Guardian blogs get it wrong


The need for blogging transparency is something that many people (Edelman included) have learnt through mistakes. Which is why I am shocked to find that the Guardian of all places should make such a mess-up.

In what promised to be a ‘nice’ travel-blog by a 19 year old about his forthcoming travels in South East Asia turned into a comment-smashing attack on the author. At first glance – Max Gogarty, seemed like a good choice. He can obviously write well – having helped produce scripts for Skins and is the right age to appear the Guardian’s demographic. The title of the blog (with skins in the url was supposedly an accident that should have been changed before it got published so I’ll leave this alone).

So why did his post create 474 comments – many of which had to be deleted by the moderator with the end result that the blog’s comments were closed?

The simple question posed near the top of the comments was ‘why did this person get the job when so many other people have travelled and wanted to do something similar?‘ – the answer according to the readers, with a little Google help, was nepotism. It appears that the blogger’s father just happened to be the travel-writer for the Guardian.

At least that was what was commonly believed.

The travel editor, the next day, jumped in and explained that we got it all wrong and that his father is not the travel writer of the guardian but a freelancer. Even if this is the case – he had previously written for the Travel Guardian so wasn’t exactly a stranger. What’s more the editor continues, he was hired on his merits. (let’s not get into his cliché-style of writing here).

I have nothing against nepotism. I am far too cynical not to understand that this happens and that many people get where they are not through merit but by contacts (heck, I got my first job that way). But what is wrong in this case, was that neither the author nor the Guardian made it clear that this was how he got the job. Had this been written in the beginning then perhaps there would have been a few sarcastic comments as oppose to the onslaught that followed.

Conclusion – be transparent.

Picture: courtesy of Digital Lifestyles who have also written about this.


4 Responses to “Guardian blogs get it wrong”

  1. Jonny

    This issue of transparency and declaration is something I have thought about a great deal.

    To provide some context, we spend a lot of time writing articles for publication on the Web based on our primary research. This sounds pretty straightforward, but there is always the requirement when looking at research to understand the nature of the sample, timing of the study, caveats regarding the methodology, how the work was funded, and so on. The problem is that if you try declare all of this stuff ‘in line’ in a 500-800 word piece, the article becomes unreadable – or at least severely crippled in terms of its rhythm, pace, etc, which are critical for effective web content on a big news site, for example.

    Given the opposing pulls of readability and declaration, we generally compromise by not cluttering up the immediate Web content itself, but making sure that links are included in the piece so the detail can be accessed within a couple of easy-to-follow links.

    This is why all of our reports (containing details of sampling, methodology, caveats, etc) are directly downloadable from our website without readers being forced to create a subscription. This ‘open door’ approach probably means that our subscriber list doesn’t grow as quickly as it would if we put everything behind secure access, but we feel it is more important to remove as many barriers as possible to readers being able to see the detail which substantiates what we are saying in the broader media.

    Looking at the other end of the spectrum, I have to say that it sometimes concerns me when we see ‘tip of the iceberg’ stuff published by analysts, that the broader community cannot verify the underlying detail of unless they pay. That, to me, is the worst of both worlds – far reaching public domain statements and opinions, with transparency only to paying customers.

    Coming back to the point of your post and the Guardian incident, I do think we need to separate the requirement for transparency from the practice of proactive declaration, the latter being just one way of potentially addressing the former. The trouble is that if you go too far down the declaration route, you never know where to draw the line, or whose line should take precedent when different people draw it in different places.

    I personally feel very strongly that Web users need to take responsibility for assessing the quality of the material they are consuming. That’s not so say that producers should not be transparent and highlight specific information that may lead to misinterpretation if it is not proactively declared, but let’s not get ourselves tied in knots trying to come up with rules on what should and shouldn’t be declared based on lines that can only be drawn arbitrarily in the broader context.


  2. we need to separate the requirement for transparency from the practice of proactive declaration

    Completely agree Dale. I believe this is a continual hurdle that people are trying to address – however, the larger issue is trust in the supplier of information. Transparency does not have to take up much eye-space with simple declarations at the end of an article often being sufficient. As the Guardian blog showed us, by not being transparent, trust is lost with considerable negative implications.
    The other point you raised regarding not supplying enough information to give context to an opinion can be even worse. I understand that teasers are important to get people to want to read more – but if people want to read more – it should be freely available otherwise assumptions are made which can lead to all manner of problems.

  3. Actually i tend to think many of the commenters on the blog are a bunch of sad-sacks. WTF? Aren’t we talking about building social networks here? Nepotism? Really? That said I think the lad canceling the blog is lame too. Everything was in place for him to knock it out of the park with a blog called Hated Backpacker or something. How very English to fold just as soon as the attention builds up.

  4. I know what you mean James – just when this lad was hit the audience size he dreamt of, he folds the blog. Shame – maybe a call to Max Clifford is in order?

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