Thanks to Aaron for picking up on this morning’s Radio Ulster discussion with the incendiary Guido this morning. His approach and my approach to blogging are very different. Partly because he’s blogging into a settled polity that perhaps could do with shaking out of its remoteness and complacency, whereas in Northern Ireland we still baulk at the demand democracy (or rather imagined democracy) makes on us to think about our futures, collectively, and increasingly as we leave the days of ‘war’ in the rear view mirror, as individuals. For interest’s sake, here are my pre-programme notes:
1. Libel was much mentioned last week during the Prescott affair. Bloggers are not yet as vulnerable journalists. In theory it is true that they could be sued. In practice no one ever has been. To some extent there is a degree of safety in numbers. The echo chamber effect of the blogosphere would mean that anyone taking an aggressive action, would also need to consider the risk of infinitely multiplying the reach of a negative story. The reason many libel actions are taken against newspapers is that they have deep pockets. That is not necessarily going to be the case with individual or ad hoc group of bloggers.
2. But if bloggers want to be taken seriously they should blog with the idea that they could be the very first one taken to court – however unlikely that may seem. Not out of fear, but rather because it helps keep your eye on the ball. Getting it right is crucial.
3. What’s been interesting about the Prescott stuff is the cross party nature of it. That’s partly because the Blair government is as disliked by some members of Labour, as much as it is by the likes of Tory blogger Iain Dale. But it is also because most bloggers believe that increased transparency makes everyone more accountable – themselves included.
4. Bias. One thing blogs cannot claim is objectivity. You have to read for bias. You can read around the bias. In the end I don’t just read one blog on any given subject. I read journalists, academic, polls, research, and a range of other bloggers. It’s the very subjectivity of the blog that forces you to look outside its frames. I look for two things: authenticity; and reliability. And spread. When I followed the US Presidential election two years ago online, I chose a range of political bloggers, all of whom had a high degree of self discipline and rigour.
5. There is somehow an idea that innocent journalists are the passive pawns of a mass blog conspiracy. As Emily Bell of the Guardian said yesterday: “Prescott’s downfall has not been because of the blogs, but his own behaviour: his infidelity with an employee, the croquet incident and a meeting with a potentially compromising businessman were not figments of the blogosphere’s collective imagination”.
6. However, Nick Robinson was right to resist the pressure to run a story on the blogger’s say so. However much people are certain in their waters that someone is up to no good, it doesn’t become news until the killer fact is found. It’s important to distinguish between what is true, and what you would like to be true.
7. We are only just beginning in Northern Ireland to understand the benefits of an open society. Blogging (since it is open to Unionists and Nationalists in equal measure) may help fast track us towards that open society.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty