacies of comment moderation, and everyone loses interest almost immediately because the question was only ever about taking a potshot at Blair. The session comes to a close.
Everyone disperses. Loewenstein, who promised to sign his great new book about blogging, is clearly not sure what to do. If he sits around somewhere with no one waiting to purchase any of his books, he will look silly. He takes the smart option - for once in his life - and leaves, before anyone notices.
Your reporter takes the lift out with the great Margo Kingston. "Did I do okay?" she asks. "Yes you did," she is re-assured, and we all spill out into the chilly Sydney night.
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