Thursday, 22 July 2010

Blogging Etiquette

A States working group wants only organisations with so-called 'accreditation' to be allowed to film, photograph or record States meetings. It will mean bloggers and people gathering information for social media won't be able to record or film. The final decision will be down to the States members... Senator Ben Shenton is the Chairmen of the working group looking at a media policy for States Meetings and he said they were following other jurisdictions. Senator Shenton said: "We looked at what happens in other jurisdictions and decided that accredited media, members of journalism - which are members of bodies of certain standards with a complaints procedure - should only be allowed to record at meetings." (1)

Provided they demonstrate themselves to be responsible, and are told that they must be, I can see no reason whatsoever for excluding bloggers from such occasions. Examples of irresponsible behaviour would be wrenching material out of context, editing it in such a way as to misrepresent what was said, and making fun with the material filmed. Of course, secret recordings, of the kind favoured by Senator Shenton himself, should also be avoided. If anything untoward happens, it is simple. A simple, common-sense code of conduct would be presented to the individuals - nothing too long. If an individual concerned lost trust be contravening it, they could expect to be excluded.

On the other hand, if Jersey is following best practice of other jurisdictions, as Senator Shenton says, and this argument is the basis for excluding bloggers, can we expect streamed and complete material available, as in the UK, and the televising of the States? Surely arguments about what goes on elsewhere must cut both ways?

Or is Jersey only using the "best practice" argument as a means of adopting the more restrictive practices of other jurisdictions, and not those which open up the government - as elsewhere - to a wider audience? I can see streamed, on demand, Select Committee hearings, House of Lords, House of Commons on my pc - I can't do that with Jersey. We haven't even managed to get the register of members interests online! So there's a long way to go before "best practice" becomes a wholly credible argument.

One individual has suggested that a reason for exclusion was as follows:

Those who have political opinions (I do) could use what they film or record and cut it so as to make it seem very different to what was actually meant to try to make a point. Accredited journalists have a duty to report correctly even if their media has its own views.

With the greatest respect, all I can say is that they have a very naive idea about television news reporting if they assume it is just plain reporting correctly. I'd advise them to read a few books on the subject. There is a fierce selection process to get around thirty seconds to a minute of airtime on Channel Television, for example, and studies have shown that the presenter is not free from bias when trying to choose what to show, and not what to show.

A politician may feel hardly done by, especially, as happened with one politician when, not entirely sober, he was door-stopped by a Channel TV film crew after an election, without being asked if he wanted to be filmed. Some politicians may receive more airtime than others, and the judgement of who may be significant and newsworthy may be dependent on the bias of the news organisation.

But the writer has a point - at the last bi-election, a full five minute slot was given to every one of the candidates standing who wanted to take it. Several of those who didn't had a film clip shown instead from the hustings, which was their speech, so more or less the same length. But then alongside one of these film clips - but not alongside those who had taken up the five minute offer - there was a whole series of criticisms of the candidates speech. I made the point on the blog in question that this was not really fair to that candidate. So I think there are lessons to be learnt.

Meanwhile some of the less worthy aspects of local blogs have been the target of the usual vitriolic attack by the Jersey Evening Post editor, who under the cloak of an unsigned article, gives an extremely irate and unbalanced opinion demonizing politicians who disagree with the Jersey Evening Posts line about Graham Power - "failure to control" and "arrogant" Lenny Harper. This is a "the toxic combination of malice and incompetence which now infects Jersey politics from within and without" says what is an extremely malicious and polemic comment. Perhaps the writer should look in a mirror?

When bloggers are attacked, it is notable that the text of the attack - whether by the editor or Rob Shipley - always seems to avoid the online version of the JEP, but this is the paragraph relevant to bloggers:

Meanwhile, the police chief-designate has also been subjected to the kind of infantile name-calling and malicious gossip that has undermined public life in Jersey on a daily basis since the advent of internet blogging. Such blogs should, of course, be treated with the contempt they deserve but that is easier said than done by those on the sustained receiving end of this modern version of the poison pen letter.

