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 Images.
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The Brexit effect: The fall in EU migration spells trouble for the UK

The 84,000 fall in net migration to 248,000 will harm an economy that is dependent on immigration.

The UK may not have left the EU yet but Europeans are already leaving it. New figures from the ONS show that 117,000 EU citizens emigrated in 2016 (up 31,000 from 2015) - the highest level for six years. The exodus was most marked among eastern Europeans, with a fall in immigration from the EU8 countries to 48,000 (down 25,000) and a rise in emigration to 43,000 (up 16,000).

As a result, net migration has fallen to 248,000 (down 84,000), the lowest level since 2014. That's still nearly more than double the Conservatives' target of "tens of thousands a year" (reaffirmed in their election manifesto) but the trend is unmistakable. The number of international students, who Theresa May has refused to exclude from the target (despite cabinet pleas), fell by 32,000 to 136,000. And all this before the government has imposed new controls on free movement.

The causes of the UK's unattractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit (May has refused to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain) and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents. Ministers may publicly welcome the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Brexit has in fact forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: Britain needs immigrants. Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. Brexit secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (a level not seen since 1997), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

Alongside the new immigration figures, GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was revised down to 0.2 per cent - the weakest performance since Q4 2012. In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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