Friday, March 13, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part LXXII: Ben Davies

Ben Davies is the Website Editor, and a blogger, at the New Statesman

What made you decide to start blogging?

Funnily enough it wasn't the New Statesman. I used to work for the BBC News website as a political reporter and after being there about five years decided to take a career break and go travelling with my girlfriend now wife. We travelled through the Southern Cone countries of South America spending time in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Peru and I documented our travels on a now defunct blog called You can find articles cached on Google if you look hard enough.

What is your best blogging experience?

Writing about politics for the BBC you had to be very careful about balance so doing worldgonemad - in the wake of the Iraq war which I strongly opposed and then the Hutton Inquiry - was extremely liberating. South American politics and society are fascinating - I loved writing about it.

And your worst?

Don't really have a worst but it may have been the end of worldgonemad - knowing we'd got to go back to the UK when we'd only scraped the surface of Peru. We'd got back to Buenos Aires where we'd spent quite a bit of time earlier in the trip and our flight home marked the end of a fantastic six months.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?
A piece about following in Graham Greene's footsteps to Paraguay which was later rewritten for the NS.

Favourite blogs?
There are so many out there that I tend to dot around a lot without. Yours obviously will become a firm favourite.

What are the more exciting aspects of blogging for The New Statesman, as well as being Website Editor?
The best thing about the web is its immediacy - the capacity for responsive coverage. The thing I'm most proud of during my time here was our campaign for Rape Crisis which has been starved of funds for years. We helped win them £1m in emergency cash from the government.

You recently mentioned the common problem of dealing with comments left on blogs, to the point where you wondered if there was a point of having them. Is comment moderation the happy medium?
Interesting question - I think that people underestimate the editorial process journalists are subjected to. People who comment on websites such as ours seem to believe their contributions have as much weight as the article they're responding to. We now premoderate our comments. To answer your question though as to whether there's a point to having comments - I personally would rather allow them because many of our readers have interesting and intelligent things to contribute.

Given your coverage of programmes like 'Trinny and Susannah' and 'I'm a Celebrity..', do you think we have too many reality tv programmes and what does it say about the state of the nation?

I think there's something very distasteful about much of our TV. It appeals to the lowest common denominator - watching people mess up - it's like a latter day freak show. I'm even more worried about the fact few good programmes are made anymore. We recently made the mistake of getting freeview - wall-to-wall repeats with precious little original programming. However, there are upsides. I was lucky enough buy my wife a limited range of sparkly earrings on one of the shopping channels. Along with a possible 10,000 other people, I was able to get my hands on some limited edition real artwork for just 49.99. How far we've come.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Many places. I'd love to go to India. I'd like to reconvene in Peru and travel the rest of South and Central America. Mongolia... you name it.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

I suppose Argentina would be top of the list. So would the US and so would Berlin.

Do you have a favourite political figure in history?

Attlee is up there. So is FDR.

Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Hard to put my finger on but friends and immediate family are among them. Evo Morales is pretty inspirational.

Favourite Bond movie?

Diamonds Are Forever or On Her Majesty's Secret Service for Diana Rigg.

Favourite Doctor Who?

Tom Baker.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?


Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Jimi Hendrix and the Experience

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

Oxford - hard to beat the surrounding countryside.

Favourite national newspaper?

I read a lot of different papers but mostly I read stuff online. I like the Guardian and FT on a Saturday

What would you say your hobbies were?

I don't have hobbies really - I have interests: food, cars, family, art and exercise. Inexpensive French wine is up there too.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Safe in My Garden by the Mamas and Papas and My Brother Jake by Free and Road Rage by Catatonia.
Books, Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald, The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh and Emma by Jane Austen.

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