Blogging in the Wild, Wild West

Yeeeee Haaaa! Howdy Pardner? Welcome to Jimmy The Kid’s Wild West Blog!

Why don’t y’all come on in to my saloon and grab y’self a spitoon?

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photo credit: Drriss via photopin cc

Not one for corny western dialogue murdered by an Englishman? Me neither, so let’s get on with business shall we?

I enjoy quality newspapers. I like the style of writing and the generally better articulated arguments that are developed through the often longer articles than you would expect to see in a Red Top. I love to read an informed, balanced comment that adds to my knowledge rather than one that simply seeks to reinforce a lazy stereotype that the paper’s focus groups have decided I subscribe to.

My favourite Newspaper is I, a paper that is almost a digest of its sister paper; The Independent. I read I because it espouses the values of a quality newspaper while recognizing that not everyone has that much time available to read.

Today, the news in England is dominated by the decision of our political masters on press regulation, and the potential fallout from that decision. For those of you who are not aware, there has been a long running scandal in the UK over the behaviour of our newspapers, and in particular the practice of phone hacking. This has seen a spate of lawsuits launched against some tabloids, and has forced the closure of a well known newspaper – The News of The World.

The scandal led to a Public Enquiry undertaken by the respected judge, Lord Leveson. In the wake of his report the various political parties have been engaged in debate with the newspapers over press regulation, and whether it should be statutory, or a voluntary form of self-regulation. With me so far? Good. Hang in there please, this concerns all of us in the blogosphere.

This morning I read an article in I by Ian Burrell in his Media on Monday column with the following headline:

  Leveson will be powerless to tame the digital Wild West colonised by bloggers

Got your interest yet? Good. I read this article with a mixture of surprise, dismay and amusement, and would urge any of you who can be bothered to read it (the headline above is a link) for yourselves.

Mr Burrell seems to be of the opinion that we bloggers are a shifty bunch with questionable motives:

‘many of them operate in the shadows of anonymity, where commercial and even political agendas can easily be disguised.’

Well of course that is true, but what does ‘many of them’ really mean? Is he talking about a few hundred? Several thousand perhaps? It is hard to know for sure because many is sufficiently vague a term as to allow all manner of inferences to be drawn, while it can be easily defended if challenged, as it lacks specific detail.

To try to put that phrase into some context consider the following:

WordPress.com hosts over 60 million blogs worldwide.

Two thirds of that number are English Language blogs.

That’s 40 million blogs in English alone by my maths.

WordPress is not (gasp) the only bloghost in the world!

In that context, what kind of number would many of them signify? The point I am trying to make here is how ridiculous his statement appears to anyone who has any kind of understanding of how widespread the practise of blogging is. His statement implies that a significant proportion of Bloggers are less than honest with their readership about their own agenda.  I am left with the conclusion that Mr Burrell is either ill-informed about blogging or has a motivation of his own that is not served by the application of balanced journalism.

Having established that Bloggers are a devious bunch, our author goes on to offer us an example to prove his point. He sites the blogger Josh Trevino as a blogger character study, explaining how Mr Trevino amassed over $250,000 in secret payments writing articles that attacked the opponents of the Malaysian Government, and did PR work for the odious Hosni Mubarak regime.

The irony of using the example of the Mubarak link is that in making this point against a single blogger, he neglects to remind us of the incredibly brave contribution of the countless bloggers in Egypt and all across the Middle-East who risked their lives on a daily basis to bring the truth to the world during the Arab Spring.

Our Mr Burrell is not done there though, oh no. Having painted a picture of the blogger as a shadowy propagandist for questionable regimes he changes tack:

 ‘It has recently been brought to my attention how easy it is for public relations firms to round up whole battalions of lifestyle bloggers with no apparent experience in professional journalism and feed them video clips, which appear like harmless fun, but have a deeper political significance. The amateur bloggers are encouraged to share the material with other like-minded bloggers and offered free “press trips”, unaware that their presence may have a political purpose.’

Ah, here we have another variant; the witless lifestyle blogger, well known for congregating in open spaces where their lack of proper journalistic training leaves them highly vulnerable to abduction.

People please! Don’t look at those dancing kittens on YouTube, and whatever you do, DON’T GET INTO THE CAR! They will brainwash you into spreading their subliminal messages until we all vote UKIP.

Mr Burrell has one more variant of blogger to describe – and no, it isn’t the witty, intelligent, honest, attractive type who’s blog you have been fortunate enough to stumble upon, but rather the following:

 ‘Fashion blogs are offered giveaways for readers in return for using agreed copy. Numerous websites encourage bloggers to make money by composing (presumably favourable) product reviews.

In essence, such writers become an adjunct to the corporate marketing department. For young PRs, who increasingly do not read newspapers, such bloggers are crucial allies in spreading brand messages across social media.’

At this point I would like to point out that the author of this blog is receptive to freebies, jollies and cash inducements in exchange for the shameless promotion of products or ideas. 🙂

I enjoyed the article, which was for me, laced with humour. I would like to think of it as tongue-in-cheek but there are no obvious signposts that humour was the author’s intention. Rather he comes across as a little too rabidly anti blogging and more than a trifle superior. He does offer a grudging qualification to this indictment, but can’t resist a final kick in the process:

 ‘This is not to say that there are no bloggers operating with the highest editorial integrity or that there are no traditional news organisations that receive daily deliveries of free music and clothing and gadgets that journalists are encouraged to write about. It’s just that traditional news organisations have built their reputations over decades, sometimes centuries, of publishing history.’

Mr Burrell, for your information reputations may take many years to acquire, but they can be destroyed in an instant. I can only urge you to look to your journalistic roots, and CHECK YOUR FACTS before you go to print. And please, please, remember to uphold those values of ‘highest editorial integrity’ you value and above all else remember – you work for The Independent.

If after reading this post you feel you would like to make your opinion known to Mr Burrell, you can tweet him at: @iburrell  Please everyone, be nice! Don’t confirm his prejudices.

Thanks for reading: 🙂

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