For the last week or two, I’ve been trying to draw together some thoughts on Ministers and blogging / tweeting, particularly as regards former Opposition figures now finding themselves in government, and a coalition government at that. Truth be told, I still don’t have a great conclusion to share, only that it’s a bit complicated.
One MP who hasn’t let the transition to Ministerial office stop her blogging is Lynne Featherstone. She’s been as prolific as ever, with posts on constituency matters, party affairs and her new Home Office equalities portfolio. This caught the attention of the Daily Mail, who published a story at the weekend entitled: ‘Minister warned over 1am tweets‘.
There were only two problems with that headline:
- The tweets weren’t at 1am. As Mark Pack explained at Lib Dem Voice, the default timezone when you look at Twitter.com is San Francisco: so those ‘1am tweets’ would actually have been 9am UK time… if that even matters.
- I’ve been in touch with Lynne directly, and she confirms to me: ‘no [Home Office] mandarins have told me off at all!’ And the next bit won’t come as any surprise: ‘Nor did the Mail check any details with me.’
The extent of the warning appears to have been a proactive call to the Home Office press office, with a ‘spokesman’ being quoted: ‘The Minister is well aware of her responsibilities under the Ministerial Code.’ You could call that a warning; I’d call it a statement of fact.
It’s a pathetic character assassination piece, with so many holes in it that I can’t face picking it to pieces. Even a blog post highly complimentary of her ‘boss’ at the Home Office, Conservative minister Theresa May was depicted as a controversial expression of her doubts. So it’s not a bit of wonder that the ensuing comments react with horror at how someone so divisive and clearly deranged should be a government minister. Even if the Mail were to correct or withdraw the piece – which, so far, it shows no sign of doing – it’s too late; the damage, such as it is, is done.
But at least the ‘proper’ newspapers wouldn’t print something so shameful, would they? Sadly, they did. Later the same day, the Telegraph basically re-wrote and re-published the Mail piece, minus (to give them a tiny amount of credit) the embarrassing timezone thing. The Sun did pretty much the same thing, the next day.
You know, you’d almost think they’re more interested in inventing controversy than reporting facts.
Thursday’s Daily Mail picks up on the imminent launch of the new Downing Street website, and chooses to focus on the ‘Number10TV’ video element, to be powered by Brightcove. But for once, it’s a story driven more by its scepticism about new technology than its dislike of the current government.
They wrongly call it ‘the latest effort to boost his flagging poll ratings’ (as it’s a Civil Service initiative), but correct themselves later in the same piece, referring to it as ‘a fresh political effort to exploit the potential of the internet to reach voters directly’. And indeed, they do quote No10’s attempt to put some perspective on it: ‘Downing Street last night played down the significance of the new channel, saying: ‘We’re always looking at ways of improving and strengthening the website.”
But it’s the sniffy tone regarding everything from Webcameron to the @DowningStreet Twitter account which is most striking. A lot has happened on Webcameron since the initial clip of Dave doing the dishes, although it’s gone a bit quiet lately; and I’d have to disagree with the assertion (relatively speaking, anyway) that the Twitter activity ‘has so far failed to arouse great enthusiasm’.
Despite their Damascene conversion to the web, driven principally by celebrity drivel, it seems the Mail’s heart really isn’t in this modern stuff after all. (There’s a remarkably similar story in the FT, by the way, but with slightly less cynicism.)
I can’t make my mind up about the media attention drawn by Labour MP, and junior transport minister Tom Harris, for comments on his blog. Or more accurately, by the reproduction of those comments on the front of the Daily Mail.
On the one hand, I’m quite pleased that the word ‘blog’ barely comes into it. The Mail story doesn’t use the b-word until its final few paragraphs. Blogging is a fact of life, unremarkable in itself. That’s a good thing.
But the Mail piece misses the very point about it being on a blog. The rules of engagement explicitly allow for the personal and provocative. Stirring up (hopefully reasonable) argument is precisely the point. And in fact, if you look at the comments on the item in question, that’s precisely what he did.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of the story is the fact that the debate is continuing on Harris’s blog – with numerous people now writing ‘I heard you on the TV/radio this morning, came to check out exactly what you’d said, and here’s what I think…’
Now let’s be realistic: it’s the Mail. They have an editorial line, based primarily around ‘hell’ and ‘handcart’, and this story has been squeezed forcibly into it. They do quote the caveats from Harris’s original piece, but only having discarded them initially. They make no attempt to tackle Harris’s underlying point about long-term improvement vs short-term adversity. They ignore some of his incontrovertible points. Oh, and their round-up of a ‘day of desperate economic news’ fails to mention the rather more upbeat news on retail sales.
As a side note: it was announced yesterday that the Mail’s site is now the most visited among the UK newspapers’ web presences. But only 27.2% of its users were actually in the UK – ‘the lowest share of domestic audience of any of the national newspaper websites that publish ABCe figures.’ If the Mail readers care so much about the UK, why don’t they come and live here?
Some very interesting numbers from Robin Goad at Hitwise, showing just how dominant (or not, he concludes) the BBC News website is in the UK news market.
What I find most interesting is the mix of news providers in this ranking. You’ve got broadcasters, newspapers, portals and aggregators (both social and automated), with no one grouping particularly dominant over any other. The Daily Mail has gone from nowhere to being the national #2; meanwhile, the Independent’s radical redesign has yet to really pay off. And look at the Guardian: below the Telegraph, below Sky News even.
‘The market share of BBC News in the category has increased slightly over the last 3 years,’ Robin observes; ‘but at the same time overall visits to the News and Media category have increased at a much faster rate, and most of this increased traffic has gone to non-BBC sites.’ This, he suggests, ‘points to a healthy and competitive online market in the UK, not one dominated by one player.’
Personally, I’m looking at a market being led by one provider whose share (based on the table above, anyway) adds up to significantly more than its 14 nearest competitors put together. How dominant do you want?