But those who attack blogs for being part of the reason why David Warcup resigned seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, they castigate the bloggers as a tiny vociferous minority whom the public doesn't notice, and then they say that it was a contributory factor in David Warcup's resignation. I wish they would make their minds up; but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it. And actually, for the editor's information, poison pen letters are anonymous, and most of the Jersey bloggers are not.

Nevertheless, I think there are aspects of blogging which could be improved - even though they do a sterling service in putting primary documents in the public domain, and conducting interviews which allow airtime to people who would otherwise be excluded from putting serious comments across, and longer interviews than are normally the case with the short time allowed to the accredited media for news reporting. And remember too - one case of housing hardship was taken up when a politician saw it online.

Here then, are what I would like to see - a blogging etiquette for local blogs.

1) No name-calling outside of the "satire" box.

There is a lot of rather juvenile name calling which has its place, but that's as a satire or spoof. I don't think it does any credit to bloggers to call David Warcup - "Weirdcop", or for that matter Ian La Marquand "Skippy" all the time. If you are going to engage in serious debate, then do so. Otherwise the serious points you are making get lost in the name-calling, and you are giving hostages to the JEP and anyone who criticised bloggers. I've heard people say that politeness gets you no where as an excuse for being rude. I would ask them: has being rude really got you that much further? I don't think so.

2) A Proper Place for Spoofs and Satire

Private Eye, defending a spoof article, noted that "The law of libel recognises that statements made in jest are not actionable. Furthermore, in deciding what meaning is to be given to the words in question, it is well established that the hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who would read the publication in question." They make it very clear that the second half of their magazine is full of spoof articles, and no reader would take them literally:

Would any reader studying the 'Disillusion Honours List' on page 22 believe that John Prescott had been ennobled for 'services to his secretary', or Michael Howard for 'services to the Transylvanian Community and the Involuntary Blood Transfusion Authority'?

So there is a place to lampoon Senator Le Marquand as "Skippy" and go to town on kangaroo courts, silly pictures, all kind of jokes about kangaroos (does he keep Assistant Minister Jacqui Hilton in his pouch?) etc, just as Private Eye does spoofs, I do "News from Nowhere" and Al Thomas does his cartoons in the JEP. But please try to keep it as a separate item, a joke, and not the news.

There is a place for jokes at politicians, but I know it is on "Have I Got News for You" or "Spitting Image", and not Panorama or News at Ten. Consider your blog like a rolling magazine - it has both, but needs to keep them separate.

3) Fairness in Video

If you are going to interview someone, or record something, for a fuller version, let it stand as it is, and also tell the person concerned that will be the case. Don't add comments as part of the same entry, or if you do, make sure it is headed comment, but preferably let it stand and let the public make up their own mind. "I disagree with what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it" should be the guiding motto. The example of the election - where at least one of the candidates had all kinds of critical comments added on in the text after the video clip, but other candidates were just left with what they had said - just isn't fair.

If you want searching questions, and it is an interview, let them be in the interview, not as comments afterwards. Or provide a transcript of the interview, or even a note of the questions you asked to "hook" the viewer into watching. And let it be said, there are some very good interviews on the "voice" sites, and Neil's technique, in particular, is becoming very polished with practice.

4) Permission in Email

If you are going to use an email reply that is not in the public domain, ask for permission before posting it on the blog. A busy politician may have taken time and trouble to write back to you, and the least you can do is show a little courtesy. Just for the sake of good form, tell your audience that you have permission as well - so they know you are respectful of other people's rights. And don't fire off another email back - the politician in question may well have had to do some checking and spend a fair bit of time before replying - you don't have a monopoly on his time.

5) Don't always have the last word

When posting an interview or an email, they may not give the answers you want to hear. But as part of the news reporting process, and in fairness to the person who has given his or her time and permission, don't always have the last word. You are giving the public information they didn't have before - you've asked questions, and had them answered. The answers may be evasive, but give your readers the intelligence to see that. Or reserve that to later opinion piece, when you may then quote from the email.

In conclusion:

I think some Jersey blogs are perhaps a little rough around the edges, but they are doing a very good job. I'd just like to see them do even better - I think they have the opportunity to be the some of the best in the world for news reporting, informed opinions, gauging public opinion, video interviews, satires and spoofs.

