Four years ago today I looked for the first time at the audience measuring tool that comes with a blogging website. The previous morning, I had published my first ever post in a Google blog app hurriedly put together for me by a tech savvy colleague at work. The piece, called unimaginatively “It hurts, doesn’t it?”, was everything the handbook to getting people to click on your blog posts says a blog post should not be. At over 3,000 words it was hopelessly long. It rambled. There were no hyperlinks to related texts. There was but one picture and the heading was vague.
I didn’t have any benchmark to which to relate the number I was seeing. But even I, with zero experience in online publishing, realised that 56,000 unique readers for one blog post in less than 24 hours was a considerable number.
Four years later, I appreciate better just how significant that number was. Nothing I’ve written or published since, not one of over 4,000 articles, attracted that sort of traction. For a moment there, that Sette Giugno of 2017, I marvelled at just how high the demand for Manuel Delia was. ‘I could get used to this,’ I remember congratulating myself.
Of course, I quickly recovered from the grotesque over-estimation of my own worth, when I realised that Daphne Caruana Galizia had somehow come across my blog post when few people had yet read it and linked it on her blog. That’s how you get 56,000 to visit your blog: if, and only if, Daphne Caruana Galizia sends them there.
On that Sette Giugno, Joseph Muscat was getting ready to announce his new government. Labour had just been re-elected resoundingly and the blame game had started in earnest. A few hours earlier I had been at the counting hall, a PN grunt, one of several watching too many ballot papers drop into trays belonging to Labour Party candidates. The precocious internecine blaming of those first few hours was ringing in my ears and I had been bursting to inflict on whoever was willing to pretend to listen to my assessment of why things had gone wrong.
I don’t know what illusions I had then, but I know what illusions I don’t have now. I have no illusion that any of all this mountain of four years’ worth of almost daily writing has ever actually managed to persuade anyone to change their mind about anything. I’ve never come across anyone anywhere saying that reading anything I ever wrote made them change the views they held before reading about what was right and what was wrong, what was important or what wasn’t.
Perhaps one exception is of a man whom I now consider a friend, who felt he had given up trying to persuade anyone of anything, and he seemed impressed by my dogged response that that was no reason to stop trying.
I wish I could say I always feel so determined. That Sette Giugno of four years ago people who voted PN picked up the taunts from the Labour Party media and trolls that Labour had been elected so strongly thanks to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s reporting and thanks to Simon Busuttil’s anti-corruption campaigning.
‘The more you do to us, the stronger we get,’ went Labour’s taunt, which after that election result became widely-held dogma. The official story in 2017 had it that the Panama Papers scandal, Egrant, VGH and all the other crap actually helped Labour get a stronger majority because of the backlash against the journalism that exposed it and the politics that challenged it.
We have the benefit of four years of sour hindsight. That dogma stood the test of time. A large majority in the country embraced the corruption and resented those who exposed it as traitors.
Four years later we are heading towards a repetition of that narrative, and by the simple fact that it will have happened twice, confirming that it is not a fluke that corruption rules and opposition to it is politically self-destructive, this idea will be reinforced in people’s minds.
At the time Daphne Caruana Galizia was posting my first blog post four years ago, she was being blamed by many for handing Labour its victory.
I try not to look too closely at Facebook these days, especially as elections crawl nearer and formerly dormant fake profiles metastasise and spread to spew hatred like Nazi brownshirts. But some things penetrate even my stubborn oblivion. In June 2017 Daphne Caruana Galizia was blamed. Now the blame falls on those who did not collaborate in the national effort to forget her.
As you might expect I do not buy into the narrative. Much as I do not expect elections to be lost by a government caught in corruption because I see a population that refuses to be indignant or even irritated by criminals that steal its money, I do not think elections are handed to a government by those who expose it or criticise it for corruption.
Not that you need reminding but corruption today means something different than the meaning it had for us four years ago. The term now incorporates the bloody murder of a journalist and the bloody-minded intimidation of all the others.
I may not accept that election victories are not garlands rewarded by critics of corruption to the corrupt. I do accept, however, that this warped idea has taken root after 2017 and will become irradicable immediately after the next election result confirms Robert Abela and trounces the PN. I also accept that much as I have no reason to believe I ever managed to persuade anyone of anything that I argued about without holding a personal stake in, I will persuade even less when I appear to be making a case in my defence.
No, ta, I’m not to blame for Labour winning again. Right.
I wish I could tell you that every day of the last four years I felt I was fighting a battle worth fighting for. I wish I could tell you that I always see sense in what I do, that the point of doing it is always clear in my mind, that I wake up every morning thinking there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than explain again to a hostile audience why the criminals in our midst need to pay for their crimes.
I wish I could tell you that that infamous conversation between Yorgen Fenech and a government official discussing how to outmanoeuvre dak l-aħdar Manuel Delia does not ring in my ears when I see the more manifest face of that mafioso strategy in the soul-crushing trolls on Facebook and on online media. And the One TV coverage that must look to an alien like reporting on a man whose evil streak is a more obvious characteristic than the fact he’s fat.
Four years after my first blog post, all I know is it still hurts. And perhaps in perverting Cartesian logic, there’s only one other thing I’m certain of. I’m still here anyway.