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
Getty.
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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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