And I'd like to see Neil do some interviews with politicians and members of the public on more general subjects - The Town Masterplan, The £950 a day Civil Servant, Slum Rental Accommodation, Immigration, The Market Post Office, The Odeon etc. But that's just my personal preference!

Then the editor of the JEP will have to think up some other excuses to attack bloggers. I'm sure he'll manage somehow!



Anonymous said...

Once again, I find myself in total agreement with you.

In particular, I agree that some bloggers almost completely negate the powerful message they are trying to put across by indulging in what I believe is senseless abuse. Whilst I can quite understand how these people feel inside, can they not see that their attitude often dissuades reasonable people from believing what they say? Or even, as in the case of a few friends of mine, stopping them reading a blog altogether because, even though they are very interested in the facts being published, they are fed up of the vitriolic abuse.

Such bloggers really need to think about why they are blogging. If it is truly to get the message across, then your suggested etiquette is essential. After all, I dare say that even the editor of the JEP would have some difficulty in rubbishing what you say simply because, not only is it impeccably researched, but it is portrayed professionally - usually more professionally than the so called accredited media can manage!!

If, on the other hand, a blogger wants to use the blog as a means of blowing off personal steam and settling old scores, then many - perhaps most - readers will treat what is said in the same way they would treat a child's tantrum or a drunkard's abuse. Any core of truth might well be lost within the invective.

voiceforchildren said...


You raise quite a number of points but something that is very important to remember is this.

Bloggers in general are not proffessional journalists and not "polished" and that could be the attraction to viewrs and readers. It is street level reporting/publishing from the point of view of an everday pleb.

Bloggers don't pretend to be impartial like the "accredited" media do, they tend to where their heart on their sleeve, again that raw type of publishing could be an attraction. Personally, I like to tell it how I see it but do like to tell it with as much evidence and as many researched facts as I can.

But the bottom line is, I don't even want to be Blogging at all. I have been forced into Blogging after going through all the correct channels open to me by our government and "accredited" media, but that's another story.

TonyTheProf said...

I didn't say blogs had to be polished or couldn't be heartfelt; just that making jokes such as skippy, for example, should be kept apart from general comment. There's no reason to say "Skippy" every time you say "Le Marquand".

voiceforchildren said...


Yes, I and many Bloggers may have many faults, but I never pretend to be something or somebody I am not. Could the same be said for the “accredited” media?

Here is just a tiny snippet of what Chris Bright, Editor of the Jersey evening Post submitted to the media working party.

“However, there are certain other professional characteristics which distinguish true journalists whether they are employed by commercial organisations or not.

They include.

Commitment to accuracy and truth.

Commitment to fairness and balance in reporting.

Clear differentiation between factual reporting and comment.”

Anonymous said...


I agree with your last point. And VFC - please continue your excellent work. You might not want to be blogging but you are helping to fulfill a need in Jersey.

The point I made in my earlier comment was that bloggers should basically think carefully about what they want to achieve - and then how best to set about achieving it. Blogs need not be polished. They do, in my opinion, need to be honest and heartfelt. My personal preference is for blogs to be impartial as far as possible.

Each blogger will appeal to a different audience. The one thing that readers all want, though, is the information which you all impart so well. Style is not that important - but - and I personally believe it is a big "but" - the simple fact of life is that constant abuse on the part of some bloggers will have a negative impact on many of the people the bloggers are setting out to "convert". It's really as simple as that.

David Rotherham said...

Yes, this seems a reasonable and workable code of practice for blogs taking a serious view of current affairs to adopt. I run both a serious political blog and a more personal one. I don't think the code would really be applicable to the personal one, which sometimes offers political opinion, but never passes itself off as news. However, it does formalise the gut feelings I go by with the serious one. Although I do let idiots show themselves up with half-witted comments, if they are not too grossly offensive.

Gazza said...

Its a good post Tony.

We knock back a lot of name calling and could not start main posts with captions like 'Skippy' and 'Weirdcop' because we do not believe the readers would take the rest of the post seriously if its kicked off with an insult.

We are successfully getting more States Members onto the HDLGMF Blog and we have been praised recently for managing to stay away from this kind of satire/clown material.

