Blogging behind gauze

This is the problem with big organizations blogging: Somebody’s going to say something somebody wishes hadn’t been said and then the veil is going to fall over the organization’s blogs, causing them to shift from transparency to translucence. See what the Guardian is reporting on the rival Telegraph’s blogs.

The Daily Telegraph launched a crackdown on its bloggers today, ordering them not to blog about the paper and exercise caution about revealing journalistic “tricks of the trade” as it sought to limit the fallout from relevations about its reporting of Saddam Hussein’s execution.

The crackdown comes in the wake of the US editor Toby Harnden’s blog about Saddam Hussein’s execution, where he admitted that he filed a report about the dictator’s execution hours before the dictator was hanged.

His story appeared in the Daily Telegraph on December 30. Saddam was hanged in the early hours of that morning – but after Harnden’s deadline and the piece contained several inaccuracies, including stating that the dictator was hooded when he died.

I can’t find that post but I’d think that would be rather a perfect case for blogging: transparently revealing the process of news, especially when it makes a wrong turn. The Guardian continues:

Today the paper’s web news editor, Shane Richmond, sent a memo to bloggers and feedback staff warning them not to blog about the Telegraph.

“Please avoid blogging about your relationship with your employer, whether the Telegraph Media Group as an entity, ‘the desk’ or ‘my boss’, even in jest. Such comments are frequently misconstrued and can easily backfire,” the memo stated.

“Think carefully before blogging about journalistic ‘tricks of the trade’. “We don’t want to discourage this because it is one of the things people enjoy reading on the blogs but please be aware of anything that could be misunderstood or turned against you.”

The memo then advised bloggers to run their blogs past an editor before posting.

The blogging kiss o’ death. Shane’s a damned good blogger himself (and the ‘graph’s collection of blogs is also good), so I’d quite like to see him talk about this on his blog. But I’ll bet that would be sensitive. And it would have to be edited. And we know where that goes.

Eventually, I think, a newspaper will be less of an organization and more of a network of journalists who have their own voices, brands, and reputations and who can be embraced by the paper or not. That’s when newspaper blogging will work. But until then, it’s a sensitive art.

: Meanwhile, the Guardian and others are delighting in making fun of the pathetic blogging effort of the oddly fuddy-duddyist newspaper in the UK, the Independent. Says Roy Greenslade:

Day after day nothing appears on its blog and the single entry this year turns out to be an updated posting of no consequence. For a paper that likes to be known as a viewspaper it seems rather short of views – or news, or anything at all – on its blog.

: LATER: Andrew Grant-Adamson in the comments points to a blogger who put up the full exchange. Yes, there are clumsy moments. And what gets the writer in trouble is also that gets into a slightly nasty exchange with a reader, which has gotten many a journalist in trouble when they respond, in kind (or anonymously) to pissy readers.

I’m not criticizing the Telegraph or Richmond so much as making the point that this is going to remain tough for institutions. But where we need to end up is with transparency about process and a willingness to have a conversation, eye-to-eye.

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  • http://www.wordblog.co.uk Andrew Grant-Adamson

    The point about transparency is right and I have made it, but it in this case it is important to read Toby Harnden’s post and the subsequent comments. It has all been chronicled by Colin Berry. The series of updates means you need to read from the bottom.

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  • http://www.dreams-and-daemons.blogspot.com Colin Berry

    Thanks, Andrew, for the warning here about reverse chronological order in my recording of Toby Harnden’s (now withdrawn) blog. It seemed the most painless way of doing things at the time – more a chronicle than a polished blog. But now traffic to the blog has eased off, I’ve re-organized it to make it an easier read. 1500 hits in 24 hours !

    Colin Berry
    http://www.dreams-and-daemons.blogspot.com

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  • Christian

    This sort of policy doesn’t receive nearly enough attention. A lot of criticism is leveled at reporters for failing to understand, appreciate, or respect the possibilities of the Web. But most professional reporters live in a vise on this question — which is hardly a new one.

    Company policy effectively limits me to writing (on the Web) about anything but what I actually do. And anonymously at that. Looking forward to a cleverly-pseudonymed account of my daily domestic routine? Nor am I.

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  • kyle

    This sort of policy doesn’t receive enough attention because the top guys want to keep it quite.

    feel free to check out my blog.