If Nick Robinson won’t read comments on his blog, then why bother blogging at all?

Here’s a comment which caught my attention. It’s from Nick Robinson, something of a blog pioneer at the BBC, who, when asked about the comments on his blog.  Journalism.co.uk reported:

Robinson said he had stopped reading most of the responses on his blog: “It’s a waste of my time.”

Rather than widening the political debate commenters were “people who have already made their minds up, to abuse me, to abuse each other or abuse a politician”, he said, at the Media Society event held at City University London on Tuesday, asking whether 2010 would be election 2.0.

“There is lots of room for the person who says ‘he’s a crook, they’re corrupt, they’re wrong, they’re New Labour (…)’ There isn’t room for what most people are like, which is ‘excuse me can you tell me a bit more? I’m not sure, how will it affect me?’”

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// Robinson, said that he hadn’t yet found Twitter and blogs to be response mechanisms for “articulate” comment.
There’s something arrogant about a lot of what Robinson says here but perhaps the one thing which stands out is something that should become a mantra for journalists working in a multimedia environment: If you haven’t got time to do it properly, then don’t do it.
While Robinson’s political blog is a very interesting read, as a reader I see it in a different light if I know Robinson isn’t going to bother reading the comments made on it.  By their very nature, blogs will attract polarised opinions, some of which will be rude and some of which will be offensive.
But if you’re doing something which is designed to look as though you’re interested in the opinion of those reading you, then the least you can do is reply to them. I have a political blog, and I tend to reply to most of the comments I get, mainly because I get so few I’m grateful for all the ones I get. My blog is also all comment, whereas Robinson’s is more about insight – after all, he can’t really have an opinion.
I’m not suggesting Robinson replies to all the comments he gets, not least because the volume means he’d do nothing else in a day if he took on that task.
And just because people are angry and rude doesn’t mean they don’t have a point. People tend to get angry with the BBC because they feel they own it, so the fact they express anger on an outlet such as a blog is hardly surprising. Maybe speaking back to people, even in one general follow up comment, would calm them down.
I also can’t help but think that criticising the standard of comments is effectively criticising yourself. Perhaps people who ask questions about how an issue would effect them if Robinson was seen replying to the comments more frequently.
If the answer is that he doesn’t have time, then maybe it’s not the right thing for him to do. It sounds as though he be better off writing a traditional political analysis column on the BBC website, perhaps with some sort of forum attached to it when those wanting to chat about political issues can do so.
At least that way, those rude commenters who have the audacity to come on to the blog and express opinions about an issue on which they’ve made up their minds would know where they stood. It’s not that unrealistic to expect someone who writes a blog to look at the comments. As a journalist, even a quick glance at them could help inform your decision making in future stories.
If Robinson doesn’t want that audience involvement, then all he needs to do is close the blog. Suggesting social media in general is at fault misses the point.
Blog commenters and those using Twitter – which Robinson says he has yet to be convinced are  response mechanisms for “articulate” comment – are increasingly doing a very good job of holding journalists to account. You only have to look at the recent story of Gordon Brown’s ‘bullying.’
Andrew Rawnsley, the author of the book which raised the questions about the way Brown treated his staff, never used the word bullying. Bullying entered the equation when the National Bullying Helpline popped up on the BBC News Channel to say complaints had been made to them.
It took Twitterers interested in the story minutes to establish the National Bullying Helpline was not the grand organisation its name suggests (income £1,800 in 2007, accounts for 2008 some 200 days overdue).  They did this by checking with the Charity Commission website. They also established that there was no way of verifying that those downloading information from the National Bullying Helpline website were entering the true name of their workplace.
That tells me that it was those on Twitter who did the real research on a story  – research the BBC should have done first. To say it’s not a source of articulate comment suggests a real lack of understanding about the value of social media.
That’s a rather strange position for a political editor responsible for covering the first election t0 see all the main parties embracing social media to connect with the public, to find himself in.
Twitter, social media and blogs are all tools for journalists to connect with an audience and work with an audience – if they want to. There’s nothing wrong in saying you don’t want to do that, but there’s something odd about complaining when people express an opinion when you do operate in a way which suggests you want to hear what people have to say.
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2 comments

  1. You are correct that journalist did not fully research the subject of the National Bullying Helpline – HR & Diversity Ltd. But that being said nor had the regulators et al. The research obviously has a longer history than one week!

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