Do bloggers need a "kitemark" to gain their readers' trust?

Standards and boundaries could be helpful.

Would a blogging kitemark give readers more trust in what they're reading?

That's just one suggestion that bloggers - and the journalists' union, the NUJ - have been looking at. It's a kind of "kitemark" that could sit on blogs and websites to show that the author or authors was bearing a set of principles in mind - fairness, honesty, accuracy and so on - when writing their articles.

It's a subject that I discussed along with other bloggers in my adopted home city of Bristol at the weekend, including the authors of some European media blogs you may not have heard of. (How many of you knew, for example, that there's such a thing as Bildblog, tearing the work of Germany's biggest tabloid to shreds, or that it's a massively popular site? Or that other media blogging sites, from Observatoires des Medias to Zurpolitik, and Corrigo are looking at the same sort of work?)

Despite there being some problems with a "kitemark" scheme, I can see there being quite a lot of advantages.

We bloggers already have layers of scrutiny. Those of us who write for publications like the New Statesman, for example, have to be mindful that our output falls (or fell) under the remit of the soon-to-be-deceased-and-reborn-as-something-completely-different Press Complaints Commission, even though our words will never make it into the "press".

In the comments section, friendly and unfriendly people who are dead set against everything we've just written, from the placement of commas to the entire premise of our blogposts, will turn up. Why, after what can sometimes be a mauling, would you really be keen to open ourselves up to a more serious form of complaint?

For amateur bloggers, there is the danger of turning what can be an unhealthy obsession at its most benign into a full-time unpaid job. It's fine if you've got time to spend justifying every cough and spit, but not all of us do.

That said, I think this would be a way of representing an aspiration to ethical writing, a legitimacy for blogging, a set of principles to work towards.

What those principles are is a possible sticking point. Take "fairness" for example. One of the things I have always loved about blog-style writing is the way in which you often abandon all pretence of neutrality, the lofty journalistic conceit that you can somehow detach yourself from the events you are hearing and seeing, and which are affecting you directly.

With the kind of blogwriting I like to read (and occasionally write), you very much put your personality, your character and your prejudices into the story, right up front for everyone to be aware of; I find it more honest than imagining you can be some kind of camera taking a neutral picture of the facts around you. Some blogging is unfair, and should be unfair.

It's a good idea to try and imagine there are some standards, some boundaries, some decent principles to abide by when taking to the keyboard. We all have different definitions, maybe, of what they are. But perhaps this idea is something we can get behind.
 

Bloggers don't use typewriters. Photograph: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.