"Learning To Talk": You Can't Hide Behind a Blog
Whatever you say, on any subject, on a blog is open for debate, discussion and/or abuse from whoever happens to be reading it. For some media types it's been a bit of a learning curve, to put it mildly. Some have actively embraced it, others (let's be honest) are practically hiding under their desks at the very thought.
Last night, the BBC Internet Blog took part in a seminar grandly titled 'blogs, the media and accountability'; BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones chaired a panel consisting of BBC News Online Editor Steve Herrmann and our very own Internet Blog Editor Nick Reynolds, Channel 4 Viewers Editor Paula Carter and Guardian Readers Editor Siobhain Butterworth.
The panel all agreed that if there is one cardinal rule about keeping a blog, it is never ignore your comments page. Especially if it turns out that you've said something wrong.
'When you start a blog you are going to screw up,' said Nick Reynolds unequivocally. 'Apologise quickly, read your comments and follow the community of readers - they may be able to help you.'
Rule 2 is to respond and acknowledge that help. Audience member and blogger Annie Mole said she was concerned that bloggers didn't get enough credit for stories that they feed to the BBC. Last week's news story about the doctored stills pictures of Iranian missile tests for example, came from a blog source which was not credited in the story itself, admitted Steve Herrmann. And yes, that needs to be addressed.
Rule 3 is to listen to what's being said about you, not just to you. Paula Carter has a Google Alert for all things Channel 4. 'lots of blogs are like personal diaries,' she said, 'and I don't think people intend for Channel 4 to be reading them.' Nick Reynolds agreed but gave the example of a personal blog he'd stumbled upon which criticised a regional programme about topless car washing (no, me neither). The blogger had emailed the BBC and had received a fairly unsatisfactory standard reply.
Nick sent the link to the regional editor, who wrote to her personally, explaining the choice of programme but admitting that, on balance, she was right. 'The odd thing about this further reply though is that I never contacted the BBC complaining about the first one,' she wrote. '...This is the power of the blog...'.
But is this micromanagement of a very small percentage of the vast audiences of organisations like the BBC the best use of time and money? The Guardian's Siobhain Butterworth, who handles 400 emails a week from individual readers (in 2007 the entire Press Complaints Commission received 5000) thinks so. 'it's important that news organisations are considered to be responsive,' she said.
'You've always got to ask, "is this good value for money?",' added Nick. 'But I think it is. They might be small groups but they're influential. You only need to get one good idea from someone and it's worthwhile. There's always someone out there who's cleverer than you.'