“Justify the headline in that fucking story! Go and change it before you become the laughing stock of the lobby!… Doing Guido Fawkes’ dirty work…”
Today I went to a Labour Party ‘bloggers’ breakfast’ to discuss the party’s use of new media. I will blog on that issue later tonight, but I think I should get one little thing out of the way first, which if nothing else sheds light on some of old and new media’s movers and shakers.
The blogosphere is abuzz today with the fallout over David Hencke’s Guardian article alleging that LabourList editor Derek Draper has misled people over his CV. Read the article to see what the allegation is.
Draper has got into protracted arguments with bloggers via web and e-mail before, notably Tim Ireland and Iain Dale. Without entering into the rights and wrongs, let it be sufficient to observe that he has a tendency to get himself entangled in such contretemps, in which both sides seem (note: seem, before one of you complains) happy to prolong the argument.
This morning, over coffee and croissants at Labour HQ, he seemed in a good mood however – even having a joke at his own expense by revealing that an American girl once Googled his name and informed him that “there’s another Derek Draper in England and he’s a complete twat” (belly laughs from the audience of Labour activists and a few journalists). However, at the end of the session we suddenly became aware of some yelling going on in a corner of the room. It was Draper, going at it hammer and tongs with David Hencke (as quoted above), stabbing with his finger at the offending story and accusing him of being in league with Guido (who had already latched onto Hencke’s story here). Draper has since posted an article on LabourList attacking both of them and saying he is consulting solicitors.
Why does this matter? On one level, I would suggest that it doesn’t. Hencke’s colleague Roy Greenslade is, I think, right to say that this is an ‘inside-the-beltway’ story, i.e. about two politico-media personalities that the average person really doesn’t care about. One journalist I spoke to at the meeting emphatically told me they wouldn’t be blogging about it for that very reason (though they would tell everyone they met, natch.)
The reason I’m blogging about it is it does point up an important issue about the position that someone like Draper – in charge of what’s meant to be a broad-based, independent blogging platform for discussing big issues – finds themselves. If you want to harness the power of Web 2.0 to your advantage, you don’t want to be getting caught up in arguments with either ‘dead tree’ journalists or experienced bloggers who question your model and your motives. Differences are one thing, but protracted arguments help nobody. Draper insists to his critics that he is too busy building a popular website to take too much time out to address their gripes, but then he goes and writes long posts on his own website about non-Labour Party issues.
But the crux of the issue isn’t about Draper. And Derek, if you’re reading this, I hope you don’t think this post is unfair on you – I’m not judging; I leave that to other people. It is this: new media is a double-edged sword. By taking hold of it you also give people the wherewithal to wound you through undermining the credibility of your organisation or your people. And as one geeky type told me at the bloggers’ bunfight breakfast, there’s a risk that the mainstream media may respond to the rise of gossip-mongering websites like Guido’s by trying to rush out such stories themselves before they’ve been right round the blogosphere. When a political party throws itself into new media campaigning and tries to open up channels with the public that way, it seems it will encounter elephant traps. (I’m trying to think of that happening to the Tories recently, but can’t think of an example – I don’t think Titiangate counts. If you can, let me know.)