There are more uniform ways of getting attention.

TonyTheProf said...

I didn't say someone couldn't begin a blog posting as "Skippy", or for that matter "The Farce Show" or any "punchy" headline - after all the JEP does it all the time; all I said was that if it was satire, it should be not mixed with real argument.

I;ve noted though that while I disagree strongly with a lot of Gazza's arguments, he is now much better at moderating insults which were prevalent in the early days - when I was the subject of one as well I believe.

TonyTheProf said...

"Commitment to accuracy and truth. Commitment to fairness and balance in reporting. Clear differentiation between factual reporting and comment."

I would say that JEP headlines broke all three rules. They are misleading, often sensationalist, and they prejudge whatever factual reports follow.

And Senator Le Marquand has criticised the JEP twice for (a) misrepresenting him an a headline (b) selective reporting which made it appear he put the island's reputation before abuse victims.

I have an email from another senior Minister in the Council of Ministes who told me about a report on him that I shouldn't believe everything I read in the JEP - and that was an a "factual reporting" section.

The BBC tends to delay reporting, mainly because they check their facts better.

rico sorda said...

Christ guys don't get all posh and serious.

Flick open the keyboard, believe in what you are doing, give it some punk rock and a slash of brut 33, then bingo you have a blog.

I let the people decide with a simple click

if you want facts and research

The Voice and my blog

If you want entertainment and a cheap evening in you have the Farce Blog

And then you have Tony's excellent blog

TonyTheProf said...

Well said Rico! But don't forget the "accredited media". Headline in the Daily Telegraph today "Transvestite had Sex with a Dog at English Heritage Castle"

Isn't it good to know the big newspapers are keeping up traditions of serious reporting!

Anonymous said...

I thought the Skippy tag was appropriate in highlighting what amounted to a Kangaroo Court, especially when one can refer to this:

In Clark v Chief Constable of Essex Police, the British High Court of Justice appeared to accept the description of kangaroo court in the context of a disciplinary proceeding:

"... because those attending jumped from the accusation to the condemnation without pausing to find out what the accused person had to say about it."

Heaven forbid, if Richard littleJohn took an interest in Jersey Politics as he has a habit of mocking peoples names!

TonyTheProf said...

Yes I think it was appropriate, but to continue calling Ian le Marquand "Skippy" on every occasion is rather overkill - the point had been made.

I'd still really like some more Voice interviews - taxation, rises in GST, Market Traders on demolishing Minden place etc - lots of important issues that Neil can bring to the public attention - like he did so very well with that case of Housing problems.

TonyTheProf said...

Yes, a satirical send up!

Ole Razzy said...

I think Tony makes some excellent points again. Its becoming something of a trademark. Surely the ultimate aim here is gain access and the trust of the key decision makers and in doing so test their policies. Often our elected officials make poorly thought through decisions behind closed doors which many feel are out of touch with the electorate. By allowing them to see that balance, reason and logic can be applied to test their arguments without them feeling threatened in the blogshphere, which clearly many still do (and I put this down to a generational misunderstanding) can surely only serve the greater good.

The Farce blog and VFC, it could be agrued, has done this to some extent but the politicians who make contributions to each site are either pre-disposed (or entrenched) to a particular set of beliefs or either hide behind anonimity.

If a simple, but well thought through, code of conduct can be agreed upon by all the main blogs and submitted to the COM for discussion it would, I believe, bring the holy grail of 'accreditation' more firmly into view.

Anonymous said...

I have never read that Ian Blair resigned from the police because of the names he was called in the National Press!

Nor did I hear Gordon Brown say he had resigned because some national press journalist persistently called him Gordon the Moron etc..

Come to think of it, not once have I heard Peter Mandleson complain about being called Mandy...

Everybody knows who Two Jags is (although I believe it was annoyed, it wasn't a resigning matter) and so I think it reasonable that the nickname Skippy could stick to anyone who who claims to support fairness but in reality prefer a 'kangaroo court'.

I suspect when people start blaming blogs for reasons behind a resignation, it is diversionary from the 'real reason'. Further investigation may be required!!