Yesterday, BuzzFeed reported that a website campaigning for Boris Johnson is registered to Paul Staines – the owner of the notorious right-wing blog Guido Fawkes. The website, Boris2020.org, has been registered since 2012 and appears to have begun emailing the people who registered their email address to the site in the wake of Johnson’s leadership candidacy. The BuzzFeed story has subsequently been covered by several other mainstream news sites, including the Guardian, the Independent and Press Gazette, among others.
But here’s the thing about this “scoop”: It may be interesting and it may be funny, but the owner of a blog running a pro-Boris Johnson website is not, in fact, all that newsworthy. Nor is it surprising. What is surprising is treating Guido and Paul Staines like they’re equal influence to the New York Times, the Guardian, or any other reputable outlet – and acting as though what they’re doing is on par with a mainstream newspaper running a candidate’s campaign.
Social media skews our view of things, and journalists on Twitter obscure it further. A study published at the end of year in the Columbia Journalism Review found that relatively small stories that circulated on Twitter (versus other social media platforms) got far greater coverage in the mainstream press – simply because journalists spend so much time trawling through the website.
“Our results also indicate that the routinisation of Twitter into news production affects news judgment – for journalists who incorporate Twitter into their reporting routines, and those with fewer years of experience, Twitter has become so normalised that tweets were deemed equally newsworthy as headlines appearing to be from the AP wire. This may have negative implications,” the study claimed.
The Guido Fawkes-BuzzFeed story is another of this genre. The bloggers have not become Boris Johnson’s campaign advisers, they haven’t been handed a social media consultancy gig, and their website doesn’t even include the correct year of this leadership race. It’s not the official website for Boris, and it’s not actively being promoted, even if it is collecting emails and names.
All that has happened is that a prominent man running an insider blog has gotten a bit ahead of himself. Prematurely presuming when a leadership race or general election might occur, he cleverly got a desirable domain name locked up in order to wield his influence. Sure – funny! It’s an interesting anecdote, showing that a man who has long-been pro-Boris is continuing to function in that vein! But is it a story worthy of such grand, breaking news-style coverage? Questionable.
Whether the Boris Johnson campaign will even continue to exist is up in the air as of this morning. News broke that Boris will be forced to appear in court over campaign misconduct claims in the lead-up to the EU referendum. But whether or not his campaign does continue, the point remains: Guido Fawkes is a gossip blog – maybe a good one and maybe one with great scoops, but that is, at the end of the day, all it is. And while its website registration is an interesting story, and one that I’m sure journalists will continue to lap up over the coming weeks, it’s not the scandal some people are making it out to be.