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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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